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  • Historical Schools, Scholarly Lineages, and Methodological Pluralism

In this issue, Jonathan Daly offers up an evocative foundation tale of our—US Russianist—academic community. Drawing in part on his own life and training, Daly traces the intellectual formation of the US Russian history field back to a famous seminar taught by Michael Karpovich at Harvard in 1946–47. As he eloquently suggests, five remarkable graduate students from that class—Leopold Haimson, Nicholas Riasanovsky, Richard Pipes, Marc Raeff, and Martin Malia—went on to produce both the scholarship and the scholars that would fundamentally shape the North American Russianist terrain over the next 50 years. Indeed, as lineal or collateral descendants of this scholarly family tree, many of us share a link to the Karpovich seminar—Daly, of course, included. As a Pipes student, he is in fact just two generations removed from the founding father, a kind of Karpovichian grandchild.

As with all foundation tales, however, Daly's account is just one interpretation of the origins of a community, and as such, it is worth reflecting both on what his story highlights and what it leaves out. For example, one might well ponder how much a male-centered account of a single decisive seminar—no matter how evocatively portrayed—can really tell us about the much more diverse and diffuse field we inhabit today. Does a singular origins story like this risk keeping us from seeing the influential interplay of what might have been alternative lineages within Russian studies as well as beyond the academy? After all, while historians certainly shape historians, so too do practitioners of other sorts, including journalists, diplomats, and travelers—in our Cold War-forged field perhaps especially so.1

It is not uncommon for us to receive submissions that prompt us to think about the influence of specific schools in Russian history, and discussions in the [End Page 655] field often invoke the term "school" matter-of-factly as if such schools indeed exist and operate as objective realities around us. In Daly's essay, for example, he quotes David Engerman describing Karpovich as a "founding father of the American school of Russian studies" (789), while Daly himself characterizes his subjects as "school builders" and refers to what he calls the "Pipes," "Haimson," and "Gerschenkron schools." His approach in this respect seems to echo the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines a school as a "body of people taught by a particular philosopher, scientist, [or] artist" or a group of individuals "who follow … the teaching of a particular person, or who share similar principles, ideas, or methods."2 Given this definition, one has to wonder, though. If indeed Karpovich established an American school of Russian studies—and an American school of Russian historical studies more specifically—what transpired to make this school subdivide so seemingly quickly into would-be "Pipesian" and "Haimsonian" schools, not to mention numerous others? What of the unity we might expect of an American school's "principles, ideas, or methods"? Furthermore, if indeed there is such a thing as an American school of Russian studies, does that mean that we should assume the existence of other national schools along similar lines—a German, British, and Russian school of Russian history, for example? If indeed such national schools exist, then what are the telling differences between them?

The OED also offers definitions of the term "school" unrelated to the influence of a putative founding figure, suggesting a more expansive meaning: that of "a group of people" sharing "a particular opinion, practice, [or] custom" and/or drawn to a distinctive "style, approach, or method."3 Something similar appears in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which illustrates the term "school" with a reference to the historians associated with the French journal Annales, with the clear implication that the "Annales school" stands for a specifically Annaliste way of doing things.4 School-based thinking of this sort is the kind that we invariably also find in the syllabi of undergraduate methods courses, where the long history of history writing is often presented as a succession of historiographical schools, each replacing the next, starting with the Rankean, Marxist, and Whig "schools," then moving into the 20th century with the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 655-660
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-17
Open Access
No
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