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    Private life in Stalin's Russia: family narratives, memory and oral history

    Figes, Orlando (2008) Private life in Stalin's Russia: family narratives, memory and oral history. History Workshop Journal 65 (1), pp. 117-137. ISSN 1363-3554.

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    For many years, we knew next to nothing about the private lives of ordinary Soviet citizens during Stalin's reign. Until very recently, the social history of the Soviet Union written by Soviet and Western historians alike was limited entirely to the public sphere – politics and ideology, and the collective experience of the ‘Soviet masses.’ The individual (insofar as he or she appeared at all) featured mainly as a letter-writer to the Soviet authorities – as a public actor rather than a private person or member of a family. Sources were the obvious problem. Apart from a few memoirs by great writers, there was practically no reliable evidence about the private sphere of family life. For ordinary people in the Soviet Union, for the tens of millions who suffered from repression, their family history was a forbidden zone of memory – something they would never talk or write about. This article addresses that difficulty by exploring the results of a large-scale project of historical recovery. With three teams of researchers from various towns in Russia, I have been recovering the family archives of ordinary Russians who lived through the years of Stalin's rule. In all, we collected approximately 250 family archives which had been in private homes across Russia, even more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet regime. In each family extensive interviews were carried out with the oldest relatives, who were able to explain the context of these private documents and place them in the family's unspoken history. The interviews explore how families reacted to the various pressures of the Soviet regime. How did they preserve their traditions and beliefs, and pass them down to children, if they were in conflict with the public values of the Soviet system? How did living in a system ruled by terror affect intimate relationhips? How could human feelings and emotions retain their force in the moral vacuum of the Stalinist regime? What were the strategies for survival, the silences, the lies, the friendships and betrayals, the moral compromises and accommodations that shaped millions of lives?


    Item Type: Article
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Administrator
    Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2010 11:32
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 16:53


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