- An Interview with Richard Stites
"You dirty rat! You dirty rat!" The grinning man doing the James Cagney impersonation is none other than distinguished Georgetown University Professor Richard Stites, legendary in the field for his good humor and joie de vivre. In this issue, Kritika undertakes an interview with Stites, a historian of imperial and Soviet Russia who has done as much as anyone to integrate culture—both high and popular—into the study of Russian history. Indeed, following the publication of his pioneering first monograph, The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia, Stites's several books have been devoted explicitly to exploring the role of culture in the historical process, from the intersection of Russia's serf society with the production of the arts in the first half of the 19th century (Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia) to utopian and experimental culture in the first decade of the Russian Revolution (Revolutionary Dreams), to popular culture in Russia across the 20th century (Russian Popular Culture).1 Stites's numerous edited works also exhibit an abiding commitment to providing readers with scholarship and original source material on culture in both Russian and European history.2 Even Stites's study of the women's liberation movement, in part devoted to the movement's intellectual and social history, contained an important cultural dimension, for the book entailed, as Stites himself remarked, "more the [End Page 1] history of a morality or of an ethos than the history of an idea, in the formal sense employed by intellectual historians."3
Yet Stites's interests are by no means limited to culture. Perhaps little known is that in the late 1970s he translated and edited in three volumes Pavel Nikolaevich Miliukov's account of the Russian Revolution.4 Stites also participated with his Georgetown colleagues and the late Lindsey Hughes in producing a new and highly regarded textbook on Russian history (A History of Russia: Peoples, Legends, Events, Forces).5 On the whole, Stites's scholarship is striking for its chronological scope, as few scholars, in all likelihood, would feel comfortable ranging widely across two centuries so full of upheaval, revolution, and dramatic change. His forthcoming projects extend that scope geographically as well. One, The Four Horsemen, examines liberty and revolution in Russia, Spain, Naples, and Greece during the first decade after the Napoleonic Wars. Returning after that to the 20th century, Stites's next project, "Hitler's International Crusade," investigates European volunteers in the Axis armies fighting the USSR in World War II.
Richard Stites was born and raised in Philadelphia, attending Catholic and public schools in that city before entering the University of Pennsylvania for a B.A., earned in 1956. After receiving an M.A. in European history from George Washington University in 1959, he entered the doctoral program at Harvard and initiated a dissertation on the subject of women in the reign of Tsar Alexander II—one of several topics that Stites describes, with ironic reference to the puzzlement that they initially encountered, as "wrongheaded."6 Stites taught at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania for most of the 1960s, thereafter holding positions at the International College in Copenhagen, Brown University, and The Ohio State University (Lima campus). In 1977, he landed at Georgetown, where he has taught ever since. He has conducted research in several of the republics of the USSR, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Spain, and Greece. In 2007, he was appointed the School of Foreign Service Board of Visitors Distinguished Professor in International Studies at Georgetown. He has attained numerous forms of recognition, including the Wayne S. Vucinich Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies for his book Revolutionary Dreams. [End Page 2]
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Kritika: You began your career as a historian by earning a master's degree in European history at George Washington University. What motivated you subsequently to specialize in Russian history? If you had it to do over again, would you make the same choice? Now, after many books in Russian and Soviet history, you have returned to a European project. What has been the logic in terms of personal...