Memory and place : bibliographical notes for the Michaelmas 2015 CamCREES seminars

2015 Michaelmas_Arctic book

Slavnym zavoevateliam Arktiki (1997.8.3465)

Thursday 14 January sees the first of the Lent term’s CamCREES seminars.  This blog post provides a brief bibliographical note of the Michaelmas seminars: Sheila Fitzpatrick’s talk on memoirs and the first three lectures in the joint CamCREES/Department of Slavonic Studies series ‘A Sense of Place, on the Arctic, post-WW2 Eastern Europe, and the Russian graphosphere.

The Michaelmas term started with a talk by Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick.  The influence of her work on Russian history can be seen even with a brief look at the books written or edited by her held by the University Library.  Of the 29 titles currently in the catalogue, 7 are at the time of writing out to readers.  Professor Fitzpatrick’s latest book – On Stalin’s team : the years of living dangerously in Soviet politics – is one of those currently on loan but is otherwise available at 586:92.c.201.119.

Her talk, entitled “Stalin and Myself: On Writing History and Writing Memoirs,” saw Trinity College’s Winstanley Lecture Theatre packed full.  The author of two personal memoirs – A spy in the archives : a memoir of Cold War Russia (586:92.c.201.81) and My father’s daughter : memories of an Australian childhood (on order) – Professor Fitzpatrick spoke about the practice of autobiography and the insights she gained in undertaking her own memoirs.  The experience had shown her how deeply unreliable personal accounts could be.  If her own memories of certain events had turned out to be erroneous on discussing them with others, the same potential fallibility should surely also be assumed in the Russian memoirs she studied as a historian.

The remaining CamCREES seminar sessions for the 2015/16 academic year are being given within a joint CamCREES/Department of Slavonic Studies thematic lecture series, ‘A Sense of Place’.  The series “explores the lived environment of East Europe, Russia and Eurasia through sensory awareness and human emotion” [from here].  The three Michaelmas lectures in the series covered a huge geographical area and a similarly large temporal span.

Professor Lilya Kaganovsky, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke on “The Arctic in the Russian Imagination”, giving an interesting insight into a new direction in her research.  She spoke on the various ways in which the Russian North has been “imagined through different historical/political moments of the early Soviet period to the present day”, looking at the North in terms of issues from expansion and exploration to incarceration and memory.  Professor Kaganovsky aimed “to showcase how the Arctic in the Russian/Soviet imaginary is not static, but has been consistently reconfigured through various historical and ideological paradigms, each set to in some way erase or reconceive the historical imaginary that came before.” [quotations from talk abstract]

Professor Kaganovsky paid particular thanks to the library of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute in her talk.  The library holds an extraordinary collection of tens of thousands of Russian titles dedicated to the Russian North.  At the time of writing, the Russian bibliographer is busy working on their catalogue records before they are migrated to the main Cambridge library system.  In due course, however, Isabella will be invited to write a guest blog post on the SPRI Russian collection.   The UL’s Russian Arctic collections are tiny by comparison, but the first illustration on this page comes from an example of our holdings.  It shows the front cover of a 1933 publication, Slavnym zavoevateliam Arktiki (To the glorious conquerors of the Arctic; 1997.8.3465), showing the Soviet flag planted firmly on an Arctic landscape.

The second seminar saw Dr Uilleam Blacker, of UCL SSEES, speak on “Postwar L’viv, Kaliningrad, Wrocław”, looking at the way in which “popular culture appeals to the senses of its consumers in order to achieve specific memory effects”.   Dr Blacker talked about the ways in which current inhabitants can gain access to the pasts of these cities through cultural media such as works of fiction, how this access occurs “through the recreation of the sensory experience of inhabiting those cities” and about the “the mnemonic effects that are linked to that sensory experience”.  [quotations from talk abstract]

2015 Michaelmas_Lviv authorityL’viv, Kaliningrad, and Wrocław are three crucial examples of cities whose name (from Lwów, Königsberg, and Breslau respectively), nationality, and – to a huge extent – population changed after World War 2.  Library conventions give every town or city a single name authority, with each change of name seeing the authorised heading for the city updated to make the latest form of name the main authorised form.  For example, to the right is a partial screenshot of the Library of Congress authority for L’viv.  Its main form is its current, Ukrainian spelling, but the city’s history can be seen in the multiple variant forms that follow.  In the 20th century alone, Austrian Lemberg became Polish Lwów became Ukrainian L’viv.  The main exception to the rule of using current local names is that countries and major cities (normally capitals) are generally established using the most common Anglophone form of their name – Ukraine, not Ukraïna, for example, and Kiev, not Kyïv.

The final talk of the Michaelmas term was given by the Department of Slavonic Studies’ Professor Simon Franklin.  Professor Franklin spoke on “The Public Graphosphere”, a strand of his current work on a cultural history of information technologies in Russia.  He looked at the history of the written word in the Russian public place from the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century, “from statues to shop-signs, from posters to triumphal arches”, exploring the development of the “graphosphere” and the influences upon it, and the “shifting and sometimes competing claims to spatial presence and authority of the Church, the State, commerce, and, eventually, private individuals”.  [quotations from talk abstract]

Looking for resources related to the later examples used by Professor Franklin – shop-signs and street advertisements – would lead the reader to subject headings such as Advertising and Commercial art.  Most Russian holdings on these subjects relate to the 20th century, but a few do stretch further back, such as Reklama v Rossii XVIII – pervoi poloviny XX veka (Advertisements in Russia from the 17th to the first half of the 20th century; S950.a.200.1459).  Catalogued only today is Vse na prodazhu! (Everything is for sale!; 2015.8.2659), the catalogue of an exhibition dedicated to commercial signs from the 19th and 20th centuries – a nicely illustrated addition to the collections.

The first CamCREES/’Sense of place’ talk of the Lent term will be given by the poet and scholar Polina Barskova.  “Representations of the Besieged Leningrad (1941-44)” will take place on Thursday 14 January at 5.30pm in the Umney Theatre in Robinson College.  All are most welcome.

Mel Bach

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