Dr Miriam Dobson
Contact DetailsSenior Lecturer in Modern History
M.A. (Cantab.), M.A., Ph.D. (London)
20th Century Russia.
+44 (0)114 22 22567
Jessop West 2.09
Office hours: on maternity leave.
I studied Russian and French at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, before moving to the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, University College London, where I gained an M.A. in History and later my PhD. I held a Scouloudi History Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research (2002-03) and a one-year lectureship at the University of Liverpool (2003-4), before starting at Sheffield in September 2004.
My first monograph Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform After Stalin won the 2010 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize awarded by Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies 'for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year'.
I am currently principal investigator on a four-year AHRC-funded project entitled 'Protestants Behind The Iron Curtain: Religious Belief, Identity, And Narrative In Russia And Ukraine Since 1945'.
My research interests lie in the history of the Soviet Union, with a particular emphasis on the social and cultural history of post-war Russia. My first book explored popular responses to the reforms of the Khrushchev era, in particular the massive exodus of prisoners from the Gulag. Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform After Stalin examined the impact of these returnees on communities and, more broadly, Soviet attempts to come to terms with the traumatic legacies of Stalin's terror.
My current project explores the history of Baptist and Pentecostal communities in the Soviet Union. In this project I will study state-church relations in the late Soviet period, exploring on the one hand how the government used bureaucratic, legalistic and propagandistic means to curb religious activity and on the other how religious groups sought to evade or at least attenuate this control. The project will explore the experience of belonging to a congregation and the meaning of belief in a radically atheist state. It draws on archival materials as well as oral history interviews which will be carried out as part of the AHRC-funded project.
My current project focuses on a very specific group – evangelical Protestants – but continues to develop my earlier research interest in how individuals and communities related to the Soviet project.
Matthew Kerry - Radical Political Identities in Asturias, 1931-7.
David Lyon - Bitter Justice: The Penitentiary of El Puerto De Santa Maria and it's Basque Dimension 1936-1949.
Hannah Parker - Emancipation from Above: An analysis of Russian Women’s Responses to the Emancipation of Women in the Stalin Era.
Alun Thomas (Russian and Slavonic Studies) - Kazakh Nomads and the New Soviet State, 1920-1930.
James Yeoman - The Lived Experience of Anarchism: Education and Culture in pre-Civil War Spain.
Khrushchev's Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform After Stalin (Cornell University Press, 2009) [2010 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize]
Between Stalin's death in 1953 and 1960, the government of the Soviet Union released hundreds of thousands of prisoners from the Gulag as part of a wide-ranging effort to reverse the worst excesses and abuses of the previous two decades and revive the spirit of the revolution. This exodus included not only victims of past purges but also those sentenced for criminal offences. In Khrushchev's Cold Summer, Miriam Dobson explores the impact of these returnees on communities and, more broadly, Soviet attempts to come to terms with the traumatic legacies of Stalin's terror. Confusion and disorientation undermined the regime's efforts at recovery. In the wake of Stalin's death, ordinary citizens and political leaders alike struggled to make sense of the country's recent bloody past and to cope with the complex social dynamics caused by attempts to reintegrate the large influx of returning prisoners, a number of whom were hardened criminals alienated and embittered by their experiences within the brutal camp system.
Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth and Twentieth Century History, co-edited with Benjamin Ziemann (Routledge, 2008)
This introductory guide helps the History students as they begin on their own research. It explores how historians approach primary sources and examines how interpretations of the same document may differ. In the first part of this volume, the chapters give an overview of both traditional and new methodological approaches to the use of sources, analysing the way that these have changed over time. The second part gives an overview of twelve different types of written sources, including letters, opinion polls, surveillance reports, diaries, novels, newspapers, and dreams, taking into account the huge expansion in the range of written primary sources used by historians over the last thirty years.
'Cold Summer of 53', Directory of World Cinema: Russia, ed. Birgit Beumers (Intellect, 2010), pp. 72-73.
'Letters', in Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Modern History, co-edited with Benjamin Ziemann (Routledge, 2008), pp. 57-73.
