Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University
A Graduate Student Conference, April 16, 2010
On the Edge: The Long 1940s in Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture
Call for Papers
Marked by the social and historic upheavals of such dramatic proportions that
even the decade leading up to the Russian revolution pales in comparison, the
impact of the 1940s on Soviet society and culture is tangible to this day. Like
the twentieth century itself, the decade overstepped its chronological borders.
Beginning on August 24, 1939, with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact,
it lasted until Stalin’s death in March, 1953. Its crises included the Second
World War, the beginning of the Cold War, mass deportations of various
nationalities, and the notorious campaign against “rootless cosmopolitanism.”
Its anguish gave birth to a generation of thinkers, writers, and artists, who
both monumentalized the “fateful forties” and helped to deflate the
state-generated hyperboles of the era’s sacredness and purifying ethical power
in the post-Soviet years.
“On the Edge: The Long 1940s in Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture” will examine the
history of this period through the double lens of cultural analysis and
cross-cultural interpretation. Its goal is to bring together scholars from
various spheres of the humanities and to generate discussion on the subjects
outlined by, but not limited to the questions below:
• What are the characteristic modes of intellectual, rhetorical, and artistic
expression of Soviet and Western responses to the political upheavals of the
period? How did those original modes of expression differ from post-Soviet
responses to the same events?
• Which rhetorical devices of the Soviet 1940s were later rejected by Russian
and/or Western culture and mass media? Which metaphors of the Second World War
and the Cold War are still in broad circulation?
• Did the intellectual and artistic paradigms of the 1940s resemble or depart
from the models generated during the decade leading up to the First World War
and the 1917 Revolution? How did Soviet and émigré Russian intellectuals react
to the Soviet Union’s new role on the international stage? How did they respond
to the postwar re-interpretation of Russian cultural capital?
• What is meant by “official” and “unofficial” Soviet culture during this
decade? Through what artistic forms did artists and intellectuals support or
challenge the idea of war-generated national unification?
• Which literary and artistic responses to the Second World War became
cornerstones of Russian national identity? How did the post-Soviet
re-evaluation of the past affect the appropriation of these responses by
artists and intellectuals?
• How did the arts register and/or resist the patriotic rhetoric of the decade,
with its frequent changes in tone and direction?
• What influence did the Cold War have on the Soviet and post-Soviet
understandings of Russian imperial isolationism, cultural “independence,” and
“subservience towards the West”?
• How can we characterize what can be arguably seen as the recent come-back of
the rhetoric of the 1940s? What can be said about the chauvinistic campaigns
conducted by the current Russian government and disseminated through popular
We invite papers that consider these and other questions using a variety of
methodological approaches, and explore the treatment of war in literature,
music, and film, as well as in ideology and public discourse. The conference
seeks to create an interdisciplinary discussion of the 1940s as a critical
historical moment, recorded in the Soviet culture and frequently referred to in
present-day artistic and political discourse. We also welcome researchers from
adjoining disciplines, including the interpretive social sciences, history,
English, American, and comparative literature, and media studies.
The goals of the conference are to establish connections between emerging
scholars working in the field, to offer a possibility to exchange ideas and
receive constructive feedback, and to create a basis for future collaboration
in panels and round table forums. Participants will be encouraged to make their
papers available to maximize the discussion time and to ensure productive
feedback on their work. Professors Louis Menand (Harvard University) and Laura
Engelstein (Yale University) have confirmed their participation in the
conference as discussants.
Please submit abstracts (up to 500 words) to Olga Voronina and Maria Khotimsky
(firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com). In addition, please
include your contact information, departmental affiliation and a brief CV in
your message. The deadline for submissions is January 20, 2010. All
participants will be notified of acceptance by February 10th. To foster
productive discussion and feedback, participants are invited to exchange their
papers prior to the conference, by March 15. Accommodation and meals are
included in the conference attendance.