See Next Archive (2017-2018)

Please see below for archived 2017-2018 events.


“Counterfactual history in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia”

The project examines the pragmatics of counterfactuals, i.e. of scenarios that take the question “What would have happened, if …” as a starting point, on the macro level of cultural processes. In this project, cultural conditions and functions as well as structural characteristics of counterfactual narration of the past are explored. I equally focus on history, especially on its historiosophical component, and on fictional alternate histories in literature. We will examine the exemplary case of Soviet and post-Soviet culture: Its historical-cultural characteristics with the rejection of counterfactual thinking in the Soviet era followed by a strong propagation of conjectural history in post-Soviet Russia allow us to study the cultural mechanisms that foster the emergence of counterfactual models of history. Furthermore, in Russia, counterfactual scenarios are closely connected to cultural memory, whereby their social and historical-political function becomes clearly visible. Moreover, with a part of the project comprising a comparative perspective, more general literary and cultural theoretical conclusions can be drawn.

Professor Riccardo Nicolosi, Chair in Slavic Philology (Literary studies), Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

Date(s): Tuesday, 11/7 6:00 PM to Tuesday, 11/7 7:00 PM
Address: 701 South Morgan St
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Contact: Linda Vavra
Phone: (312) 996-6352


“Imperial/Tsarist Space of Power in Russia, 1990s – 2010s”

This talk considers the situation that is rarely addressed in studies of political and historical memory. Rather than focusing on the process of the “invention of tradition” (Eric Hobsbawm, Terrance Ranger) and the designation of “sites of memory” (Pierre Nora) in post-Soviet Russia it explores what happens afterwards, when politicians and general public begin inhabiting the newly created spaces of important historical symbolism and fall under the influence of their recently created narratives. More specifically the talk’s focus is on ceremonial spaces related to tsars and emperors in Moscow and St. Petersburg: the Faceted Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin, St. Andrew Hall in the Great Kremlin Palace (Moscow), St. George Hall of the Winter Palace (The Hermitage in St. Petersburg), etc. Russian presidents Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev felt it necessary to fashion their own ceremonial quarters in former imperial palaces by using and adapting the symbolism of space representation of past authority – even though those historical precedents themselves were the products of very recent architectural restorations. Once reconstructed, Russia’s historical memory of political grandeur has appealed in different ways to the main centers of power. While the government (president) feels more comfortable with symbolism of imperial period, the Russian Orthodox Church (the Moscow Patriarchate) has claimed the representations of pre-Petrine Moscow Tsardom. Thus, the “invented traditions” acquire agency of their own.


Ekaterina Boltunova is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Humanities, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. She is currently a visiting scholar at UIC (on the Prokhorov foundation fellowship). Professor Boltunova was a 2008-2009 Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University, NY; Visiting Lecturer at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign  (2009) and Indiana University (2017), and a participant of multiple international research projects. Her research interests include cultural and political history of the Russian empire and the USSR; topography and semiotics of power in Russia and Poland; imperial discourse of war; historical memory; and Soviet and post-Soviet reception of the imperial space.  She is the author of Peter the Great’s Guard as a Military Corporation (Moscow, 2011, in Russian); “Reception of Imperial and Tsarist Spheres of Authority in Russia, 1990s-2010s,” Ab Imperio 2 (2016): 261-309; “Russian Officer Corps and Military Efficiency: 1800-1914,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 16, no. 2 (2015): 413-422; “Imperial Throne Halls and Discourse of Power in the Topography of Early Modern Russia (late 17th – 18th centuries),” in The Emperor’s House: Palaces from Augustus to the Age of Absolutism (Berlin : De Gruyter, 2015), 341-352 and many other publications.

Date(s): Tuesday, 12/5 6:00 PM to Tuesday, 12/5 7:00 PM
Address: 701 S. Morgan Street
Location: Chicago, IL, USA
Contact: Linda Vavra
Phone: (312) 996-6352


Lecture and Book Launch:  The Velizh Affair:  Blood Libel in a Russian Town

February 1, 2018 5 – 7 PM

Eugene M. Avrutin, History Department, UIUC

Author of The Velizh Affair:  Blood Libel in a Russian Town

Oxford University Press, December 2017

Lecture:   The Velizh Affair: Blood Libel in a Russian Town

On April 22, 1823, a three-year-old boy named Fedor finished his lunch and went to play outside. Fedor never returned home from his walk. Several days later, a neighbor found his mutilated body drained of blood and repeatedly pierced. In small market towns, where houses were clustered together, residents knew each other on intimate terms, and people gossiped in taverns, courtyards, and streets, even the most trivial bits of news spread like wildfire. It did not take long before rumors began to emerge that Jews murdered the little boy.

The Velizh Affair reconstructs the lives of Jews and their Christian neighbors caught up in the aftermath of this chilling criminal act. The investigation into Fedor’s death resulted in the charging of forty-three Jews with ritual murder, theft and desecration of Church property, and the forcible conversion of three town residents. Drawing on an astonishing number of newly discovered trial records, historian Eugene M. Avrutin explores the multiple factors that not only caused fear and conflict in everyday life, but also the social and cultural worlds of a multiethnic population that had coexisted for hundreds of years.

Eugene M. Avrutin is Associate Professor of modern European Jewish history and Tobor family scholar in the Program of Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois. He is the author and co-editor of seven books, including “Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia” (Cornell University Press, 2010) and “Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Beyond: New Histories of an Old Accusation” (Indiana University Press, 2017). He is at work on several projects: a short exploration of racial politics and the demographic crisis in modern Russia, and a longer book on crime, criminality, and neighborly relations in the borderlands. His scholarship has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Book Launch reception to follow

Slavic & Baltic Department, Jewish Studies Program, SEE NEXT Working Group, Institute for the Humanities

Date(s): Thursday, 2/1 5:00 PM to Thursday, 2/1 7:00 PM
Address: 701 S. Morgan St.
Location: Chicago, IL, United States
Contact: Linda Vavra
Phone: 312-996-6354