- The Cold War within the Cold War
Know Your Enemy was all the talk of the 2009 American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) convention. In scenes worthy of Vanity Fair, groups of graduate students and junior scholars huddled around single copies of the book, scanning indexes for names and reading aloud passages about their favorite and less-than-favorite senior colleagues. At the same time, a few more seasoned scholars could be glimpsed sitting quietly in dark corners imbibing the book, alternating facial expressions between the academic smirk and carefully concealed looks of injured vanity. I only received a copy of the book some time after the convention, but if I had purchased the book there, surely I would have carried it into the privacy of my hotel room.
Few academic books create the kind of visible stir that Know Your Enemy did at the annual meeting of the AAASS. Although the motivations behind the buzz varied wildly, as one may expect, this is a book worthy of the attention of the field. David C. Engerman should be applauded for stepping voluntarily into the minefield that was Soviet studies. A historian of the United States well known to Russianists, Engerman has produced a fascinating narrative history of the creation and development of Soviet (interchangeably used in his account with Russian) studies. My first paragraph aside, this is not a gossipy or even a chatty book but a balanced and scholarly study of the evolution of our field against the backdrop of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. [End Page 682]
Engerman begins his study roughly where he left off in his excellent and very well-received Modernization from the Other Shore.1 That book detailed the fascination that Russia, and later the Soviet Union, held for U.S. intellectuals from the late 19th century to the eve of World War II as they alternated between particularist (Russia as sui generis) and “universalist” (Western, sometimes American) understandings of the Russian path of development. Know Your Enemy continues the story of these alternating views of Russia but focuses more on the development of Soviet studies in the United States during the Cold War and the field’s dual aspirations “to serve both Mars and Minerva” (1), both the state and the world of scholarship, as well as the tensions between area studies and the separate disciplines. Engerman concludes his book with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the accompanying decline in area studies approaches to Russia and the Soviet Union.
The marriage of Mars and Minerva in the figurative hall of Soviet studies took place in a world very different from today. World War II had featured the mobilization of intellectuals and academics (on all sides of the conflagration) into the service of the state (and military) as the world faced total war. Moving freely between academia, on the one hand, and government and military service, on the other, academics dedicated themselves to the national cause. Mars and Minerva merged during the war and went on to animate, influence, and ultimately stunt the development of area studies in the United States.
This wartime pattern continued into the postwar period as hot war became cold and the Soviet Union replaced Nazi Germany as the national foe. Engerman writes that “Russian studies, the first such area program, was a wartime innovation in teaching and research that set the pattern for postwar universities” (3). Soviet studies were thus born in war and enmity and led by a generation of scholars who saw themselves engaged in a (very American) moral crusade against communism and the Soviet Union. Although there was “no single Cold War party line” (5), nonpartisanship or attempts at “objectivity” would have been viewed as defeatist if not something worse in the first two decades after the war.
The founding centers of Soviet studies in the United States were the Russian Research Center at Harvard and the Russian Institute at Columbia...