Home Page

  Research Interests


 Curriculum Vitae


Favorite Russian Photos

Personal Statement

My lifelong fascination with Russian history and culture originated in an almost casual decision to take Russian language in high school in Connecticut back in the 1960s. Majoring in Russian language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania, I then entered graduate school in history at Princeton University, where I received my Ph.D. in 1980. In graduate school I became intrigued by the history of charity and the question of whether a civil society, as represented by privately funded, organized relief for the poor, could develop in an autocratic state like imperial Russia. When I began my research on the history of Russian charity and social welfare in the Brezhnev era, such a topic seemed to have only historical, academic interest; under Soviet socialism, there was little apparent trace of pre-revolutionary Russia's long, rich history of voluntarism and philanthropy. But by the time my book, Poverty Is Not A Vice: Charity, Society, and the State in Imperial Russia, was published in 1996, Soviet socialism had been replaced by a new Russia characterized by an explosion of private charities and other voluntary organizations, all searching for an alternative, usable past; and thus the book has attracted interest from people involved in reconstructing Russian civil society today as well as historians. The book explores the culture of giving, as shaped by Russian Orthodox belief and popular practice, and the emergence of more organized private charity in the form of voluntary philanthropic associations in the nineteenth century. The book is also the first history in any language of public welfare in Russia, which is contrasted in its goals and effectiveness with the much more vital sector of private organized relief.

    After finishing this book, I turned my attention to a new research project in Russian women's history -- the biography of one of the most prominent women of late Imperial Russia, Countess Sophia V. Panina (1871-1956): an heiress, philanthropist, and the only female member of the Provisional Government in 1917, who became the first "enemy of the people" to be put on trial by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution.  The work of reconstructing Panina's long life, interrupted as it was by war, revolution, civil war, and emigration, has taken me far afield in search of sources, from Columbia University's Rare Book Library and Archive to the State Archive of the Russian Federation in Moscow, and various archives and libraries in St. Petersburg and Prague. A combination of luck and diligence also led me to discover two living descendants of Panina, who shared their reminiscences, knowledge of family history, and, in one case, the contents of a water-stained valise filled with letters and handwritten memoirs. The project combines biography with the history of gender, and examines the impact of revolution and emigration on the generation to which Panina belonged. 



Back to the top