- A History of Our Profession
David Engerman has written an excellent book. He is an erudite scholar, capable of summarizing the writings of people on a great variety of topics. He has obviously done a great deal of work; he carried out a large number of interviews and read the writings of well-known economists, historians, linguists, and scholars of literature and politics. While he describes the ideas of individuals, he is also interested in institutional history. He is a remarkably fair-minded writer who does justice to the ideas of people with whom, I suspect, he disagrees. In fact, after reading his book I still cannot tell where he stands on many of the controversial issues of our profession. Graduate students could benefit from reading this book when preparing for their comprehensive examination, because they would get a fairly good overview of a large variety of fields and become acquainted with the work of the important figures in our profession over the last two generations. This book encourages my generation (I received my Ph.D. in 1967) to examine our intellectual autobiography.
On the basis of the title, Know Your Enemy, I expected that this book would be one more “unmasking” of secret anti-Soviet work by the CIA and the FBI in which scholarship came to be prostituted in the name of national interest. But while Engerman mentions CIA and FBI involvement, it is obviously not his aim to demonstrate the duplicity of American policy.
The first chapters are particularly valuable. The author reminds us that before World War II scholars had paid practically no attention to the Soviet Union. After a very slow beginning, academia and government collaborated in order to learn more about, first, our great ally in the war and, later, our great enemy, the Soviet Union. The founding fathers of our field, and they were all men, happily worked for branches of the government and the military [End Page 675] without any qualms about compromising their research. Engerman rightly points out that the government and the Carnegie and Ford foundations made an enormous contribution to the development of the field by giving financial support. Major projects, such as the Harvard Refugee Interview Project, were expensive and could not have taken place without outside support. Even more important was the NDEA (National Defense Education Act), which allowed hundreds of young Americans to learn languages necessary for embarking on a career studying the Soviet Union. But contrary to what the young radicals believed in the 1960s and 1970s, the pioneers of the field came as often from the left wing of the political spectrum as from the right. From the outset, Soviet scholars were an ideologically diverse group.
Government collaboration did influence scholarly work. Often scholars chose their research topics in such a way as to attract financial support. In many instances, policy relevance was a prerequisite to receiving a grant. Generous support was forthcoming, and in the 1950s and 1960s Soviet studies experienced exponential growth. Starting with the research centers at Columbia and Harvard, soon every major university in the country had its own “Soviet specialists.” At my university (University of California, Santa Cruz), in the 1960s freshmen were required to take a “core course” on a society other than the United States—which, of course, at the time meant the Soviet Union. Engerman rightly insists that financial support did not necessarily mean that scholars simply became agents of the government in the Cold War. He sees nothing blameworthy in the desire by people in government to understand as much as possible about the culture, economics, and politics of the “enemy.” Indeed, by extension, he would like the government today to make as much of an effort to understand the Muslim world as it did some decades ago when it fostered study of the Soviet Union.
The most important turning point in Soviet studies had nothing to do with what was happening in the Soviet Union but was a direct consequence of what...