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Regular version of the site

Studying Russian Writers on How War Alters Aesthetic Experience

Dr. Angelina Lucento is a Research Fellow at HSE International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences. Her work focusses on art and war. In this interview with HSE English News she explains how family history brought her to research WWII and Russian culture and tells us why Moscow suits her so well for living and working as an international academic in her field.

— What is your background? Where are you from?

— I am from a small town in the southern part of the American state of West Virginia. Coal mining is still the main industry there. My father worked as a miner, and my mother worked with the local school administration.

After university, I studied the history of art and visual culture at Northwestern University, where I received my MA and Ph.D. degrees.

— Why did you decide to come to Moscow to study?

— Ten years ago, I came to Moscow to study Russian language and cultural history. I fell in love with the dynamism, excitement, and cultural opportunities that the city has to offer. New York is often called the city that never sleeps, but I would say that descriptor also applies to Moscow. I have lived in many other European cities, including Paris, and Moscow tops my list of favorite places in the world!

I came because it afforded me the opportunity to work with some of the world’s top researchers on the history of World War II and to access extremely significant and detailed research materials that are available only in Moscow

I was delighted to have the opportunity to join the Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences as a research fellow, and not just because it afforded me the opportunity to return to a city I love. I came because , more importantly, it afforded me the opportunity to work with some of the world’s top researchers on the history of World War II and to access extremely significant and detailed research materials that are available only in Moscow .

— Could you please share what is so exciting and attractive for you in studying history and especially history of World War II?

— The reason for my initial interest in the history of World War II is personal. My father served at the front during World War II. His experiences became integrated into our family’s history and experience. Since I was a child, I have wanted to gain a broader understanding of the social and cultural circumstances that preceded the war. Today this is the primary focus of my research, the cultural and intellectual history of the interwar and wartime periods. I am also equally fascinated by the ways, in which World War II altered world culture, and I plan to pursue future research projects related to that topic.

Being part of an international environment is great. My colleagues at the HSE all bring different perspectives to the table, which have developed out of different cultural traditions and experiences. This makes room for productive dialogue and leads to the formulation of rigorous questions

— What books have you been reading and consider worthy to recommend to others to read about consequences of World War II?

— I think the best books about the war offer the reader firsthand insight into the event. I would recommend two books that have been important for me during my research: Vasily Grossman’s A Writer at War and Nadezhda Udal’stova’s The Life of a Russian Cubist (“Zhizn’ russkoi kubistki”). As an historian of art and visual culture, part of my job is to study what the perspectives of visual artists and other cultural producers reveal about historical events. Udal’stova’s book contains her personal diaries, which span from her years as an avant-garde artist and professor at the Soviet art school VKhUTEMAS through World War II and its aftermath. Udal’tsova often writes about the consequences of war as she experienced it from 1914 through the second half of the twentieth century, and discusses how war alters aesthetic experience and the meaning of art. It is, in my view, a seminal document of twentieth century culture.

— How is life in an international environment going for you? What's difficult and what's exciting and rewarding?

— Being part of an international environment is great. My colleagues at the HSE all bring different perspectives to the table, which have developed out of different cultural traditions and experiences. This makes room for productive dialogue and leads to the formulation of rigorous questions . One challenge has been to develop and practice the vocabulary to discuss my research in Russian at the same level as I can in my native language. I look forward to perfecting these skills throughout the year.

— How did your family react when you told them you were going to Moscow?

— My family was a bit skeptical the first time I traveled to Russia, but the advent of social media, which allows me to post photographs from my everyday life instantly online, has put them at ease. Now some say they would like to visit Moscow during their next vacation!

— What are your further plans?

— This year I plan to finish my book manuscript about the aesthetics of realism in early Soviet art, and to continue to publish articles about art during war.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service 

See also:

‘The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past’

This summer, the HSE Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences was reorganized to become the HSE Institute for Advanced Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Oleg Budnitskii, Doctor of Historical Sciences, head of the Centre and director of the Institute, talked to the HSE News Service about the new division.

Exploring the History of Places and Environment in Russia

The collective volume Place and Nature: Essays in Russian Environmental History, co-edited by David Moon, Nicholas B. Breyfogle, and HSE researcher Alexandra Bekasova, was recently presented at a seminar of the Laboratory for the Environmental and Technological History of the Centre for Historical Research at HSE – St. Petersburg. The book is one of the fruits of a networking project carried out in 2013-2016 with active participation of HSE researchers.

Conference Brings Together New Perspectives on the Russian Far East

On March 28-31, 2021, the HSE International Laboratory ‘Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective’ held an international conference ‘The Russian Far East: Regional and Transnational Perspectives (19th -21st cent.)’. The event was jointly organized by the Laboratory with the German Historical Institute Moscow, Indiana University Bloomington (USA), and the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East FEB RAS (Vladivostok).

Studying the Middle Ages Is Fascinating

The recently launched Master's Programme in Medieval Studies is the only Master’s degree in Russia fully dedicated to medieval studies. HSE News Service spoke with Juan Sota, a second-year student of the programme, about its unique features, interacting with professors, and his research interests and aspirations.

British Scholar on Exploring Russian History

On February 9, the HSE International Laboratory 'Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective' hosted Janet Hartley (London School of Economics), who presented her recent monograph The Volga: A History of Russia’s Greatest River. The presentation was part of a joint lecture series between the Laboratory and The Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. HSE news service spoke with Janet Hartley about her interest in Russia, her experience travelling and doing research in Russia, and the books she has written on Russia.

Financial Front: The USSR State Budget during World War II

After June 1941, the Soviet budget was no longer the same. Marking the end of peaceful life, budget revenues dwindled, and the Treasury was drained of billions of rubles. But because the war required money, the government had to find it from somewhere. Oleg Khlevnyuk, Professor at the HSE University’s School of History, examines the Soviet Union’s wartime and post-war financial policies in his paper.

Slut-Shaming by Lend-Lease

Russian women who associated with Soviet allies during World War II were subjected to unusually harsh persecution. This was especially true in the north of the country that saw the arrival of thousands of U.S. and British sailors. For having contact with these foreigners, Soviet women received the same severe punishment meted out to Nazi collaborators: charges of treason and 10 years in a forced labour camp. HSE Associate Professor Liudmila Novikova studied how and why this policy shaped their destinies.

Studying Cultural History of Ethnic Minorities in the USSR

Isabelle R. Kaplan, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, talks about her research on non-Slavic minorities in the Soviet Union in an interview to the HSE Look.

Scarcity Trauma: Why Russia in the 1990s Was not Nostalgic about Soviet Life

In 2001, ten years after the launch of reforms in Russia, 54% of Russians  believed  the main achievement of the reforms was the availability of consumer goods, rather than freedom of speech or the possibility of travelling  abroad. A decade later, public attitudes had not changed, and the availability of goods on store shelves was still perceived as the number one priority. The massive trauma caused by scarcity was particularly strong. How it was addressed and in what way it influenced public attitudes after the USSR collapse is examined in a study  by HSE professor Oleg Khlevnyuk.

Underground Capitalist in Soviet Russia

Nikolai Pavlenko, a shadow entrepreneur and creator of a successful business in Stalin’s USSR, was executed by firing squad in 1955. Running a successful commercial enterprise right under the dictator’s nose in a strictly planned economy was a striking but not so uncommon case in the Soviet Union at the time, according to HSE professor Oleg Khlevniuk who made a number of unexpected findings having studied newly accessible archival documents. Below, IQ.HSE offers a summary of what his study reveals.