Category Archives: Historical Journeys

The Salamander

By Caroline Godard

Caroline Godard is majoring in English and is also enrolled in the combined BA/MA program in French.  In addition, she has done coursework and an Undergraduate Summer Scholars project in Renaissance history and art history.  Earlier this year, she published an article on Andrea Alciato and the early modern emblem in Journeys into the Past [].  This summer, following a study-abroad program in Paris, she worked as a tour guide at the Château de Gizeux in the Loire Valley, France.  Here she reflects on that experience.


When I think of the Galerie François Ier at the château de Gizeux, I first remember the large mantelpiece anchored along one wall, and how the deep brown painted paneling is patterned with soft shades of gray and blue and yellow and red that dance across the wood. Depicted at the very top of the mantelpiece is a slender four-legged animal surrounded by flames. When I asked visitors to identify this animal, they often couldn’t. Perhaps it looked distorted to them because it was too high up on the mantelpiece, or perhaps the contrast between the grayish animal and the murky blue background wasn’t strong enough.

This animal is a salamander, and when analyzed together with several other symbols, it indicates that the mantelpiece represents King Francis I’s personal device. The salamander was the French king’s personal symbol, and above it rests a golden crown, alluding to his connection to the monarchy. And, in a typical Renaissance combination of text and image, we find emblazoned just above the fireplace King Francis’s Latin motto: nutrisco et extingo: je nourris le bon feu et j’éteins le mauvais feu. In English, this means that “I nourish the good fire and extinguish the bad.”

Francis I (1494-1547) was a sixteenth-century French king who is credited with bringing the Italian Renaissance to France. He reigned from 1515 until his death in 1547, and the Renaissance movement’s migration to France can be traced to Francis I’s involvement in the Italian Wars, during which he battled other European powers for control of the Italian peninsula. However, the war also allowed Francis I to establish contacts with several influential Italian artists and writers. Most famously, Leonardo da Vinci came to live and work in the Loire valley under Francis I’s patronage.

The mantelpiece with Francis I’s symbol is located at the château de Gizeux, a castle in the Loire valley. While the paneling in the room dates to the early seventeenth century, this mantelpiece was added during the nineteenth century, about two hundred years later. It was copied after an older stone mantelpiece located in an older part of the château. After learning about Francis’s symbol at Gizeux, I noticed this salamander popping up elsewhere in the Loire valley, like at the château de Chambord and château de Blois, several of Francis I’s residences that I toured on one of my days off.

For the month of July, I was a tour guide at the Gizeux castle in the Loire valley of France. I was the only American there, and the four other interns with whom I worked—Emeline, Juliette, Keltia and Marie, all students around my age—were French. Although we only knew each other for a short while, we quickly became inseparable, first by necessity and then by choice. We worked together, ate together and slept in the same bedroom, but then in the evenings after the château’s closure we would do everything together, too. Sometimes we would leave Gizeux and go out to dinner in the towns of Bourgeuil or Langeais, and once we picnicked at a park in Candes Saint-Martin, where we watched the sun set over the Loire river.

The Galerie François I was upstairs, right next to the area of the castle where we lived. Every morning after breakfast, we interns would split up to prepare the château for the influx of visitors soon to arrive. Some of us would open the first-floor salons, others would handle the gift shop, and one or two of us would always have to “check the Galerie François Ier.” Normally the gallery was already orderly, so we didn’t have to do much more than straighten the table and chairs into its usual arrangement. During this time of the morning, the weak sunlight would filter through the huge windows facing the enclosed garden out back. I was rarely alone in that room, but whenever I was everything felt very gloomy and still.

The château de Gizeux’s Renaissance owners were the du Bellay family, a very powerful and well-known noble line with connections to the Catholic church and French government. Francis I’s device is painted above the mantelpiece because he visited the château twice for two of the family’s marriages. The du Bellays thus added Francis’s symbol to commemorate the king’s presence, which was a great honor.

I always loved explaining the Galerie François I to visitors because I was fascinated by the du Bellay family history. A year ago, I had studied several poems written by another du Bellay family member, Joachim du Bellay, in a French literature course at Miami University. Joachim du Bellay never lived at Gizeux—it belonged to another branch of his family—but while at Gizeux, I tried to learn as much as I could about him. Most of my research was rudimentary, limited to quick Google searches (there was no cell phone service in the château, and the only WiFi hotspot was in our bedroom).

