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James Von Geldern

Russian and International Studies
Russian and Soviet popular culture and cultural history; comparative studies in revolutions and commemoration; international law and legal frameworks; cultural studies.

Humanities 209b

James von Geldern’s primary interests are in Russian and Soviet popular culture and cultural history; comparative studies in revolutions and commemoration; international law and legal frameworks; cultural studies. Chair of Russian Studies.

Courses taught:
RUSS/MCST256: Mass Culture under Communism
RUSS/INTL364: Culture and Revolution
RUSS488: Russian Studies Senior Seminar
INTL114: International Codes of Conduct
INTL245: International Human Rights

Most Recent Project: Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, a website featuring archival video, music and audio, and texts from Soviet history.

Mac Faculty Podcast (12/11/2006):
, German and Russian Studies, discusses the recent radioactive poisoning death of former spy Alexander Litvinenko. He is an expert on Soviet mass culture and has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to produce a digital source book on Soviet history. Time: 10:00; Listen: MP3

The following is from Macalester Today.

Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin: These and other great figures in Russian culture have been examined, pored over, revised and reconsidered by generations of Western scholars.

Professor Jim von Geldern studies writers like Anna Ulyanova-Elizarova, Lenin’s older sister, whose articles about the young Vladimir and their family carried moral lessons; books like The Great Soviet Encyclopedia of 1953, which exalted all things Russian; popular songs like “March of the Happy-Go-Lucky Guys,” a huge hit in the 1930s. As a “Russianist,” von Geldern has carved out his own specialty: popular culture–what most people read and enjoyed, from the sentimental songs and patriotic movies to the children’s stories and detective novels.

“I work in a way that’s halfway between history and literature,” says von Geldern, who joined the Macalester faculty in 1988. “What the historians are trying to do is to rewrite the history of the Soviet Union so that it’s not a totalitarian state, like out of George Orwell, but a living, bumbling state in which there is some relationship between the people in power and the people below. A lot of people loved Stalin. It’s tough to figure out why. The way you do this is to go through the culture which they used themselves and start to figure out the values in it.

“The other question that’s made the study of mass culture very big in the field right now is the question of 1991 [when the Soviet Union broke up]. It used to be that all the bad practices we associate with the Soviet Union were blamed on this massive police state. Well, the state disappeared and a lot of those practices are still there. Suddenly, you have to find new causes; you have to start looking at attitudes and cultural traditions and see how they’re passed along and what they are in the first place.”

One of the first scholars to look extensively at “low” Russian culture, von Geldern is the author of Bolshevik Festivals, 1917-1920, a study of how elaborate socialist festivals helped build a new political culture in the U.S.S.R., and the co-editor of two complementary anthologies of popular culture: Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays and Folklore, 1917-1953, and Entertaining Tsarist Russia: Urban Entertainments, 1798-1917. His most recent project is a website called Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, compiled with Lewis Siegelbaum of Michigan State University, and funded by the NEH.

BA: Tufts University, 1980
MA: Brown University, 1981
PhD: Brown University, 1987
JD: University of Minnesota, 2005