Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2011
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Chicago
Promoting the Socialist Lingua Franca: Russian as a Foreign Language in Soviet Cultural Diplomacy, 1945-1991

My dissertation looks at the export of the Russian language throughout the socialist world as part of Soviet cultural diplomacy from 1945 through the collapse of the Union. By examining the history of Soviet language expansionism I compare the cultural mission of Sovietization in the Eastern Bloc as it emerged in the 1940s and 50s to this mission as it was reformulated in the 1960s and 70s in an attempt to create a common, distinctly Russian, basis for identification in a socialist sphere that expanded into Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In order to contrast these two regions and periods, I use as case studies Soviet activities in East Germany and Cuba, including the formal language programs established by Soviet organizations as well as the export of media—radio programs, cartoons, Russian literature, etc.—for the purposes of increasing local exposure to the Russian language and culture. I also consider efforts to promote the Russian language that took place domestically. In particular, I examine Russian as a Foreign Language departments in Moscow, showing that these departments were significant both as institutes that trained Russian language teachers to be everyday diplomats and as the milieu in which foreign students coming to Moscow had one of their first experiences of active cultural learning in their host country. Finally, my dissertation poses the question of how the collapse of Eastern European Communism altered the place of the Russian language in the world, especially vis-à-vis English, and what this meant for institutions as well as individuals who were involved in endeavors to promote the Russian language abroad.