Kolonitsky lectures on Russian cultural memory, academic scholarship in the Revolution of 1917| Feb 27, 2018
“Sometimes rumors are more telling than the accepted reality,” said Boris Kolonitsky, professor of history at the European University at St. Petersburg, in a lecture on his personal understanding of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Kolonitsky’s own history is closely tied to the Russian Revolution. Kolonitsky prefaced his lecture by promising to share 10 events that shaped his professional career, thereby highlighting the close, autobiographical connection he has to his period of study.
Growing up in the Dzerzhinsky District of St. Petersburg, which Kolonitsky called “practically inside the commemoration [of the Russian Revolution]” because of the historical monuments in the area, his younger self was not always aware of the various versions of history. However, what was common to Kolonitsky’s 10 events was his emphasis on the contradictions he encountered in the literature and stories of the Soviet period.
He approached the study of the Russian Revolution of 1917 more through songs, flags, and other visual signals, rather than through the political programs that were previously studied. Kolonitsky is interested in using minor genres such as general and personal rumors, gossip, and newspaper clippings as historical resources.
The Soviet Encyclopedia was one of the most important readings for the young Kolonitsky, and was formative to his growth as a young historian. He emphasized that the Encyclopedia, which was written from 1925 to 1947, was a living document that contained laudatory and sharply critical entries on the same historical figure.
“Why the hell should I go to school? It’s much better to stay here and read the Encyclopedia,” Kolonitsky said, explaining that the Encyclopedia allowed him to trace different contradictions and “compare different versions of history.”
Shifting to the history of his ancestors, Kolonitsky mentioned that while he knew of different family stories, he didn’t get the whole truth, since many of his family memoirs were censored in the Soviet era. For instance, he found out only years later that one of his uncles spent time in a Stalinist camp.
He closed the lecture with a Q&A session in which audience members asked about historical revisionism and the different schools of historical methodology.
The lecture, “The Revolutions of 1917 in Cultural Memory and Academic Scholarship: A Self-Study of a Historian” was sponsored by the REEES Lecture Series and took place at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27 in Simpson Room A71.