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  • Coming of Age

Two years ago, in the summer of 2009, the marquee event of the quinquennial international conference of the Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Russia was a dinner speech by Isabel de Madariaga. She turned 90 that year; and the speech, she said, was her valedictory. She spoke of her youth in Spain and in Geneva, where her father, the historian Salvador de Madariaga, represented the Spanish republic at the League of Nations. After her family fled to Great Britain, they encouraged her to study German and Russian—Europe was entering troubled times, and down the road, they thought, one or both of those languages would likely prove useful. To most who heard her speech that July evening in the 14th-century great hall of Durham Castle, the life story that Isabel de Madariaga recounted evoked a heroic age in Russian studies that is itself now becoming part of history—an era associated with such names as Michael Confino (1926–2010), Leopold Haimson (1927–2010), Moshe Lewin (1921–2010), Marc Raeff (1923–2008), and Nicholas Riasanovsky (1923–2011).

Similar thoughts may have been on the minds of the editors of the Anglo-Russian journal Antropologicheskii forum, for that same year, in 2009, they published 116 pages of responses from Russian and a few Western scholars to a questionnaire about generational identities.1 The responses suggest broad agreement that Russian academia comprises three distinct generations—those who established their careers under Brezhnev, those who entered academia during perestroika, and those who arrived when the USSR was already history. One theme that recurs in the responses is the awkward position of the middle generation. Their elders had been formed by the war and the Thaw. Their juniors were at home in a world of cultural cosmopolitanism and the market. The middle generation, however, somehow fell between two stools—too young to have taken seriously the values of Soviet communism, too old to feel entirely at ease in the post-Soviet world. All this got us thinking: have we [End Page 525] Russianists in the West, particularly in the English-speaking countries, had a similar generational experience?

In part, the answer has to be yes. At formative moments of our careers, those of us—including the editors of Kritika—who entered the field toward the end of the Soviet era, and who are therefore of the “middle” generation, had plenty of reason to feel biographically inadequate: we had arrived too late, when all the excitement was already over.

Consider who our teachers were. Many had actually lived history before they began teaching it to us. At Columbia, John Hazard would reminisce about studying in Moscow during the purges, and how he used to bring Aleksandr Kerenskii to speak to his class. At Penn, meanwhile, students heard from Alexander Riasanovsky that Kerenskii had been persona non grata in the California home of Riasanovsky’s mother because he had supposedly been photographed in 1917 lounging on Empress Alexandra’s bed with his boots on. Our émigré teachers had a toughness and authority learned in the school of hard knocks: Moshe Lewin, hitching a ride with the last Soviet troops to leave Vilnius in 1941; Richard Pipes (b. 1923), fleeing Poland barely in time to escape the Holocaust; Leopold Haimson, whose parents fled first the Bolsheviks, then the Nazis. Then there were the Western “Russia hands,” who had entered the profession in a golden age of expanding job opportunities and who helped build the graduate programs that our generation attended. They had seen history unfold in the Cold War and the campus upheavals of the 1960s. In interviews with Kritika, Edward Keenan, Alfred Rieber, and the late Richard Stites convey the excitement, adventure, and idealism of the first student exchanges with the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s.2 Anthony Glenn Cross, who founded the Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Russia in 1968, began his career by studying Russian to be a translator for the British army; the late Martin Malia did the same with the U.S. Navy.

This older generation, whether émigré or Western, brought to the study of history a passionate, sometimes bruising intensity born of their life...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 525-529
Launched on MUSE
2011-08-13
Open Access
No
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