Reading Group: Charlotte Alston on Siberia in the 19th Century British Imagination

Dr Charlotte Alston Humanities Department Northumbria UniversityThe Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its spring reading group at 5:30 on Friday 4th May 2018 at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury. We will be exploring British ideas about Siberia in the late nineteenth century, including George Kennan’s important work.

We are delighted to welcome Professor Charlotte Alston, who will be leading the discussion. Charlotte has published widely on Anglo-Russian themes (details below), and we will be hearing about her new research.

Beyond Kennan’s Siberia: Siberia in the 19th Century British Imagination

Siberia fascinated international observers. It was at once a bleak wilderness, and a world of untapped resources. It was of interest to geographers, ethnographers and explorers. In Russian narratives too, Siberia occupied an ambiguous position, as either a colony, or an integral part of the empire; as a savage land of exile, or a place of freedom and authenticity. In the 1890s, two developments in particular brought Siberia to the forefront of British discussions about Russia. One was the construction of the trans-Siberian railway, which situated the region in a narrative of technological and industrial progress opening up new worlds. The other was the spate of exposés of the Siberian exile system, beginning with George Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System, which connected the region to debates on the nature and practices of the tsarist government. Discussion of the Siberian exile system took place not only in lecture tours of cities across Britain and America, but also in popular fiction and novels for children.

In this reading group session we will go beyond the high-profile debates initiated by Kennan, and look at the images of Siberia projected in fiction and non-fiction accounts, both before and after the publication of Siberia and the Exile System. We will look at a selection of texts that are set in Siberia and take exploration, or more commonly exile, as central themes. Through these, we will think about the roles of Russian and British authors, travellers and activists in shaping images of Siberia; consider how writers developed these images in reference/response to Kennan’s influential book, or independently of it; and explore the role of geography and climate in presentations of Siberia as a land of either oppression or opportunity.

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Biography: Charlotte Alston is Professor in History at Northumbria University. She works on Russia’s cultural and diplomatic relations with the west, the history of the Russian revolution and civil war, and the post-first world war peace settlements. Her publications include a biography of the New Zealand linguist and publicist Harold Williams, who reported and advised on the Russian Revolutions, and a book about the international influence of Tolstoy’s Christian anarchist thought.

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 7, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

Readings for 4th May can be found here. Please email Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) and we will send you a password so that you can access these materials.

Reading Group: Timothy Phillips on ‘When British Intelligence saw Battleship Potemkin’

Timothy PhillipsThe Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its autumn reading group at 5:30 on Friday 1 December at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org). This session will look at the way in which early Soviet cinema first entered the UK, most famously Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, but also other works by the celebrated cinematographer and the work of Vsevolod Pudovkin.

The discussion will be led by Dr Timothy Phillips, author of The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age, which was published by Granta in September.

The British Government was extremely nervous when it learned in the mid-1920s that reels of Soviet films were circulating on the international market. These films, it was thought, had been created explicitly for propaganda purposes and with the aim of fomenting world revolution. In the UK, it fell to the British Board of Film Censorship (forerunner of today’s BBFC) to decide whether Soviet films could be shown. But the BBFC felt nervous about reaching this decision alone and, on a number of occasions, invited Whitehall mandarins and officers from MI5 and police Special Branch to attend secret Soho screenings in order to help it come to a view. These screenings resulted in confidential write-ups, in which attendees critiqued Soviet films and gave their views about what to censor. The write-ups have now been declassified and Timothy Phillips has studied them as part of his research for his new book.

In addition to reading a selection from these unique documents, and the associated correspondence, we will also look at the other side of early British reactions to the first Soviet feature films, in particular the role played by the Film Society, under whose auspices Potemkin eventually received its first (private) British screening in 1929. The early Soviet contribution to world culture is often thought to have been strongest in the field of cinema, something that many intellectuals, in Britain and elsewhere, already argued at the time. But the specific geopolitical context in which these films came into existence, and the intentions of their makers and funders, have always meant that aesthetic and ideological appraisals have had to compete for attention.

Biography: Timothy Phillips is the author of The Secret Twenties: British Intelligence, the Russians and the Jazz Age (Granta Books, September 2017). He holds a doctorate from Oxford University, where his thesis was on the development of leisure resorts in 19th-century Russia. His first book was Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1 (Granta Books, 2007).

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. You can read more about the reading group and listen to podcasts https://anglorussiannetwork.wordpress.com/reading-groups/]. 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 7, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

Readings for 1 December can be found here.

Call for papers – III Annual Conference for Emerging Scholars: ‘Russian Literature in Comparative Perspective “Literary Canon in Times of Great Change”‘

The School of Philology at the Faculty of Humanities, Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow, is calling for papers for its 3rd Annual Conference for Emerging Scholars.

The conference itself takes place in Moscow 24-5th November.

More information can be found here.

Revolution!: Ireland and Russia in the wake of 1917 Maynooth University, Ireland, Friday 28 April 2017

Maynooth University, Ireland, is hosting a symposium on Ireland and Russia ‘in the wake of 19117’:

One hundred years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, this event explores its effects on Irish political and cultural history. How did those at opposite ends of Europe view their contemporary revolutionary periods? What political lessons and strategies did the Irish Left take from the events of 1917 during subsequent years? How were new ideas, styles and techniques in writing and art, generated during the early, hopeful, years of Soviet society, absorbed into Irish literary and visual culture? What traffic in ideas and people occurred between these two societies in their revolutionary periods and during the grim interwar decades?

Speakers from universities and institutions in Ireland, Britain and Europe will address the effect of the Russian Revolution on revolutionary politics, literary culture, and on film and the visual arts in Ireland.

Plenary speaker: Dr Ben Levitas (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Speakers: Maurice Casey (University of Oxford); Dr Barbara Dawson (Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane); Paul O’Brien (biographer of Sean O’Casey); Dr Eimear O’Connor (Trinity College Dublin); Dr Donal Ó Drisceoil (University College Cork); Barra Ó Séaghdha (Dublin City University); Dr Stephanie Schwerter (Université de Valenciennes); Professor Helena Sheehan (Dublin City University)

Organising Committee: Dr Michael G. Cronin, Dr Conor McCarthy, Dr Guy Woodward

Venue: An Foras Feasa Seminar Room, 2nd Floor, Iontas Building, Maynooth University

FREE EVENT: ALL WELCOME

Register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/revolution-ireland-and-russia-in-the-wake-of-1917-tickets-33490898178

Conference blog: https://irelandand1917.wordpress.com/