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Prof Susan Morrissey
SSEES (16 Taviton St.): Room 420
Gower Street
  • Professor of Russian History
  • Sch of Slavonic & East European Studies
  • School of Arts & Social Sciences

I grew up in the north-east of the United States, moving between Vermont, New York City, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. After receiving a BA in Russian Studies from Oberlin College, I first visited the USSR at an especially fascinating time, the very early years of the Gorbachev era - a period of anti-alcohol campaigns, the Chernobyl disaster, and the 'Good-Will Games'. I then began my doctoral studies at the University of California at Berkeley, where Reginald Zelnik inspired me to focus on the late imperial period, and received my PhD in 1993. In 1998, after living and teaching in several countries, I moved to London and began to teach at SSEES.

Research Summary

I work on the boundaries between social, cultural, and political history and am especially interested in interdisciplinary approaches. My first book, Heralds of Revolution: Russian Students and the Mythologies of Radicalism (Oxford University Press: 1998), concerned the student movement (and student radicalism of the left and right more broadly) in early twentieth-century Russia, paying particular attention to the genesis of political mythologies. My second monograph, Suicide and the Body Politic in Imperial Russia (Cambridge University Press: 2006), explored the history of suicide in Russia from the earliest medieval sources to 1914. It combines a set of specific arguments about Russian culture, society, and politics with broader ones about secularization, modernity, subjectivity, and the phenomenon of suicide more generally. 

My current research (funded by the British Academy), considers the history of political violence in late imperial Russia, especially the relationship between revolutionary terrorism, state-sponsored violence, subjectivity, and culture (mass media, photography, graphic art, fiction). I thus investigate competing claims to sovereignty, both the state’s claim to a monopoly on violence and the assertion by insurgents of a fundamental (moral, political, personal) right to violence against the state (and sometimes society). This contest over sovereignty occurred on multiple levels (the political, the bodily, and the symbolic) and shaped the expansion of ‘acceptable’ forms of violence. Yet political violence is also lived experience, a ‘trauma’ that is mediated through myriad voices – victims, witnesses, journalists, doctors, jurists, government officials – and ultimately commemorated and memorialized. Acts of violence, therefore, are also constituted through their contested representations in public institutions, personal documents, and cultural artefacts alike. In sum, I have developed a cultural-political approach focused upon the intersection of acts of political violence, acts of representation, and assertions of individual and collective sovereignty. 

Teaching Summary

I teach BA and MA courses on the history of Russia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including a survey of the political and social history of late imperial and revolutionary Russia (1856-1917), a special subject entitled 'Mass Culture in an Age of Revolution: Russia, 1900-1934', and an MA seminar, 'The Culture of Russian Revolutionary Terrorism'. I also enjoy teaching the MA core course on Historical Methods and Approaches, which considers a wider range of topics and methodologies, focusing on the intersection between theory and historical practice, especially (but not only) in our region. Over last few years, I have supervised a broad range of PhD dissertations on topics in Russian and Soviet history (as well as some forays into eastern and central Europe) and especially welcome proposals from potential research students interested in Russian and Soviet history from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.


Academic Background
1993 PhD Doctor of Philosophy University of California - Berkeley
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