The Bakhtin Centre was founded in October 1994 with support from the University of Sheffield's New Academic Developments Fund, Humanities Research Institute and Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies. The Centre's Director was Professor David Shepherd of the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, who was succeeded by Professor Craig Brandist in 2008.
The Centre's original purpose was to promote multi- and inter-disciplinary research on the work of the Russian philosopher and theorist Mikhail Bakhtin and the Bakhtin Circle, and on related areas of cultural, critical, linguistic and literary theory. Its scope thus already extended beyond the limits of traditional Russian and Slavic studies and as the Centre has developed and research has proceeded, it had moved beyond a limited focus on the Bakhtin Circle to embrace study of then development of theories of culture in Russia and the USSR, and to related fields. This approach is reflected in the projects pursued by the Centre:
- A fully searchable Analytical Database of Work by and about the Bakhtin Circle
- An ongoing project exploring the intellectual affiliations of the Bakhtin Circle's work through a variety of publications
- 'The Rise of Sociological Linguistics in the Soviet Union, 1917–1938: Institutions, Ideas and Agendas', an AHRC-funded project under the direction of Dr Craig Brandist
- The Tzvetan Todorov project, which will lead to an intellectual biography of the French thinker written by Dr Karine Zbinden, Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre
The Centre also runs e-mail news and discussion lists dealing with the work of Bakhtin and the Bakhtin Circle and of Tzvetan Todorov.
The Centre holds a special research collection of materials in several languages, but especially rich in Russian and English.
The Centre maintains informal links with researchers in many countries, and has formal agreements on collaboration with the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
From 1998 to 2001 the Centre published Dialogism: An International Journal of Bakhtin Studies.