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Russian, Central, and East European Studies

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Scholars' Convo: Katherine Verdery

Katherine VerderyLeading anthropology scholar Katherine Verdery, who studied her own surveillance file from Romania’s secret police force, will discuss the anthropology of the Romanian secret police during the first Scholars’ Convocation of the spring semester on Thursday, Jan. 28.

The free, public event, “Surveillance Techniques of the Romanian Secret Police” begins at 11 a.m. in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

Verdery is the Julien J. Studley Faculty Scholar and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In addition to CUNY, she has taught at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan.

A past president of the American Association of Slavic Studies, Verdery is considered one of the world’s leading anthropologists of Eastern Europe and has been doing fieldwork in Romania since 1973. Her work, emphasizing themes of inequality, nationalism, and political economy, has earned seven book prizes, including the 2013 Society for Romanian Studies Biennial Book Prize.

Her research on the secret police began in 2008 when she obtained a copy of her own surveillance file from the Securitate, Romania’s secret police force. She read the files as if they were field notes of an anthropologist, seeking to reproduce the attitudes, worldview, and goals of the officers and informers who spied on her.

Verdery noted that the Romanian secret police always assumed she was a spy, not a scholar, because her research methods closely resembled their own tactics. She concluded that the methods of the police in tracking suspects and seeking dissidents often closely resembled the modern technique of social network analysis, since the police force was extremely interested in disrupting the social networks of potential dissidents and reincorporating them into the more politically acceptable sphere of Romanian life.

Verdery has published a book on her findings, Secrets and Truth: Ethnography in the Archives of Romania's Secret Police, and is working on a second, My Life as a Spy: Memoirs of a Cold War Anthropologist.

Scholars' Convo: Cosmic Secrets

Asif SiddiqiFordham University Professor of History Asif Siddiqi will discuss the history of the Soviet space program during the free, public Scholars' Convocation at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

Much of Siddiqi's interests are focused on the history of science and technology, postcolonial science, and its intersections with popular culture. He is a recent winner of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, has held an endowed visiting chair at the Smithsonian Institution, and is a leading expert in the history of modern science and technology.

A prolific writer and speaker on Soviet history, Siddiqi serves on the National Research Council Committee on the Future of Human Spaceflight, and is a contributing editor of the journal Technology and Culture. He has written several books, including The Rockets' Red Glare: Spaceflight and the Soviet Imagination, 1857–1957," Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge, and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo. His upcoming book from Oxford University Press is titled Soviet Science and the Gulag.

Siddiqi also has been quoted by numerous national media outlets about topics ranging from accidents in space to engineering disasters to the Russian Space Program. He holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in economics from Texas A&M University, as well as an M.B.A from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a Ph.D. in history from Carnegie Mellon University.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

KGB and the Soviet Surveillance State

Cohn EdwardEdward Cohn, assistant professor of history, has won two grants that will support his archival and oral history research on KGB tactics to manage threats to political stability in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia from the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

He has been awarded a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society.

Cohn says “My work analyzes how the KGB and its victims defined anti-Soviet activity, highlighting the ways that 20th-century surveillance states sought to prevent crime by collecting information on their citizens, who were forced to adapt to an intrusive and ever-vigilant state."

In recent years, half of all Grinnell applications received NEH funding, compared to 8 percent nationally. Previous winners include Shanna Benjamin, Tammy Nyden, Dan Reynolds, and Ralph Savarese.

About Edward Cohn’s Research

Cohn's research deals with the KGB's efforts to fight political unrest in the Soviet Union's three Baltic republics, which were part of the USSR from 1940 to 1991 and became the center of strong anti-Soviet independence movements. In particular, he focuses on the KGB's efforts to prevent dissent by summoning low-level offenders to supposedly informal meetings with secret police officers, who warned them to change their ways.

Cohn will spend about two months doing research in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Tallinn, Estonia. "KGB archives are almost entirely closed in Russia, but are far more open in the Baltic states," he says.  Cohn will also spend time completing oral history interviews.

Gulag Town, Company Town

Alan BarenbergJoin historian Alan Barenberg for a free public talk, “Gulag Town, Company Town: Reconnecting the ‘Archipelago’ to Soviet Society and History.” He will speak at 4:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, in ARH Auditorium – Room 302. Refreshments will be provided.

Barenberg is assistant professor of Russian history at Texas Tech University where he specializes in the social and economic history of the Soviet Union, especially from 1930s-70s. His research covers a range of topics of the Russian Empire and the USSR. 

According to Yale University Press, Barenberg’s book, Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and Its Legacy in Vorkuta ”offers a radical reassessment of the infamous ‘Gulag Archipelago’ by exploring the history of Vorkuta, an arctic coal-mining outpost originally established in the 1930s as a prison camp complex. [His] eye-opening study reveals Vorkuta as an active urban center with a substantial nonprisoner population where the borders separating camp and city were contested and permeable, enabling prisoners to establish social connections that would eventually aid them in their transitions to civilian life.”

Barenberg has a doctorate and master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College. He has earned several fellowships.

Barenberg’s visit is sponsored by the Department of History and the Russian, Central, and East European Studies Concentration.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

Singh wins Anne Hanson ’86 Summer Study Award

The Anne Hanson ’86 Award recipient this year is Vinita Singh ’14. She traveled to St. Petersburg to study at the Smolny Institute under the Bard Smolny Study Abroad Program. Удачи!

This endowed scholarship was established in 1989 in memory of Anne K. Hanson ’86 by her friends and family. Hanson was a Russian studies major who went on the Grinnell College Interim Tour of the USSR during her senior year.