Academic journal article Kritika

An Interview with Sheila Fitzpatrick

Academic journal article Kritika

An Interview with Sheila Fitzpatrick

Article excerpt

Our questions to Sheila Fitzpatrick, one of the most prolific and perhaps the single best-known historian of the Soviet period active in the world today, were posed at a time when she has been reflecting on her life and role within Soviet studies. Her memoirs of her Australian childhood, which end with her departure for graduate school at the University of Oxford in 1964, have the working title My Father's Daughter and will be published in Melbourne in 2008. She is working on a project on displaced persons in postwar Germany, which she is pursuing partly as a inquiry into national and social identity and partly as context for a biography of her late husband Michael Danos in the 1940s. Finally, in addition to other current research on social identity and change in the Khrushchev period, Fitzpatrick is preparing papers and articles on the revisionist trend in the field in the 1970s and 1980s.

It was, of course, Fitzpatrick's role as the trend-setter of revisionist social history "from below" and critic of the "totalitarian school" that catapulted her to fame and controversy, particularly with her much debated second monograph, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921-1932 (1979; paper 2002), which followed her first study, The Commissariat of Enlightenment: Soviet Organization of Education and the Arts under Lunacharsky, 1917-1921 (1970-71; paper 2002). But there is another reason for her prominence inside and outside the field: Fitzpatrick's oeuvre--at once archival, analytical, and accessible--comes in a style that reaches specialists and non-specialists at once. Her textbook, The Russian Revolution, went through two editions; and she is the author of The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (1992); Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization (1994, paper 1996); Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Soviet Russia in the 1930s (1999; paper 2000); and, most recently, Tear off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (2005). Among her nine edited or co-edited volumes, both in print and forthcoming, are works such as Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-1931 (1978; paper, 1984), which have had a profound impact on the field. The same can be said of her approximately 70 journal articles and book chapters, which include such classics as "Ascribing Class: The Construction of Social Identity in Soviet Russia" from the 1993 Journal of Modern History. Even so, publications are only a part of the story: Fitzpatrick has been no less "prolific" as a graduate teacher, especially since she moved to the University of Chicago in 1990. (1) Other notable activities include her editorship of the Journal of Modern History from 1996 to 2006 and a stint as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) in 1997. In recent years, she has been a regular commentator for the London Review of Books.

Mentioned in the interview is Fitzpatrick's father, Brian Fitzpatrick (1905-65), a radical journalist, historian, and author who from 1939 until his death was general secretary of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties. (2) Sheila Fitzpatrick received the B.A. (Hons.) from the University of Melbourne in 1961 and the D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in 1969. She is currently the Bernadotte E. Schmitt Distinguished Service Professor in Modern Russian History at the University of Chicago. In 2002, Fitzpatrick was recipient of the Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award. In 2005, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Kritika: How did your approach to Soviet history emerge? From today's perspective, how do you see the influence of e. H. Carr on your own trajectory in Soviet history?

Fitzpatrick: I met Carr in 1967 or '68, after I had published my first article and spent my first research year in Moscow. He wrote a letter out of the blue, addressing it to me at Oxford (where I was a graduate student) in my then married name of Sheila Bruce, asking me if I realized that there was a Sheila Fitzpatrick working on my topic who had just published an article in Soviet Studies. …

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