Aleksanteri Alumni Talks

Series of open online seminars where alumni of the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Programme present their ongoing and recently published research on Russia, Eurasia, and Central and Eastern Europe.

The seminars explore this region in the present and past times, through lenses of a broad range of disciplines and methodologies.

These talks are held on Zoom and take place in the afternoon at 15.00 Helsinki time, unless stated otherwise. The presentations are followed by comments given by Aleksanteri Institute’s researchers and scholars from among the Visiting Fellow alumni, and a Q & A session.

Aleksanteri Alumni Talks continue along with the Visiting Fellows Research Seminars that feature ongoing research by scholars whom we are hosting at the University of Helsinki within the frame of the Visiting Fellows Programme.

March 26 | Book launch: In Visible Presence: Soviet Afterlives in Family Photos 


Olga Shevchenko is Paul H. Hunn ’55 Professor in Social Studies at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Williams College. She is the author of Crisis and the Everyday in Postsocialist Moscow and the editor of Double Exposure: Memory and Photography. She was Aleksanteri Visiting Fellow in 2017.

Oksana Sarkisova is Research Fellow at the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives and cofounder of the Visual Studies Platform at CEU. She is the author of Screening Soviet Nationalities: Kulturfilms from the Far North to Central Asia and coeditor of Past for the Eyes: East European Representations of Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989.


In Visible Presence: Soviet Afterlives in Family Photos (MIT Press, 2023), by Aleksanteri Visiting Fellow alum Olga Shevchenko and Oksana Sarkisova, is an absorbing exploration of Soviet-era family photographs that demonstrates the singular power of the photographic image to command attention, resist closure, and complicate the meaning of the past. Drawing on over a decade of fieldwork and interviews, as well as internet ethnography, media analysis, and case studies, the book offers a rich account of the role of family photography in creating communities of affect, enabling nostalgic longings, and processing memories of suffering, violence, and hardship.

When viewed today, old Soviet photos evoke youthful aspirations, dashed hopes, and moral compromises, as well as the long legacy of silence that was passed down from grandparents to parents to children. With more than 250 black and white photos, In Visible Presence is an astonishing journey into domestic photography, family memory, and the ongoing debate over the meaning of the Soviet past that is as timely and powerful today as it has ever been.


Tue, March 26, 2024
15.00–16.15 via Zoom


Oksana Sarkisova, Research Fellow, Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives

Olga Shevchenko, Professor in Social Studies, Williams College

Comments: Sanna Turoma, Professor of Russian language and culture, Tampere University 

Moderator: Anna Korhonen, Senior Advisor, University of Helsinki 

 October 12 | Why did the West overestimate Russian military power in 2022?

Bettina Renz is a Professor of International Security at the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics and International Relations. Her area of expertise is Russian security and defence policy and she has published widely on the subject, including her latest monograph, Russia’s Military Revival, which appeared with Polity in 2018. Bettina graduated with an MA and MSc in Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Birmingham. She is an alumna of the Aleksanteri Institute’s Visiting Fellows Programme and also worked at the Institute as a researcher in 2015/16.


When Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many observers in the West expected the war to be over within a couple of weeks. This mistaken assumption led to a debate about why the West overestimated Russian military capabilities. The talk will take an in-depth look at possible explanations for these overestimates. It argues that these explanations go far beyond faulty approaches to military analysis. Identifying ways to improve future analyses of opponents’ military capabilities is an important undertaking, but it will not be an easy undertaking.

Bettina Renz

Thur, October 12, 2023
15.00–16.15 via Zoom

Speaker: Bettina Renz, Professor of International Security, University of Nottingham

Comments: Katri Pynnöniemi, Associate Professor of Russian security policy, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki and National Defence University

Moderator: Anna Korhonen, Head of International Affairs, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki