DepositPre-Revolutionary Russian Photography at the New York Public Library: An Introduction

This article is an introduction to the New York Public Library’s pre-revolutionary Russian and Eastern European photographic albums. It also provides a checklist of these albums. The checklist is an especially rich source for Russian architecture, art, and science and provides documentation for a variety of places in the center and provinces of the Russian Empire. Some of the most significant albums are those once owned by the Romanovs and by George Kennan the elder, America’s first Russian expert.

DepositRussian Wanderer in the Post-Soviet Space

In “Russian Wanderer in the Post-Soviet Space: Homelessness in Ilichevsky’s Matisse,” Jordan examines Aleksandr Ilichevsky’s conceptualization of homelessness as a state of existential not belonging that beset the author and his peers when the Soviet system collapsed in the early 1990s. The novel’s protagonist mitigates his metaphorical homelessness by embracing actual homelessness, using it as a “part of a flight to a deeper awareness” (Widmer); yet Jordan also shows that homelessness in Matisse draws on the Russian spiritual tradition of strannichestvo, or departure from the secular world in pursuit of a sacred destination. By bringing into the discussion the writings of Dostoevsky, Berdyaev, and Ioann Lestvichnik, Jordan shows that although strannichestvo in Matisse has lost its religious underpinnings, it remains primarily a spiritual concept that allows an individual to break free from a mass society and gain the kind of fulfillment that the Soviet state promised but failed to deliver.

DepositThe New Age paradox: spiritual consumerism and traditional authority at the Child of Nature festival in Russia

This article addresses the paradox of contemporary New Age spirituality, which combines the individualist ideology of the capitalist market with traditional truth claims. The underlying assumption of the New Age—that there is one universal Truth in many guises—supports this type of legitimation. I argue that this paradox can be illuminated from a transcultural ethnographic perspective with the help of the concept of vernacular belief. The emphasis on lived experience reveals the New Age as a mutable and diverse set of practices from which we cannot expect ideological coherence. Analysing the plural ideological landscape of the Child of Nature festival in St Petersburg, this article investigates how its participants deal with competing narratives of universal truth, all of which pivot on one term: ‘Vedic wisdom’.

DepositAn aesthetic impasse in Artigas: between socialist realism and concretism

This article explores the ambivalent position of Artigas in the political-cultural debate of the Cold War, during the 1950s, when two principal art movements were opposed. On one side, socialist realist tendencies that emerged in post-revolutionary Russia, particularly after the ascension of Stalin, who intended it to be the new art of the proletarian masses, along the lines of cultural policies shared by many communist parties. On another side, concretism, already held as a new avant-garde art of geometrical abstraction, attacked by communist militants for its supposed “imperialist” links. To carry out this exploration, we have mapped the architect’s treatment of both currents from two simultaneous fonts. One refers to the writings and classes of Artigas, where it is possible to trace the changes in meaning that each movement underwent throughout his career. The other refers to his projects, where we studied two paradigmatical houses: the Olga Baeta, of 1956; and the Rubens de Mendonça, of 1958. Although the former is usually regarded as “socialist realist” and the latter as “concretist”, analysis of the drawings do not permit any narrow bonds to any of them. Both positions are mixed together in both houses, revealing the cultural impasse in which Artigas was set, present in both the texts and buildings, not only regarding the formal development assigned to each of them, but the link between long-term national and political projects.

Deposit“Du bist Nummer 55”: Girls’ Education, Mädchen in Uniform, and Social Responsibility

Christa Winsloe’s Mädchen in Uniform texts offer a means to examine the role of education in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German society while also exemplifying the genre of boarding school literature. This article provides an overview of educational debates in Prussia and the German Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially as these debates relate to girls’ and young women’s schooling and their intersectional concerns with social class. The schools in question lie in a framework of Foucauldian disciplinary institutions, which one can see in excerpts from Winsloe’s novel Das Mädchen Manuela.

DepositEvolutionary dynamics in the dispersal of sign languages

While the evolution of spoken languages is well understood and has been studied using traditional historical comparative methods as well as newer computational phylogenetic methods, evolutionary processes resulting in the diversity of contemporary sign languages are poorly understood, and scholars have been largely unsuccessful in grouping sign languages into monophyletic language families. To date, no published studies have attempted to use language data to infer relationships amongst sign languages on a large scale. Here, we report the results of a phylogenetic analysis of 40 contemporary and 36 historical sign language manual alphabets coded for morphological similarity. Our results support grouping sign languages in the sample into six main European lineages, with three larger groups of Austrian, British, and French origin, as well as three smaller groups centering around Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. The British and Swedish lineages support current knowledge of relationships amongst sign languages based on extra-linguistic historical sources. With respect to other lineages, our results diverge from current hypotheses by indicating (i) independent evolution of Austrian, French, and Spanish from Spanish sources; (ii) an internal Danish subgroup within the Austrian lineage; and (iii) evolution of Russian from Austrian sources.

Deposit“Strange beasts of the sea”: Captain Cook, the sea otter and the creation of a transoceanic American empire

On 12 July 1776, Captain James Cook and his crew left England in search of the famed Northwest Passage. Spanish, French, and Russian explorers before him had set out to find this Arctic waterway, which was thought to link the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans and promised to open up a new, more direct trading route with Asia. After seven months of sailing up and down the North American Pacific Coast, however, Cook was forced to conclude that such a passage did not exist. His voyage nonetheless transformed the trade relations between Europe, the USA and Asia. By detailing the rich natural resources the crew encountered in the North Pacific, the published records of Cook’s last voyage alerted a vast reading public, both in Europe and the young USA, to the commercial opportunities emerging from the exploitation of these resources. Using the example of the sea otter, this article explores how new knowledge about the natural world in the Pacific and its dissemination through print culture not only sparked intense rivalries between European colonial powers, but also helped the newly independent USA establish itself as a transoceanic empire.

DepositConfessions of a Comparatist (2019)

This essay offers an autobiographical account of reading across literatures and languages. I compare the selves that I have developed in each of three languages—Russian, Persian, and Georgian—over the course of many years of reading. Refusing to make literary traditions coterminous with national identities, I reflect here on love through language and on language through love while narrating how I cultivated my multilingual reading habits.