Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Freedom through Education: The Soviet "Knowledge Society" and the Quest to Make All Soviet Workers and Peasants Cultured and Educated, 1947-1995

My project explores the Soviet commitment to public adult education in the postwar period. It focuses on a large and official Soviet learning institution, the Soviet Society for the Dissemination of Knowledge (Znanie, [English: "Knowledge"]), as a source of intense meaning, tracing the lifespan of this institution and the people it touched. Through the history of Znanie, a voluntary mass organization that operated from 1947 to 1991, my project explores socialist humanism and its guiding ideals. Soviet humanism was based on a radical emancipatory idea of freedom, which saw dispersing power hierarchies as essential. In exploring how these ideas were elaborated and practiced by Znanie, my project brings to light Soviet investment into making all Soviet citizens into well-rounded individuals, committed to a Marxist-Leninist worldview. In terms of sheer effort, geographical scope, and allocated resources, Znanie was one of the largest organizations for the popularization of knowledge in the world, and its activities impacted millions of Soviet people. Znanie communicated to Soviet citizens an appreciation for books and world cultural heritage, and respect for scientists and engineers, museums and theatres – in brief, the Soviet humanistic ideal of a well-rounded individual. The search for this ideal shaped the experiences of millions of Soviet people, and parting with it in the 1990s brought a sense of nostalgia and loss. My project aims to recover the story of Znanie, and in so doing better understand the Soviet ideal of personhood and how it mattered for being Soviet in the postwar USSR – a story Western scholars often ignore or dismiss as propaganda. Using archival research and oral history field work, I will explore Znanie on three levels – Znanie as a Soviet, socialist, and global institution. Znanie, my project contends, is crucial to understanding Soviet cultural life during late socialism.