'"Show the Bandits No Mercy!": Amnesty, Criminality and Public Response in 1953', The Dilemmas of De-Stalinisation: A Social and Cultural History of Reform in the Khrushchev Era, ed. Polly A. Jones (RoutledgeCurzon, 2005), pp. 21-40.
'The Post-Stalin Era: De-Stalinisation, Daily Life, and Dissent', Kritika, 12, 4 (2011), pp. 905-924.
'POWs and Purge Victims: Attitudes towards Party Rehabilitation in Vladimir and Moscow, 1956-7', Slavonic and East European Review 86, 2 (2008), pp. 328-345.
In the wake of Stalin's death in 1953 and Khrushchev's Secret Speech three years later, many Soviet citizens hoped that past injustices would now be put right. For some, this meant the right to rejoin the Communist Party. This article explores how former party members - including many returning from the camps - sought rehabilitation in the years 1956 to 1957. Focusing in particular on the party organization in Vladimir province, the article examines the differing ways POWs and purge victims were treated, and asks how far the decisions made by the party elite in this particular region reflected central policy or local concerns.
'Contesting the Paradigms of De-Stalinization: Readers' Responses to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich', Slavic Review, 64 (2005), pp.580-600.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novella 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' was published in the literary journal Novyi mir in November 1962 and provoked excited debate across the Soviet press in subsequent months. In this article, I use unpublished letters to the editor to examine readers' responses to this work of literature and as a means to explore attitudes towards the process of de-Stalinization more broadly. While many historians have tended to see the Nikita Khrushchev period as a battleground between liberals and conservatives, these letters suggest a rather more complex dialogue over the legacies of Stalinism. They show that even those readers who embraced the de-Stalinizing rhetoric of the Twenty-Second Party Congress found Solzhenitsyn's text highly disturbing. Distressed by the appearance of camp slang and 'vulgar' language within a literary work, readers took the opportunity to express their concerns over the large numbers of criminals released from the gulag, rising crime levels, and the perceived threat they presented to 'respectable' Soviet culture.
Lecturer - Paths from Antiquity to Modernity, HST112 (First Year compulsory module)
Taking you from the height of the Roman Empire to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, this module is an introduction to the dominant narrative of History, from a European perspective (though the module ventures widely beyond Europe when appropriate). Each lecture looks at a particular historical 'turning point', while the weekly seminar takes a more thematic approach, tackling historical notions such as revolutions, progress, globalisation and renaissance. By the end of the module, you'll have a sense of the broad sweep of History, fascinating in itself but particularly useful for single and dual honours students as preparation for more detailed study at Levels II and III. You will also have an appreciation of the importance of periodisation (how historians divide up time), and the problematic concept of modernity. This module is explicitly intended to aid with the transition to the study of History at University.
Lecturer - Historians and History, HST202 (Second Year compulsory module)
This module introduces students to some of the most influential and significant developments which have shaped the ways in which historians think about and write about the past. Since History became professionalised as a specific academic discipline in the nineteenth century, historians have adopted a variety of different approaches to their studies. For some, ideas about the past have been shaped by political beliefs, by the application of political ideologies and philosophies, and by the desire to produce a more inclusive version of history, focusing on the experience of the working classes, women, and groups marginalised in established accounts. Others have been influenced by different methods of research, and the opportunities offered by particular types of source material to tell different stories about the past. Others still have been inspired by intellectual theories and by borrowings from other disciplines, like literary studies and anthropology, to explore new ways of thinking about history. The module allows students to think more about the different ways in which we can study History, and to engage with the work of a number of historians whose influence can still be felt today.
Module Leader - Holy Russia, Soviet Empire: Nation, Religion, and Identity in the 20th Century, HST232 (Second Year optional module)
In the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, new independent states were established across the former communist bloc, from Central Asia to the Baltic coast. A wave of religious and nationalist emotion prevailed in many of these new countries; war erupted in some parts, most notably in Chechnya.
This module explores the history behind these turbulent events. Rather than approaching the Revolutionary and Soviet periods by focusing on the rise and fall of different political leaders, we instead approach this subject through the prism of nation, religion, and identity. The course probes the following questions: What did the ‘Russian Revolution’ mean for the multi-national empire created by the Romanovs? How far did the communist party manage to create a ‘Soviet’ identity, and on what was this based? Did the Bolsheviks’ attempt to create an atheist society succeed? And what happened to ‘Soviet’ identity when communist leaders began to lose their grip on power in the final decades of the twentieth century?
Module Leader - Stalinism and De-Stalinisations, 1929-1961, HST3027/3028 (Third Year optional module)
Two decades after the end of the cold war, the Soviet Union continues to fascinate scholars and writers, generating a rich and fast-changing historiography. This module explores Russian history from 1929 – when Stalin's fiftieth birthday was celebrated across the Soviet Union and he was heralded as Lenin's great successor – to 1961 when his body was removed from the Red Square Mausoleum under cover of darkness. The module thus examines the rise, reign and – posthumous – fall of the Soviet leader and the nature of the new world he sought to create. We will explore not only the ideological and political dilemmas of the ruling elite, but also the diverse experience of ordinary citizens who faced both new opportunities and new ordeals during a period of radical transformation.
Please see the video below (as part of the department's Schools History Network) to see me talking about my research and Khruschev's Secret Speech.
Module Team - Identity and Belief, HST3303 (Third year compulsory module)
The Comparative Option is a new type of 20-credit, one semester module at level 3. Comparative Options take major historical themes and explore these across a broad time-frame and in a variety of different cultural and geographic settings. Each comparative option is taught by a team of lecturers whose own research relates to aspects of the topic under discussion, and they are designed to involve students and the teaching staff in a dialogue about how we approach key questions in the study of past societies. The topics selected for the modules all represent areas of lively, current historiographical debate and offer opportunities to respond to interpretations and theories emerging in other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, geography and political science. For this reason they will appeal especially to students with an interest in thinking across disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, including those studying for dual degrees. All of the comparative options raise issues with strong resonances in our contemporary culture.
Module Leader - Modernity and the Self: Negotiating Identities with the Soviet State, HST677 (Postgraduate module)
Characterizations of modernity may vary, but most historians identify the state's increasing desire to shape, or sculpt, the body politic as one of its defining features. 20thC states sought to transform their populations into orderly, educated, industrious citizens, and in this regard, the Soviet Union was certainly no exception. From 1917 onwards, great energies were invested in the quest to 'remake man'. Citizens were urged to 'work on themselves', and encouraged to write petitions, keep diaries, construct autobiographies. In exploring such writings, this module will invite students to think about the relationship between the state and the individual and to reflect on notions of 'atomisation', citizenship, subjectivity, power, resistance and trauma. The seminars will examine different kinds of text: diaries, petition letters, memoirs, and oral history transcripts. The focus is on the Soviet Union, though students are also encouraged to bring examples from other areas of study in order to make comparisons.
As part of the department's Schools History Network we contribute to local schools' teaching by holding events for local pupils and their teachers, introducing children to advances in historical knowledge, and enabling teachers to brush up on their scholarship concerning historical events. Staff have given talks to students at local schools, but we also hold events within the department to which local pupils and teachers are invited and schools have also offered placements for our MA students.
As part of the Schools History Network the department has made a series of videos for use in the classroom. Below is a short video of myeslf talking about Khruschev's Secret Speech.
In the Media
I contribute to a variety of history blogs including the Russian History Blog where I blog on topics ranging from Soviet baby boomers, the meaning of 1991 and the Soviet imagery of nuclear work.
I also contribute to the department's History Matters blog. This blog exhibits cutting-edge research, the history behind the headlines and why we think history really matters.
University Administrative Roles
Senior Tutor (2010-present)
Director of MA Programmes (2008-09)
Member of Teaching Committee (2005-present), Postgraduate Committee (2008-09), Research Committee (2008-09) and Admissions Committee (2004-07)
History Department Teaching and Learning Advocate (2005-08)
Convenor of Level 2 module Historians and History (2006-08)