Nicholas Hall on British Travellers to the Soviet Union

NHWe are delighted that our summer reading group will be led by Nick Hall, PhD student at the University of Exeter. It will be held at 5pm on Friday 17th May at Pushkin House, bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org).

This reading group focuses on three British travellers to the Soviet Union: Gareth Jones, E.M. Delafield and Herbert Marchant. We will be asking how their experiences and writing highlight – in the words of Angela Kershaw – the ‘generic variety’ of much reportage about the Soviet Union from the period, and also exploring the subtle and interesting complexities of the discourse of travel and of interactions between foreigners and Soviet people.

Nick Hall’s work looks at British travel accounts of journeying to and around the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The period is infamous for intense foreign fascination with Soviet affairs, and particularly for the phenomenon of ‘fellow travellers’ – intellectuals who praised Soviet conditions and policies whilst news of famine, slavery and violence persistently surfaced.

Nick is currently focused on two key areas relating to these travel accounts. The first is a discourse of travel. As the period was so coloured by heated ideological debate and continually contradictory news from and about the Soviet world, travellers were acutely conscious of the potential for ‘eyewitnessing’, and also the pitfalls and problems faced by travellers when trying to determine what the Soviet Union was ‘really like’ on the basis of only a short time there. Furthermore, they were also aware of Soviet tours, translators and guides – an apparatus known in the historiography as ‘cultural diplomacy’, that many contemporaries thought was intended to deceive foreigners. Thus he explores how travellers justified their travel, how they presented themselves as investigators of Soviet affairs, and how they variously sought the ‘truth’ of Soviet life, and who they thought might embody that truth, and where they might be found. This leads into the second area: as travellers sought to find the ‘truth’, they often ventured away from tours and guides and translators, spending time with Soviet people in many different locales and contexts. Nick’s work considers interactions between Soviet people and British travellers via the perspective of these travel accounts.

The Anglo-Russian Research Network organises termly reading groups for those interested in the interactions between British and Russian culture and politics in the period 1880-1950. These are informal events with plenty of discussion and wine, and are open to all. If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) know. The discussion will finish at 6.30pm, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

The reading for this session can be downloaded here. Please email Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) and we will provide you with a password to access these documents.