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GSC professor works to create Russian history journal
Work focuses on post-WWII society
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Democracy supporters rally in favor of Russian President Boris Yeltsin in April 1993.

Growing up during the Cold War made the young Martin Blackwell wonder what the world was hiding.

"I wanted to know what life was like behind the Iron Curtain," he said. "I traveled a lot as a kid and what struck me as unfair was that these kids (in the Soviet Union) couldn't travel."

Several years later, Blackwell's appreciation for Russian culture resulted in one of the first academic journals about the country's post-World War II society.

The journal, "Contemporary History of Russia," is intended to create a spirit of collaboration between foreign and Russian scholars and to understand the big picture of society in post-WWII Russia.

Blackwell said journal editors will seek submissions from historians asking new questions. He said it's important for the Russian audience to realize these scholars don't want to "destroy the country," but instead seek to understand their most recent history. He's in charge of finding submissions for upcoming editions.

Blackwell studied German and Russian in high school and college, which inspired his desire to study abroad.

"It helped me understand my own world better. I was able to study and compare and contrast the cultures," he said.

His experiences as a study abroad student fueled his desire to learn more about the country.

"In a nutshell I worked in Russia leading study abroad programs in the late '90s in St. Petersburg," Blackwell said. "I was at one three or four years ago, and a conversation came up about how there should be more connections between Russians and foreigners who study Russia. We work in archives ... we read the same materials. Maybe it would be a good thing to meet."

Blackwell and his colleagues became interested in seeing what types of questions different nationalities of scholars asked about Russia's modern history as well as what conclusions they came to.

He called post-WWII "a dark time in Russia's history."

"The place was completely sealed off to the West," Blackwell said. "No one really knew what was going on. Us Westerners didn't know who we were fighting in the Cold War."

In October 2010, Blackwell helped organize a conference in St. Petersburg that focused on Russia's history from 1945 to 1964, the years the country was ruled by Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. The conference focused on how World War II changed the Soviet Union, and how those changes were hidden from the rest of the world.

Blackwell said scholars sought to understand "how corrupt Soviet society was."

"In the late '50s and '60s there were real efforts to understand society by writers. There were a lot of people who were upset with those guys because it was a sign of a fact that society isn't all that sturdy," he said. "The tragedy is really the government. They're not very interested in people telling the truth about their past. What we can do is try to better understand them on our own terms."

Blackwell's journal will be a step in that direction.

The first edition of the journal is already out. The second is slated to be printed in October. Blackwell said the plan is to have three journals per year.

It's printed in Russian and funding comes mostly from private companies.

Blackwell said the distribution is between 1,000 and 1,500, which is a good many considering only about 100 American scholars study modern Russian history.

At Gainesville State, Blackwell is a world history teacher.

His department head, Ric Kabat, said Blackwell's Ph.D. in Russian history comes from Indiana University, one of the top American universities in that subject.

"As he develops this journal with scholars in Russia and Europe and North America, he will continue his research," Kabat said. "Through that and his class, he's going to open up students to archival historical research and kind of that cutting edge international research. I think it's great to have someone of his background at the college."

Blackwell strives to show his students a more global perspective on the subjects at hand. For example, he said, most governments began as dictatorial regimes.

"Russia was and still is a dictatorial regime," he said. "I think if you can understand why a dictator makes sense to Russians today, why that's not strange, then you've come a long way in world history."

 

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