Joachim du Bellay, I learned, was a sixteenth-century Renaissance French poet from the Loire valley region of France. At the time of du Bellay’s birth in 1522, King Francis I had been reigning for the past six years and France had been at war with Italy off and on for the past twenty-eight years. In 1549, when Joachim du Bellay was 27, he wrote the Defense and Illustration of the French Language, a text promoting the use of the French vernacular in scientific and literary works. In this text, Joachim du Bellay argues that French writers need to create a new style of poetry inspired by classical works, that they should work to enrich the French vocabulary while also imitating ancient Greek and Roman writers.

This text is now considered the manifesto of a group of Parisian poets called La Pléiade, and Joachim du Bellay was one of the Pléiade’s principal members. These poets were humanists, and they drew inspiration from the classics, including ancient Greek and Latin languages, literature and history. Several of the seven Pléiade poets, including Joachim du Bellay and Pierre de Ronsard, popularized the form of the Petrarchan sonnet in France. The Petrarchan sonnet originated in Italy, and it is a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme that is divided into two stanzas. The first stanza has eight lines, so it is an octave, and the second has six, so it is a sestet. By innovating the French language, Joachim du Bellay continued the literary, artistic and philosophical Renaissance movement that Francis I had brought to France.

In my French literature class, we studied several of du Bellay’s poems from The Ruins of Rome, a collection of poems that Joachim du Bellay wrote upon his arrival in Rome in 1553. He was in Rome with his cousin, the cardinal Jean du Bellay. These poems are melancholic, and Joachim confronts his past illusion of Rome—which was largely informed by Latin literature and language that he had been studying—with the real Rome that he is surprised and somewhat disappointed to see in front of him. In The Ruins of Rome, Joachim du Bellay expresses his longing for a city that doesn’t exist anymore, or perhaps for a city that never truly existed.

Gizeux’s archives were destroyed during the French Revolution, so it is difficult to know whether Joachim du Bellay ever visited the castle. Sometimes I wondered why I was so interested in Joachim du Bellay, since it is doubtful that he was ever connected to Gizeux. However, despite this ambiguity, I liked that here at Gizeux my connection to Joachim du Bellay felt more concrete than it ever had before. I had previously studied Joachim’s rhyme schemes and stanzas, but now his poetry felt more tangible, connected to the history of objects and people that I talked about every day.

Before my arrival at Gizeux, Renaissance France was an abstract idea formed by the literature and history that I had read about at home in Oxford, Ohio, thousands of miles away. I loved my idealized image of France, but this summer I realized that it was something I had built myself. Like Joachim du Bellay’s Rome, it didn’t really exist, and probably never did.

Early in July, Emeline, the head intern, took us to see the decaying vieux château, the oldest and most dilapidated part of the castle. The interior is so unstable that visitors are forbidden from entering, but sometimes the interns and the de Laffon family’s children—the de Laffons are the owners and managers of the castle—would hang out in “le vieux château” for fun.

Emeline wanted to show us the original Francis I mantelpiece, which was on the second floor. She led us up the crumbling stairs, which felt dark and dangerous and narrow, and then guided us to our left for the clearest view of the old stone object.

“You can take pictures, but don’t show them to anyone. This part of the château isn’t open to visitors,” Emeline reminded us.

I opened my iPhone and took a picture of the mantelpiece, mostly because I knew that I would probably never see it again. Then I took two more photos, from a distance this time, so I could see Francis I’s Latin motto and the salamander symbol represented above. In contrast to the restored mantelpiece in the Galerie François I, this image was duller, the paint was fainter and less vibrant.

As I look at these photographs now, I also remember everything that isn’t contained in the images, like how I was casually nervous that the floor would cave in, and how the space smelled musty and weird and was obviously rarely used. I remember Marie’s and Keltia’s quiet excitement, and how I was quiet, too, partly because I was still a little shy speaking French but mostly because I just didn’t have anything to say.

Interning at Gizeux felt like living in another world and, in a way, it was. I have many pictures from my summer, some of which I cannot share and others that I probably never will. Sometimes, absentmindedly, I scroll through all of these images on my phone and wonder what I will do with them. Will I ever delete these images? Or, if I keep them, will they slowly become less significant to me, buried in my iPhone camera roll under everything else in the world that I deem worthy of documentation?

I have a few pictures of the Galerie François I, and I know that I could find more online if I wanted. On my last day at Gizeux, Keltia and held a mini photo shoot for ourselves, which began seriously but then quickly grew sarcastic. We took pictures of each other inside all of the salons and galleries, documenting our relationship to the rooms we knew so well.

I still have those pictures on my phone, too. But when I think of the Galerie François I at the château de Gizeux, that photo shoot with Keltia isn’t what I immediately remember. Instead, all I can think of is the combination of colors on the huge patterned mantelpiece, and of how excited I was every time someone recognized that the painting of a grayish flaming animal was Francis I’s salamander. I am fascinated now more than ever by everything that I cannot see.

