language practice

These days a lot of my time is dedicated to childcare and my dissertation, but since we are currently living in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, I’m also finding time to work on my German. I returned to LingQ, a website that I previously reviewed, and haven’t been disappointed. The site provides free content (text and audio) that is organized by your language skill level and is able to track the progress of your vocabulary in order to highlight only unknown words, based on your progress. Recent additions that I like are an automatic link for new words to google translator as well as a free iphone app that automatically creates flashcards for practice on the go.  The free membership level allows you to create 100 such cards, so you need to delete them as you go, unless you upgrade to a paid membership.  My only concern about upgrading is that once you do so, [EDIT: you can’t go back to the free membership without deleting your account, you have to be sure to delete your accumulated flashcards before you downgrade, because at the free membership level they can only be deleted one at a time–Thank you to Alex Ristich from LingQ for clarifying this.  There are certainly other benefits to the paid membership, which I haven’t explored.  One is an iphone app that allows you to read and listen to your lessons on the go.  Unfortunately the app is not compatible with my “old fashioned” first generation iphone.]  I look forward to seeing what kind of content for German is available as I advance, because the Russian materials were quite good.  There are a lot of other features of the site for those with more time, but as a basic resource for working through the eleven offered foreign language texts and improving your vocabulary, LingQ is excellent.  So far Russian is the only post-Soviet bloc language offered.

I also wanted to mention a site that might be interesting for intermediate and advanced Russian learners, or those with such students, as well as those who are fond of Russian pop culture. It is called RUSSIANCHAT, a videopodcast for learning Russian. The site uses a variety of audio-visual materials to introduce learners to a wide range of Russian language and culture. Each entry consists of a few introductory paragraphs and a clip of 3-10 minutes. Beginning with elementary language scenes, it includes a wide range of great clips from youtube, from a 1944 cartoon rendition of Kornei Chukovsky’s Telephone to a TV special about Yury Kuklachev’s cat circus. The most recent post presents an excerpt from Leonid Parfyonov’s take on the Chernobyl meltdown from his show Намеди. What will probably be most helpful for students and useful for teachers (as well as interesting for both) are the author’s terrific introductions that provide both linguistic and cultural context. In some cases these include key phrases or complete translations. The author of the site is Dr. Svitlana Malykina.


May 21, 2011. Language, Students, Teaching, Web tools. 1 comment.

Polnoe sobranie zakonov

In her inaugural post on the Russian History Blog, historian Alison Smith discusses her recent work with the Polnoe sobranie zakonov (Complete collection of the laws), “a process made much more pleasant because of the utterly fantastic fact that the Russian National Library has scanned the whole thing and put it up online.”  The site quite easy to navigate, the indexes are available, but there is no search function as far as I could tell.  But as the rest of Dr. Smith’s post reveals, there is some beauty in not skipping straight to what you’re looking for.  (This reminds me of the time my first meaningful history teacher, Lee Nichol, introduced his class to the word ‘ruminate’ by describing the process of finding books in a library before the card catalogue was computerized.)  Smith writes,

Even when I’m looking for something specific, though, I find myself randomly reading other laws in large part because they tell me things I didn’t know.  I learn that Peter the Great made a law to restrict the sale of wax candles for use in churches to the churches themselves, and forbade the practice of random other people selling such candles on the street outside churches. Or I learn that Anna was so upset to hear that people were being trampled by people galloping through the streets of St. Petersburg (on horses, of course) that she banned galloping in the city–and furthermore announced that anyone caught galloping would be punished by being beaten with the cat-o-nine-tails “mercilessly.”

And then there’s Catherine the Great. Now, obviously, she was a woman who liked laws, what with her famous “legislomania” and all that. But she also had a thing for commemorating major events (military victories, putting up the Bronze Horseman [yes, really]) by releasing Manifestos to All Her People, granting them all sorts of things.  One in particular shows up in a number of discussions of her reign.  On March 17, 1775, in honor of making peace with the Ottoman Empire, she released a Manifesto giving “mercies to various sosloviia” in recognition of God’s mercy in granting her and her state victory, peace, and the respect of other nations. She wondered (she wrote) how best to honor that divine intervention, and decided that according to the Lord’s words, He preferred mercy to sacrifice, and so mercy she would give.  Forty seven “mercies” then follow…  (see the original post for citations).


