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CREES Noon Lecture. “Thinking about Oral History: Researching and Writing ‘Soviet Baby Boomers’.”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SWB, 1080 S. University

Donald Raleigh, Jay Richard Judson Distinguished Professor and professor of history, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sponsor: CREES.

This presentation will offer some reflections on Raleigh’s experience practicing oral history, a methodology with which he familiarized myself in researching and writing Soviet Baby Boomers, which will be published by Oxford University Press. The study traces the transformative developments of the second half of the twentieth century that brought down the Soviet empire through the life stories of the country’s Cold War generation. The individuals in the study graduated in 1967 from Moscow’s School No. 20 or from the provincial city of Saratov’s School No. 42, newly opened “magnet” secondary schools that offered intensive instruction in English. Part of the generation that began school the year the country lifted the first artificial satellite Sputnik into space, the Baby Boomers are a critical component of the country’s urban professional class, inseparable from the Soviet mass intelligentsia whose size grew exponentially following Stalin’s death in 1953. In that regard, the 1967 graduates’ collective story tells the larger story of the upper strata of the entire Cold War generation that lived through the USSR’s twilight years.

This talk will provide a brief overview of what the project seeks to accomplish and the practical and methodological decisions Raleigh made in order to achieve these goals. Among other things, Raleigh will discuss why he selected this cohort of people to interview and how he located them, why oral history appealed to him, the problems encountered working on this project, the nature of the interviews and how they were used, some reflections on how writing oral history differs from writing other types of history, and a few of the study’s findings.

A native of Chicago, Baby Boomer Donald J. Raleigh graduated from Knox College and took his graduate degrees at Indiana University, Bloomington. He has traveled more than thirty-five times to the USSR/Russia and is one of the pioneers of “local history” in the field of Russian studies. He taught at the University of Hawaii before joining the History Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he is Jay Richard Judson Distinguished Professor of History. Raleigh has authored, translated, and edited numerous books on the history of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.