History 339: 20th Century East European Life Stories - Fall 2005

Treleaven Seminar Room/Thursday 1:10-4:00pm

Professor Eliza Ablovatski

Office Hours: M 2-4:30pm, Th 9:30am-noon, and by appointment

Telephone: x5892 / Office: Seitz 5

Email: ablovatskie@kenyon.edu


Surviving the Twentieth Century and Telling the Story



Course Website available at: segue.kenyon.edu


Course Description:  The 20th Century was one of violence, political upheaval and disaster for Eastern Europe; at the same time, it was an era of great hope, incredible creative productivity and great social transformation.  The experiences of the Russian Revolution, two World Wars, Holocaust, Stalinism, and the "transition" after 1989 shaped the history of the region.  These events also intersected with and controlled the destinies of generations of people from the area.  In this seminar we will examine the literature of life narratives: memoirs, diaries, oral histories and fiction to see how people from the region have remembered, reconstructed, and narrated the stories of their lives.  We will ask whose memories become history, do women and men remember differently, how have gender and ethnicity have shaped experience and narrative? Over the semester we will look at generational shifts in the understanding of important historic events and consider how emigration and exile affect the way a life's narrative is remembered and structured.   


Course Requirements:  Students will complete several research projects about topics related to the readings for the class.  Individually and in pairs, students will research the historical and historiographical backgrounds of the countries and events described in the memoirs we will read.  Students will sign up for these in-class presentations.  The historical presenters for the week will also be responsible for answering the background questions submitted by the other seminar members.  These submissions (required for those not presenting) will be posted to the course website at segue.kenyon.edu.  In addition, each student will select an additional work of autobiography, memoir, fiction or film for a final paper.  This final paper will compare and contrast the chosen work with readings from the semester as well as put the chosen work into its historical and historiographical context. 


Historical Research Presentations:  each student will be responsible for presentations at least twice during the semester.  This presentation must be discussed with the professor more than a week in advance and must be based on at least 5 secondary (or in some cases also primary) sources.  The student will hand in to the professor a written version of the report given orally in class, and is responsible for creating a handout to give to the other seminar members.  The handout and the oral report should address questions raised by seminar member.  The report given to the professor should be polished and edited, include a full bibliography, and be at least 7 pages in length (about 15 minutes if read aloud).


Class Participation/Attendance: are mandatory; we are covering a wide amount of material and will be moving quickly.  In addition, students should be prepared to discuss the themes and issues raised in the readings.  Please email me if you are going to miss class or have missed a class.  Missing more than 2 classes for any reason will affect your grade. 


Grading:         Professionalism                         20%

                        Final Paper                               25%

                        Posting Questions                     15%

                        Presentations (at least 2)           40%


Professionalism:  This is a seminar, based on discussion of shared readings and films.  The seminar will only be as strong as your participation.  All students are expected to attend class, attend the outside film screenings, and be active participants in the discussion.  Students are expected to learn and follow the norms of historical scholarship, as well as the Kenyon Honor Code. They should show respect to classmates and the professor, turn in all work on time, address problems as they arise, locate the readings ahead of class or alert the library staff or professor if they have trouble finding them, and attend all out of class film screenings.  Students should bring all assigned reading (print out a copy of online sources) with them to class to aid in discussion. All graded work must be handed in hard copy to me.  No emailed attachments will be graded. 


Honor Code and Lateness Policy: Please read the Kenyon College policy “Academic Honesty and Questions of Plagiarism” in the Course of Study carefully.  It is expected that all work that you turn in for this course is your own and that you will follow the general guidelines of academic honesty, as well as the norms of the historical profession for citation, when writing for this class.  Any questionable work or cases of possible infractions of the Honor Code will be turned over to the Academic Infractions Board.  You will receive a “zero” for any plagiarized work.  In order to be fair to all students, late work will be marked down for each day that it is late and will not be accepted after one week.  Missing a scheduled presentation will mean a grade of zero.




Required texts are available for purchase at the bookstore:

  • Anna Bek, The Life Of A Russian Woman Doctor: A Siberian Memoir, 1869-1954
  • Eugenia Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind
  • Susan Rubin Suleiman, Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook
  • Imre Kertesz, Fatelessness
  • Heda Margolius Kovaly, Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968
  • Aharon Appelfeld, The Story of a Life : A Memoir
  • Courtney Brkic, The Stone Fields.
  • Irena Vrkljan, The Silk, The Shears    


Library:  We will schedule an opportunity for you to meet Mary Stettner, the history department liaison in the library.  Mary’s hours at the reference desk are: Mondays -- 10am-12pm and Thursdays -- 6pm-10pm.  You may also email her at any time for help with history resources and ask any other librarians to help you.  Mary’s email is: stettnerm@kenyon.edu.



Note: If you have a disability and therefore may need some sort of accommodation(s) in order to fully participate in this class, please let me know.  In addition, you will need to contact Erin Salva, Coordinator of Disability Services (x5145).  Ms. Salva has the authority and expertise to decide what accommodations are appropriate and necessary for you. 





September 1:  Introduction

  • Sign-up for research projects


September 8: Memory and History

  • Peter Burke, “History as Social Memory,” in Varieties of Cultural History (on Reserve and in Seitz).


September 15: Russian Revolution

·        Anna Bek, The Life Of A Russian Woman Doctor: A Siberian Memoir, 1869-1954


September 22: Stalinism – Early USSR

  • Eugenia Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind



September 29: Stalinism – Great Terror

  • Eugenia Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind



October 6: Holocaust - Hungary

·        Imre Kertesz, Fatelessness



October 13: Holocaust -Hungary

  • Susan Rubin Suleiman, Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook



October 20: Holocaust – Ukraine/Poland

  • In class film: “Herr Zwilling und Frau Zuckermann” (German, dir. Volker Koepp, 1999, English subtitles)
  • Interviews with film’s protagonists and other Jews in Ukraine and in Israel (handouts/electronic resources).
  • Optional: Henryk Grynberg, “Escape from Boryslaw,” “Without a Trace,” and “A Brother in Volhynia,” in Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories: True Tales from the Holocaust and Life After



October 27: Holocaust and Exile

  • Aharon Appelfeld, The Story of a Life : A Memoir



November 3: Czechoslovakia

  • Heda Margolius Kovaly, Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968


November 4-9: Film: “Father” (István Szabó)


November 10: Post-WWII Stalinism

  • Lisa Kirschenbaum, “Gender, Memory, And National Myths: Ol'ga Berggol'ts And The Siege Of Leningrad,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 28, No. 3  (Sept. 2000), 551 - 564
  • Zsuzsanna Kőrösi and Andrienne Molnár, Carrying a Secret in my Heart… Children of the Victims of the Reprisals after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. An Oral History: “Introduction” and “The Revolution” (pp. 1-24), optional: “A New World” and “Stigmatisation” (pp. 25-44 and 59-72). “The Turnaround” and “The Legacy,” (pp. 117-148). (On Reserve)


November 17: Yugoslavia

  • Irena Vrkljan, The Silk, The Shears





December 1: Yugoslavia, War and Memory (guest speaker)

  • Courtney Brkic, The Stone Fields



December 8:  Last Class – presentation of final paper topics