Origins of a topic or, how I moved from a communal to a separate apartment

February 23rd, 2013

I’m often asked how I chose the khrushchevka as a topic of study, first for my dissertation in Soviet history at the University of Chicago and now for my book. The answer is a mix of the personal and the academic. On the academic side of things, graduate students and scholars in the mid to late 1990s were just beginning to focus on the Khrushchev era in an effort to figure out what happened to Soviet life after Stalin, which had been the main focus of attention since the opening of the archives. Getting into the Khrushchev period, therefore, had the advantage of entering into a part of the Soviet past that most historians had not examined, especially with access to newly opened archives.

Figure I.1 -- Khrushchev-era apartment building

A Khrushcheva-era apartment building in St. Petersburg. I took this photo in October 2010.

On the personal side of things, I became interested in Soviet housing when I lived in St. Petersburg in 1995-1996, a year squeezed in between college and graduate school, where I taught English at School No. 157, just a few short steps from Smolny Cathedral and where Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks set up shop during the October Revolution. About half way through the year, I moved from a home stay on the outskirts of town in a 1970s high rise apartment building to a communal apartment on Vasilievskii Island. Read the rest of this entry »

Communism on Tomorrow Street

February 15th, 2013

Welcome to this blog about my book, Communism on Tomorrow Street: Mass Housing and Everyday Life after Stalin (Woodrow Wilson Center Press and the Johns Hopkins University Press). My book was released just yesterday, February 14, 2013, which was an inspired choice on the part of my publishers since it goes so well with the front cover. Harris-book-cover2The painting on the cover is Yuri Pimenov’s famous depiction of a new mass housing estate, “Wedding on Tomorrow Street” (1962), which you can see at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia. I discuss the painting (and much more) in my book, which explores how the Soviet state under Nikita Khrushchev and his fellow citizens built and moved into millions of  mass produced single-family apartments in an effort to finally resolve Russia’s “housing question” and recreate their everyday lives (and socialism) after Stalin. I’ll use this blog in the weeks ahead to discuss how I researched this book and the questions I hoped I’ve answered, as well as the kinds of new research topics I hope it will generate among other historians. Feel free to post comments or ask questions. And if you’re so inclined to read my book, you can purchase one from the Johns Hopkins University Press here. For more about me (I’m a professor of Modern Russian and European history at the University of Mary Washington), please see my faculty blog.