Rewriting Russian History | College of Arts & Sciences | Kent State University

Rewriting Russian History

Recent doctoral graduate examines the portrayal of Stalinism in Contemporary Russian high school textbooks

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration has slowly changed the way Soviet history is taught in Russia, according to Todd Nelson, Ph.D., a recent Kent State University political science doctoral graduate. 

In his recent article, published in Post-Soviet Affairs, Nelson examines how the Putin administration has emphasized Stalin's achievements, downplayed the horrors of his regime, and laid the groundwork for public support of a nationalist, authoritarian political system.

The article, titled “History as Ideology: the portrayal of Stalinism and the Great Patriotic War in Contemporary Russian high school textbooks” is based on Nelson’s three months of fieldwork in Russia in late 2009. While researching for this project, Nelson interviewed Russian citizens, including teachers, who he claims are very aware of the changes being made to the textbooks. 

Nelson explains that the Russian Ministry of Education has the power to approve the history textbooks sent to classrooms, many of which are designed to emphasize Russia’s success under Stalin. 

“Putin and the people around him are trying to show that a strong, centralized state has been historically good for Russia,” Nelson said. “By fostering nostalgia for Stalin and his government, Putin draws an implicit parallel with his own administration and is able to paint Russia as a victim of Western aggression.”

According to Nelson, this type of study is uncommon. “There aren’t a lot of people doing this detailed qualitative analysis and textbook manipulation isn’t often looked at,” he said. He believes that this kind of research is applicable to all, and emphasizes the importance of objectively evaluating sources. 

“As a scholar of post-communist politics, I want to note that Post-Soviet Affairs is a very well-regarded journal in our field,” Andrew Barnes, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Political Science, said.  “This is likely to be read widely and assigned in a number of Russian Politics courses around the country.”

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Media Contact:
Jim Maxwell, jmaxwel2@kent.edu, 330-672-8028