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  So they have, for example, Anna Larina’s memoir as well as unpublished materials… just based on my searches I found that they have some pretty obscure memoirs.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.

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.

Harvard University Refugee Interview Project

I learned today that this famous project has been fully digitized and most of the interviews as well as reference guides to the collection are available online.   Carried out from 1950-1951, it consists of “329 general ‘sociological’ interviews on the subjects’ life histories, which were known as Schedule A, and 435 topical ‘anthropological’ interviews with more focused lines of questioning, known as Schedule B,” as well as thousands of written questionnaires.   Although I could not find precise information, it seems as if most of the interview materials were included in the project.  More about the project can be found in the Summer 2008 issue of the Davis Center newsletter.

April 13, 2009. Archives, Primary Sources, Research, Stalin Era, Students, Teaching. 2 comments.

Marina Sorokina’s talk on Russian Archives

Today Dr. Marina Sorokina,  an historian and specialist on the Russian archives, gave a presentation to U of T graduate students.  She argues that Russia has made huge strides in the last five years towards making archival resources accessible online. This work is supported especially by the Russian Foundation for the Humanities.

She discussed the official portal of the Russian archives and websites for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Democracy, Sakharov and Solzhenytsin Foundations, the new online portals of RGASPI’s comintern archive and RGALI, as well as a site called Hronos.


The Hronos site has an excellent biograficheskii ukazatel’, the best I’ve seen.  I only looked the Soviet period.    It also seems that they take suggestions.


Guides to the Russian Academy of Science’s archives are available here.  I asked Dr. Sorokina about finding sources from the Institute of the History of Art, and she also pointed me towards its current manifestation, the Institute Iskusstvoznanie.  They have an division of visual art and architecture.


The Alexander Yakovlev archive has a database of published archival documents that came to light during the failed attempt to try the Communist Party in the late 1990s.  The materials are divided into thematic categories, and there is a search function.  I searched for укрупнение and агрогород without any hits.  I searched for Хрущев between 1950 and 1953 and came up with a few documents:

Докладная записка агитпропа ЦК Г.М. Маленкову о роли сектора художественной литературы агитпропа ЦК в кампании против космополитизма

Информация В.С. Абакумова1 о «засоренности» кадров в клинике лечебного питания Института питания АМН СССР 04.07.1950

Докладная записка агитпропа ЦК Г.М. Маленкову о предложении М.С. Гуса написать книгу об американской разведке 25.03.1952

Докладная записка агитпропа ЦК Г.М. Маленкову по вопросам юридической науки 12.05.1952

These are all reports to First Secretary Malenkov; he had them forwarded “v круглую” to other secretaries, including Ponomarenko and Khrushchev.  I’ve noted that a search for “хрущев” will not catch “хрущеву,” worth being aware of.

Searching for хрущеву brought up many more files, mostly dokladnye zapiski to Stalin.  The majority of them relate to Foreign Affairs.   I searched for колхоз 1949-1953 and all the materials related to either literature or to Jewish Autonomous Republic.  Also interesting that in this case the search terms колхоз, колхоза, и колхозов all give the same results.


The Sakharov Center has a database of Gulag Memoirs.  I searched their memoirs for the term “Arkhangel’sk” and came up with 133 memoirs.  Архангельск and Крестьян came up with only 1.


RGALI‘s search function works well, and draws on their apparently very extensive catalogs.  Only one item came up for Arkhangel’sk oblast’, however:

Шифр: ф. 3102 оп. 1 ед. хр. 1287
Раздел систематизации: 1. Рукописи.
К.И.Коничев. “Документы рассказывают. Александр Грин в Пинеге и Кегострове”. Статья. С дарственной надписью В.Г.Лидину.
Крайние даты: 1964
Количество листов: 1
Коничев Константин Иванович
Лидин Владимир Германович, адресат
Грин (Гриневский) Александр Степанович, упоминаемое лицо
Способ воспроизведения
Вырезка из газеты
Литература/Публицистика/Публицистика в России и СССР/Статьи
Литература/Публицистика/Публицистика в России и СССР/Переписка личная

Архангельская обл./Кегостров о., упоминаемое место
Архангельская обл./Пинега пос., упоминаемое место


Thanks Marina!

October 22, 2008. Archives, Primary Sources, Research. Leave a comment.