Prof. Ingrid Kleespies, Assistant Professor of Russian, has been awarded a Senior Fellowship at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies for the 2012-13 academic year. The fellowship sponsors research toward her second book project, Bounding the Russian Frontier: Mythologies of Space and Identity in Narratives of Russian National Expansion. The basis for this project emerged from her previous book, A Nation Astray: Nomadism and National Identity in Russian Literature, which focuses on notions of Russian identity and space. During her research for A Nation Astray, Kleespies became interested in the way travel narratives described Siberia as a frontier, much like the American frontier. This observation encouraged Prof. Kleespies to search for accounts that presented Siberia not as a prison, but as a place to reinvent Russian society. By contrast, other scholars have examined the history of Siberia, and the conflict between Russia as a nation and Russia as an empire. Prof. Kleespies is thus opening a new door as she writes about the idea of Russia’s frontier and the discourse of what she calls frontieriority. This concept refers to a discourse of national expansion that was present in arts and literature, including the Russian press. Prof. Kleespies explores this fronteriority to reveal how Russians saw themselves, or attempted to see themselves, as a frontier nation. She hopes to look at both the perception of Russia as a nation expanding and renewing itself in the vast eastern space of Siberia, as well as at the complex realities of expansion such as resettlement and the recreation of pre-existent social problems.
The fellowship will fund Prof. Kleespies research at Harvard from September 2012 through May 2013. This opportunity will allow her access to the libraries’ extensive collections of Russian materials, including Russian newspaper archives. Examining resettlement advertisements in the 1850s newspapers will allow Prof. Kleespies to analyze the government’s incentives to persuade Russians to relocate. Additionally, as a scholar of Russian literature, Kleespies will read examine documents from nineteenth-centurynovels and memoirs describing frontier life. Besides having full access to all the works in Harvard’s libraries, Prof. Kleespies will also participate in a weekly seminar at the Davis Center, where she will meet with others who were also awarded fellowships and engage with presentations of their research in progress. Prof. Kleespies is looking forward to collaborating with these colleagues, reviewing their research, and receiving constructive feedback toward her own project
Prof. Kleespies’s research will promote new ways of thinking about Russia as a nation in the nineteenth century. Whereas the American frontier conjures ready images of development and progress, the Russian frontier experience has been largely forgotten. This lack of awareness contributes toward misunderstanding of Russian life and society in the 1850s. Prof. Kleespies’s book will help address this gap for both scholars and the general public. Her research will clarify how Russia’s expansion was not only an imperial project, but also national experience. Prof. Kleespies will compare and contrast this frontier with the American frontier, promoting discourse of Russian history and identity among scholars and the public alike. By providing new perspectives and detailed accounts of the Russian imperial frontier, Prof. Kleespies will contextualize discussions about nineteenth-century Russian nationalism. Bounding the Russian Frontier will promote connections between historians and Russian scholars, as well as spanning literary, cultural, and sociological communities.
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