Andrea Alciato and the Politics of the Printed Image

Working with Dr. Wietse de Boer as an Undergraduate Summer Scholar, Miami senior Caroline Godard investigated the world of political images in the European Renaissance.  Below is an essay she wrote about this journey into the past.


Our world today is saturated with images. It’s filled with photographs and films, with recording devices on our iPhone cameras, with television commercials and magazine advertisements. Our connection to images is also often symbolic, since we recognize that anything ranging from traffic lights and stop signs to memes and emojis signifies something more than what it represents. The subject of the image remains a popular product of philosophical discourse, and scholars including Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, and Gilles Deleuze have written about the significance of visual representation through cinema, photography, and digital media forms. Although this preoccupation with images may seem a product of modernity, the history of our interaction with images extends far into the past.


During the European Renaissance, the prominence of the symbolic image was connected to another emerging technology form: the printed book. Just as our current relationship to digital images may seem fluid and undefined, the printed book’s combination of image and text was similarly ambiguous. One Italian humanist, Andrea Alciato, embodied this fluidity of image and text due to his involvement in the evolution of the emblem book genre.


Andrea Alciato (1492-1550) was born just outside of Milan, Italy to a wealthy family of noble descent [Fig. 1]. Because of his family’s social and economic status, Alciato received an excellent education, and he spent his early life studying classical Greek and Latin with some of the most renowned humanist scholars in Italy. Alciato then began studying law; he was quickly recognized for his academic acuity and, accordingly, spent the rest of his life employed by universities throughout Italy and France, teaching and writing about law. Today, Alciato’s philological interpretations of Roman law still remain a subject of interest to legal historians.

Fig. 1. Andrea Alciato, portrait included in his Opera omnia (Frankfurt, 1617). (Source: Wikimedia Commons, ).

The period of Alciato’s lifetime is characterized by the high volume and quality of cultural production. Some of the most iconic works of art of the Italian High Renaissance were created during Alciato’s early years: Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper in Milan during the 1490s, Raphael produced the School of Athens between 1509 and 1511, and Michelangelo was at work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel between 1508 and 1512. Additionally, Italian writing flourished during the Italian High Renaissance. Baldassare Castiglione wrote The Book of the Courtier, a philosophical dialogue exploring the concept of the ideal courtier, during the early sixteenth century (the text appeared in print in 1528); Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his political discourse, The Prince, around the same time; and Ludovico Ariosto’s epic comedy, Orlando Furioso, was first printed in 1516.


However, Alciato also lived during a time of immense political instability. Italy was not a unified country during the early 1500s, and the concept of “Italy” instead referred to a loose collection of territorial states including Milan, Florence, Venice, Naples, and the Papal States in Rome. In Alciato’s home of Milan, the Visconti family had controlled the city until the mid-fifteenth century until another powerful family, the Sforza dynasty, assumed control in 1450. In addition to Italy’s internal instability, foreign powers—especially France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire—saw opportunity in Italy’s fractured conditions.  This led to multiple invasions and undermined the independence of the Italian states. The beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517 further added to Europe’s instability and complex political climate.


It is important to understand these cultural and political circumstances under which Alciato composed his emblems. Today, we use the term “emblem” to compare ideas or objects, often with a symbolic or representational intent: the Cleveland Cavaliers mascot serves as an emblem of its basketball team, the combination of stars and stripes on the United States flag forms an emblem of the country, and the image of a white bird with a blue background is an emblem of the social network, Twitter. The word emblem is derived from Ancient Greek and Latin but, thanks to Alciato, it evolved into its modern definition during the Renaissance.


In addition to studying Alciato’s influence on law and historiography, literary and art historians recognize Alciato as the founder—the “pater et princeps”—of the emblem genre. In its Renaissance context, the term emblem refers to a three-part combination of text and image that includes a short title, a longer, descriptive caption, and a picture. Emblems often communicate a didactic, moral, or humorous message to the reader and, just as today, they do so in symbolic or representational manner. For example, an emblem called “In Silentium” [Fig. 2] details in word and image how maintaining silence can make a man seem wiser, and “Concordia” [Fig. 3] suggests how, just as crows are loyal to each other when living together, so, too, should leaders maintain concord among their subjects.

Fig. 2. “In Silentium” emblem in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata. Printed by Christian Wechel. Paris, 1534. Reproduced by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

Fig. 3. “Concordia” emblem in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata. Printed by Christian Wechel. Paris, 1534. Reproduced by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.


