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  • The PleiadeFive Scholars Who Founded Russian Historical Studies in the United States

There never was a more brilliant cohort of Russian historians in the English-speaking world, nor will there ever likely be again. Five extraordinary students in Michael Karpovich's seminars of 1946–47 at Harvard University went on to dominate the Russian historical field in the United States for some four decades.1 They took the lead at the three preeminent centers of Russian historical study in postwar America—Martin Malia and Nicholas Riasanovsky at Berkeley, Leopold Haimson and Marc Raeff at Columbia, and Richard Pipes at Harvard. At these institutions, they collectively trained the overwhelming majority of prominent Russian historians and through them helped shape much of the broader field. They also opened or creatively developed many areas and periods of Russian historical inquiry—more than any other cohort then or since.

This study is deeply personal. At Harvard in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my graduate-student colleagues and I often debated who were the "most important" historians of Russia. Our lists usually included all five. After I finished my PhD in 1992, I frequently exchanged letters with Pipes, an exemplary correspondent. The Pleiade continued to fascinate me, the [End Page 785] term suggesting itself quite naturally: Terence Emmons around the same time referred to the cohort as "a remarkable pleiad."2

In a diary entry I penned on 9 June 1995, I had already laid out the basic premise of this study. "In the field of Russian history in America," I wrote,

there are four Titans, most of them now passing from the scene. All four studied together at Harvard in the late forties under Karpovich. Three are "conservative" and stand over against the entire profession, now dominated by "revisionist" social historians. One is a "radical" and in a manner of speaking spawned the social history movement in the field. The three, Pipes, Malia, and Raeff (I have never considered Riasanovsky one of them), although they have much in common and believe many of the same things, do not get along or in any way form a cohesive front. Haimson, with his "canonical" text (Pipes's jibe) on "Social Stability in Urban Russia" of 1966–1967 [sic], legitimized the study of the "worker phenomenon" in late Imperial Russia, thereby creating an entire school. …3 The Three have written books about political ideas, institutions, and movements. The One has written little, but the totality of it, as well as most of the work of his students has concerned social formations and movements. The work of the Three's students has covered an extremely wide range of topics, because those mentors never sought to found intellectual "schools."

Malia's work as a public intellectual beginning in the mid-1990s reinforced my admiration. In the late 1990s, I began to correspond with Raeff, who proved himself not just an excellent correspondent but also a kind and generous person. In these years, I began to see Riasanovsky more and more as belonging with the Three. The One remained the One—inimitable, an outlier, a lightning rod, a school builder. Two decades later, while working on a biography of Richard Pipes, I returned to the project, a labor of love.

My intentions were to explore the influence of Karpovich on the scholarly and intellectual development of the Pleiade, to draw their collective portrait, to delve into their mutual relations, and to trace the impact each scholar exerted on the field of Russian history. During the research, I read virtually all the publications of the Five. Haimson, I discovered, had written far more than I had imagined. Pipes gave me unrestricted access to his vast unpublished archives (the archives of Malia and Riasanovsky, housed at the Bancroft Library at Berkeley, remain inaccessible; those of Raeff at Columbia's [End Page 786] Bakhmeteff Archive nearly so). Correspondence among them and between all of them (save Haimson) and Karpovich and Isaiah Berlin also proved helpful. Dozens of their friends, colleagues, students, and family members sharing with me knowledge and reminiscences made the study possible. Ideas expressed by the panelists and audience of a roundtable on the Pleaide at...


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