Opening of Richard Stites Memorial Library
On Thursday 4th June the Richard Stites Memorial Library opened at HSE St Petersburg. Courtney Nemroff, USA Acting Consul General to St Petersburg was there for the grand opening ceremony.
‘Professor Richard Stites was a giant of the academic world, he influenced many historians of Russia in its various stages, including the Soviet period,’ said Mme Nemroff. ‘When I was a student at the Faculty of International Relations at Columbia University, we used his works as textbooks. It’s a pleasure for me to be present at the opening of his memorial library in one of St Petersburg’s top universities. These kinds of occasions are invaluable in maintaining good relations between our countries. I believe that academic discussions, human relations and exchanging ideas and resources are more important than political trends.’ There are more than 1500 books on history, social and human sciences, English translations of Russian philosophers, historians and publicists in the collection. About a third of the books are on the history and culture of the USA and Europe. It would not have been possible to open the library without the help of the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at the American University in Washington, the Russian Embassy in Washington, and the Department of North America at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The library was given to the Institute of Russian Culture and History by Richard Stites’ son Andrew, according to his father’s wishes.
‘It was a decision that symbolises Richard Stites’ deep affection for Russia,’ said Anton Fedyashin, Director of the Institute of Russian Culture and History. ‘Richard and I met on many occasions, as teachers and as researchers, particularly at the University of Helsinki,’ said Boris Gasparov, Head of the Academic Council for the Philology programme in St Petersburg. ‘These books are from his office in Georgetown University where he kept publications which interested him as a historian and were essential for teaching and research. Interest in Russian history among West Europeans is at a peak. It began to rise twenty years ago and continues to grow. There have never been so many talented academics and remarkable books. As a philologist I’m envious of the historians - their work is not affected by current political fluctuations,’ Gasparov remarked pointedly. The library will be accessible to HSE students, postgraduates and professors and to affiliated researchers in St Petersburg. A seminar on “Cosmopolitan Historiography of Russian History and Culture: A Workshop Dedicated to the Opening of the Richard Stites’ Memorial Library” will include talks by Eric Lor, Professor of History at the American University, Professor Alexander Semyonov, Deputy Director for Research at HSE SPb, Ronald Suny, Professor of Social and Political History, University of Michigan, Boris Kolonitskii, First Deputy Dean, Professor of History at the European University, St Petersburg and Ekaterina Yevtukhova, Professor of History at Georgetown University.
Stites was a pioneer in the study of the women’s movement in Russia and mass culture in the USSR. His books The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930 (1978), Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (1989), Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society since 1900 (1992), Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia: The Pleasure and the Power (2005) remain a major landmark in historiography. Stites began writing on the ‘women’s question’ at a time when it was only beginning to be a subject for study in American universities and there were no serious works in English on the history of the women’s movement in Russia. Later he drew attention to mass culture in soviet society as an area worthy of academic research and showed the falsity of presenting it as a total ideological dictatorship and triumph of officialdom.
As a student, Stites wanted to study European history - his Master’s dissertation was on French utopian socialism in the 1830s.
Although he became a historian of Russia, his interest in European history is evident throughout his research career. He always gravitated towards a comparative approach, constantly placing events in Russia alongside processes in Europe, and his view of Europe wasn’t restricted to the great powers. As in cultural history, he brought unusual and marginal subjects into the focus of his research, the most striking example of this is in the book he edited with Aviel Roshwald European culture and the Great War: the Arts, Entertainment and Propaganda, 1914‑1918, which looks mainly at Eastern and Central Europe. The book resonated well beyond the realms of Russian and Slavic studies and overturned many accepted views on mass culture, art and propaganda during WW1.