May 19, 2011. 18th Century, Full-text, Late Imperial, Primary Sources. Leave a comment.

Moscow 1909

In 1909 Murray Howe traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg with a top of the line camera and some of his pictures have recently been made available by his great-grandson, who refurbished the negatives and posted 77 (of about 400, I think) on flickr. There are many beautiful pictures of Moscow’s architectural sites, as well as a variety of scenes from everyday life, such as a peasant market, traveling priests, barefoot boys and girls working in the streets. The original descriptions of the photos have been included. One striking one is of a young half barefoot nurse, holding a toddler and standing up against a riverside railing. The description reads: “The camera man’s guide forces a terrified nurse to pose against her will.” One that has gotten quite a lot of attention is of Khitrovka. The author wrote: “A prize snap shot on a sunday morning in the famous Thieves Market, Moscow. I was mobbed by this crowd after taking this picture and had to be rescued by the Soldier-Police.” There are some interesting comments on the exhibit with responses from the author here.  Edit: These pictures were also discussed in a recent post by historian Alison Smith, a contributor to the new and collectively maintained Russian History Blog.

May 14, 2011. Exhibits, Images, Late Imperial, Moscow. Leave a comment.

Reading Stalin

If you’re thinking of spending an afternoon reading (or skimming through) the works of Stalin in Russian, I would recommend taking a look at Библиотека Михаила Грачева, an on-line library since 2001.  Although I cannot guarantee that his collectionof Stalin’s published works is comprehensive, it is very impressive.  My specific search led me to three separate editions of his collected works: one from 1951, the second from 1997 and the third from 2006.  Professor Grachev’s library also includes related books like Сто сорок бесед с Молотовым.  As far as I can tell, there is no built in search engine.  But with Google’s advanced search function you can limit your searches to his site.  Or just add “site:” to your search.

October 24, 2010. Biography, Full-text, Primary Sources, Research, Stalin Era, Web tools. Leave a comment.

illustrated history

I was recently faced with writing a lecture on the Russian Revolution, and so knowing that I would have the opportunity to use powerpoint, I spent some time reviewing the online troves of historical photographs that I’ve come across in recent years.

Google images is of course a natural place to start searching for pictures.  One useful feature is a setting on its Advanced Search page that lets you specify whether you want to find materials that is free to use or share, free to modify, or even free for commercial use.


February 5, 2010. Exhibits, Images, Primary Sources, Teaching. Leave a comment.


Yesterday, while reading the comments on Stanley Fish’s latest New York Times rant on university education in the United States, I came across an interesting website for language learners called LingQ.

The site currently facilitates self-guided instruction in ten languages, including Russian.

As an advanced student of Russian, what was most interesting to me was the library of various types of podcasts and other audio programs, which are presented along with the full text in Russian. The library includes a variety of materials, including newscasts from Ekho Moskvy and Voice of America, audio books such as Tolstoy’s Detstvo and excerpts from Anna Karenina, and original programming specific to language learning with topics ranging from travel to business etc. Moreover, it seems to be quite easy for any user to add content to the site, as long as both audio and text are included.

The most exciting technical function of the site, however, is that it tracks the progress of your learning. (more…)

August 26, 2009. Language, Students, Teaching. 2 comments.

Terry Martin’s primary source guide

Prof. Terry Martin has put together a collection of bibliographies of Russia/USSR related English-language primary sources , and he has generously made them available online on his web space at Harvard University.

Topics include: Document collections, writings of party leaders, biographies, foreign diplomatic sources, travelers’ accounts, and soviet publications.  When appropriate, the lists are divided between materials available at Harvard and those available elsewhere.  There is a link to a couple other general bibliographies, and it seems as if more bibliographies and links may be added in the future.  One thing that might be added to the site is a list of English subtitled Russian/Soviet films.

The site is intended specifically for serious students, but it should be useful for researchers as well.

