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  • "All in Good Conscience"In Memory of Michelle Lamarche Marrese (1964–2016)
  • Elena Marasinova

Michelle Marrese once said that her entire conscious life had been an "uninterrupted lesson in the Russian language." In fact, the Russian language was her love, the primary weapon of her scholarly creativity, her fate. She had perfect command of Russian, spoke it fluently, delivered lectures in it, knew Russian literature in the original, and effortlessly read manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Michelle Lamarche Marrese was born in 1964. Everyone who knew her sincerely admired her beauty and grace, which, in her own narrative, resulted from the fusion of several cultural inheritances. After graduating from Yale University in 1986, she received her PhD from Northwestern University. In the preface to the Russian translation of her monograph, A Woman's Kingdom: Noblewomen and the Control of Property in Russia, 1700–1861, Michelle wrote with appreciation of her mentors and advisers: John Bushnell, David Joravsky, and Sarah Maza.1

From 1995 to 2005, Michelle taught Russian history, first at the University of Delaware, then at the University of Toronto. From 2006, she continued her work as an independent researcher. Throughout these years, she held academic residencies across Europe, including Münster, Edinburgh, [End Page 848] and, of course, Moscow (1992–93, 1996–98, 2006, etc.), where she taught for one semester at the Historical Faculty of Moscow State University.

For Michelle, the foundation of historical scholarship involved working with primary sources. In their recollections of Michelle, many colleagues and friends write about meeting her at the archives. Susanne Schattenberg, professor of East European History at Universität Bremen, for example, remembers: "In the spring of 2000, I met Michelle in RGIA [the Russian State Historical Archive] in Petersburg, where she spent a long time in the archive—as did I. I took a liking to her right away, such an attractive, cheerful, very lively scholar. I was only a postdoc, while she was an established academic, and yet she nonetheless befriended me." Professor Martina Winkler of Universität Kiel also recalls that Michelle "made regular visits to Moscow and Petersburg, was a huge fan of intensive work in the archives, and had a great love for detail."

Like all foreign scholars, Michelle did not have the advantage enjoyed by historians in Russia of a more measured approach to reading manuscripts. She needed to do as much as possible in the space of a few short weeks visiting the country. She thus worked every day from the opening to the closing of the reading rooms, refusing to take breaks or even to meet with friends. Michelle's publications were based on countless documents from archives and the manuscript divisions of libraries in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tambov, Tver´, and Vladimir, not to mention London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Paris.

Perhaps her principal archive, to which she devoted many months and even years of her life, was the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA) on Bol´shaia Pirogovskaia Street in Moscow. This is how the archivist Svetlana Dolgova describes meeting Michelle there for the first time:

As it was my responsibility to provide consultations to foreign researchers, I was probably the first staff member at RGADA to meet Michelle. What struck me most was her "peaceable topic." Most foreign researchers in the 1990s were interested in the colonial politics of the Russian Empire. Michelle's theme, the status of women in 18th-century Russia, seemed innovative to me. I recommended that she explore the exceptionally rich Gagarin family collection, which contained unique documents about everyday life. Michelle was very passionate about her work, and she accumulated material from year to year, analyzing and mastering it in the process.

Michelle used a wide variety of documents in her research: correspondence, memoirs, diaries, legal acts, notarial property transactions, dowry records, wills and testaments, petitions, and so forth. This allowed her to fathom and reproduce the realities of Russian life in the 18th and early 19th centuries [End Page 849] and to overturn many clichéd assessments. As Christine Worobec, professor emerita of history at Northern Illinois University, writes: "Michelle delighted in Russian noblewomen's personal narratives and keen observations, the statements...


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