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Zeide, Alla

Teaching Russian History During the Cold War: M.M. Karpovich at Harvard

My paper will deal with a remarkable episode in the Cold War period, i.e., the concerted effort by American scholars and U.S. governmental agencies to develop Russian historiography as an academic discipline after World War II. In this collective endeavor the role of M.M. Karpovich stands out. Between 1944 and 1955, he trained over twenty historians, who constituted most of the first generation of American historians of Russia, and who then proceeded to occupy chairs of Russian history in leading American Universities. In their turn, they trained the next generation of specialists in Russian history and studies.
Judging by his various activities after World War II – public pronouncements, lectures delivered at the U.S. Army’s War College (1946-1953), and publicist writings in the Russian- and English-language press --  Karpovich can be justifiably described as a Cold Warrior.  Yet in his capacity as a professor of Russian history, he saw his task as a transmitter, above all else, of a loving, conscientious and informed attitude to all of Russian history. To transmit such an attitude without engaging in ideological propaganda, yet alerting his audiences to the perils of reducing historical scholarship to a socio-ideological base, Karpovich worked out a rather successful strategy. Relying on the historiographical tradition of Imperial Russia and emphasizing liberal tendencies in Russian intellectual thought, he was guardedly bringing to the attention of his students Soviet scholarship’s inability to objectively evaluate and interpret these tendencies. As one of his students (Martin Malia) put it: “What was transmitted … was an attitude of mixed intellectual sobriety and cultural sympathy toward a subject that could all too easily appear either barbaric or exotic…”

Thursday 29 Oct, 13.45-15.45 SESSION 2
Panel: The Politics of Pedagogy: the Role of Education in the Cold War