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v2.1 Reference

Perils of Pankratova

Some Stories from the Annals of Soviet Historiography

Renowned Russian historian Reginald E. Zelnik’s final manuscript is a biography of Anna Pankratova, a woman from Odessa who became a leading labor historian and academic administrator in the Soviet Union from the 1920s to her death in 1957. Drawing upon archival materials once inaccessible to Western scholars, as well as memoirs published since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Zelnik conceptualized his study as one of "constrained dissent," in the sense that Pankratova, a Communist scholar loyal to the Party, nevertheless courageously sought to protect her colleagues, students, and friends from disaster. Portraying Pankratova as both "victim" and "victimizer," Zelnik treats in evocative detail several revealing episodes in her career as "the most powerful woman in the Soviet Union’s history profession." These episodes include her husband’s arrest, her own exile, and the ruin of many scholarly colleagues during the Stalinist purges. One particularly interesting part of Pankratova’s life was her experience during World War II in Kazakhstan, in Soviet Central Asia, which led her to champion the “national rights” of the Kazakhs. Zelnik’s last monograph marks his first examination of issues of ethnicity and nationalism in the Soviet period, and in the Central Asian context in particular.

Five essays that address Zelnik’s scholarship as a labor historian who approached the central question of class formation through his investigation of participants’ personal experience, as well as his teaching and citizenship, accompany the monograph. Contributors include Laura Engelstein, David A. Hollinger, Benjamin Nathans, Yuri Slezkine, and Glennys Young. The volume also encompasses excerpts from two Soviet texts, including Pankratova’s historic 1956 speech on the menace of Stalinist legacies in history and historiography.

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About the Author

Professor Reginald E. Zelnik, who died in a tragic accident in May 2004, was one of the most respected and beloved historians of Russia. He taught for decades at University of California, Berkeley and served as a fervent activist in the free speech movement, advocating for student and faculty rights. In tribute to Zelnik’s career at Berkeley and his professional contributions, the volume includes a list of his Ph.D. students at Berkeley, and his curriculum vitae.


"As a result of the various materials provided, the reader is given a much more developed picture of Zelnik as a person and of the motivations for his choice of research topics. The editor and contributors to this volume have succeeded in producing a warm, moving tribute to a deceased colleague."—Slavic and East European Journal

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