July 3, 2009. Biography, Indexes, Journals, library catalogues, Primary Sources, Research, Students, Teaching. Leave a comment.

Seth Bernstein on the Sakharov Memoir Database

The Sakharov Memoir Database  was created by the Muzei i Obshchestvennyi Tsentr “Mir, Progress, Prava Cheloveka” imeni Andreia Sakharova.

Seth Bernstein, a doctoral student in history at the University of Toronto, interned with the Sakharov Center in 2004 as a transcriber, and then used their database for his senior thesis.  I interviewed him about his experience using it.


Seth: alright, what would you like to know?

me: What is the center’s web address?

Seth:  For some reason it’s been having problems and trying to go to the search engine doesn’t get you anywhere. [March 2010 – Now it seems that the search function has been removed-AB].

me: It’s a shame that the site isn’t working!  … I’m curious, how representative is the online part of their overall holdings? Do you know if there were many memoirs still unprocessed in their archives? (I see from their site that they now have 827 memoirs).  Do they have a mission to provide 100% of their memoirs online?

Seth: Of course they would like to provide access to 100% of the memoirs but my guess from their selection and my experience with them, is that they take memoirs that were easy to digitize, very famous or unique.  So they have, for example, Anna Larina’s memoir as well as unpublished materials… just based on my searches I found that they have some pretty obscure memoirs. (more…)

June 8, 2009. Archives, Full-text, Interviews, Primary Sources, Stalin Era, Students. 2 comments.

Ben’s Index (saddly, no longer available)

Developed in 2004-2005 by Benjamin Zajicek , then a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Ben’s Index of Russian History Resources is a straightforward, well organized and uncluttered index of resources for the Russian historian. Though the site has not been maintained and is now somewhat dated, it still contains many valuable links.

There are a number of sections for history graduate students, which cover the profession in general,  funding, useful software, filing taxes, ethics, reading, writing, style & citation, oral history and online resources and forums.  Topics specifically for Russianists include archives, libraries, & catalogs, online dictionaries & encyclopedias, guides to the soviet archives, laws & regulations of the Russia, bibliographies, academic journals, professional organizations, museums, exhibits and memorials as well as a list of many prominent people in the field.

May 3, 2009. Indexes, Research. Leave a comment.

DiRT and Archives Wiki

One of my considerations as I begin keeping this blog, a forum for exploring online resources for Russian scholarship, is whether or not a blog is in fact the best medium for my project. An alternative- the wiki, the content of which would be shaped by a much larger group of editors, potentially anyone.

One such site is the Digital Research Tools Wiki, affectionately known as DiRT. The site promises to collect

information about tools and resources that can help scholars (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) conduct research more efficiently or creatively. Whether you need software to help you manage citations, author a multimedia work, or analyze texts, Digital Research Tools will help you find what you’re looking for. We provide a directory of tools organized by research activity, as well as reviews of select tools in which we not only describe the tool’s features, but also explore how it might be employed most effectively by researchers.

Despite the fact that the site is very new (there was a sneak preview in May, 2008), it is packed with information, especially lists of software. For those seeking to move way beyond microsoft word, mozilla, google mail and excel, this is a very useful site.

This wiki is a very effective “directory of tools.” It provides immediate access to comprehensive lists of the many resources out there to accomplish whatever task you might be interested in (выполнить и перевыполнить!). But the site, at least at its current level, is not such a convincing “reviewer.” The reviews come last: that is, you first choose a category of interest, then a resource, and only then do you find out if it has been discussed in a useful way. Clicking on a number of the items simply took me to their websites, which I could just have easily have found by searching.

Another wiki with a lot of potential is the American History Association’s Archives Wiki, “intended to be a clearinghouse of information about archival resources throughout the world.” I think it was created in 2007, and at least judging from the section on Russia, the wiki is just getting started. Only RGASPI has been included. Success will depend on more of us getting involved. As for me, there’s something a little too impersonal about the wiki format when it takes on such grand tasks. We have yet to see if, as a brief article from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog suggests, the Wiki has run out of steam.

In any case, I’m happy with the blog format for now.

April 30, 2009. Archives, Research, Software, Web tools. Leave a comment.

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