These text/image forms became extremely popular during the Renaissance, and emblems appeared in printed books as well as in architecture, parades, and celebrations. An emblem book refers to a printed collection of emblems, and Alciato is known as the “father” of the emblem genre since his collection of emblems, the Emblematum liber, was the first emblem book ever published. This first edition, which was printed in Augsburg, Germany in 1531 [Fig. 4], contained one hundred and four emblems.  More were later added to the collection, and the final version contains a total of two hundred and twelve emblems.

Fig. 4.  Titlepage of Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum liber. Printed by Heinrich Steyner. Augsburg, 1531. Source: Wikimedia Commons (available online ).

No manuscript versions of Alciato’s earliest emblems exist today, so it is difficult to reconstruct the details of the Emblemata’s genesis and circulation prior to 1531. However, we know that, although Alciato’s early emblems were visually descriptive, their manuscript versions likely did not include images. Additionally, the emblems circulated among a fairly limited, educated and elite audience, those who were fluent in Latin and understood the allusions to Ancient Greek and Roman mythology. In other words, only members of a small social network could understand or even access the emblems.


However, the Emblemata’s audience changed with the book’s appearance in print in Augsburg, Germany in 1531. Images were added to clarify each emblem’s meaning; in an introduction to the book, printer Heinrich Steyner explains how he hoped that the Emblemata’s images would help the reader understand the text. This first edition of emblems must have been very popular, because other publishers began releasing their own editions of the emblems, first Christian Wechel in Paris (1534) and then printers elsewhere in Europe, including Lyon, France and Venice, Italy.


Beginning in 1536, Alciato’s emblems were also translated into vernacular languages, which caused the book to become accessible to an even larger audience. The reader no longer needed to understand Latin in order to read the emblems, nor did he or she need access to an elite social network in order to procure the book. The Emblemata’s circulation had quickly broadened as the book became available on the open market.


As we study these emblems now, they may seem purely symbolic, abstract, and playful.  Yet Alciato used several of them to comment eloquently on Europe’s unstable political environment. For example, he addressed his “Foedera Italorum” emblem (which, in English, reads “On Italian Alliances”) to Maximilian Sforza, the Duke of Milan between 1512 and 1515 [Fig. 5]. Although this emblem did not appear in print until 1531, its message suggests that Alciato had composed it much earlier. In the text, Alciato compares the abstract concept of political harmony to another, more easily imagined idea: the musical harmony of a lute.  But the caption also contains a direct political reference:

the nobles of Italy are forming federations: there is nothing to fear if there is concord            and they still love you. But if one breaks from the rest, such as we see so often, then all          that harmony dissolves into nothingness.

Fig. 5. “Foedera Italorum” emblem in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata.  Published by Heinrich Steyner, Augsburg, 1531. Reproduced by permission of University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.


In fact, French forces had controlled Milan between 1499 and 1512—just prior to Maximilian’s rule—and the citystate’s independence was precarious when Alciato composed this emblem. Thus he used this playful, literary form of writing to communicate a very serious message to the Duke of Milan: Maximilian Sforza must form alliances with other Italian states in order to protect the peninsula from the threat of foreign rule. Alciato’s emblem referred to a specific political moment in Italian history, so it was not as abstract and symbolic as we might have thought.


Also in subsequent years, this emblem’s political subtext must have remained obvious to its readers, since the political turmoil continued unabated.  In 1515 King François I of France invaded Italy and assumed control of Milan. Italy’s near future would be further marked by violence and foreign rule: in 1527, troops from the Holy Roman Empire invaded the Papal States, instigating one of the most devastating disasters in Italian history.


Over time, however, the “Foedera Italorum” emblem was subject to change.  From 1534 onwards printers removed the adjective “Italorum” from the title, and this decision caused the emblem’s message to become more open and indeterminate. Alciato’s message about alliances was no longer connected to a specific political situation; rather, the text could refer more broadly to all alliances, whether personal or political, whether in Italy or elsewhere. Perhaps the printers intended to make the message more appealing to the emblem book’s growing international audience; and perhaps this caused later readers to engage with the text more personally, as if the emblem communicated a moral lesson applicable to the reader’s own life.


The “Foedera Italorum” therefore originated in Alciato’s desire to protect Italy’s political integrity, but his message was concealed within the emblem’s highly literary and artistic form. This form, moreover, was fluid; emblems texts could change along with the audience who consumed them. As we reflect on how the intersections between politics and culture are defined through text and image, we may notice that Alciato’s rhetorical strategy appears in our culture today, too. For example, we can examine how citizens respond to politics through music and poetry, and how political leaders use social media (another combination of text and image) to maintain their voting base. However, these interactions are never stable—not in the Renaissance, nor today—and we often adapt to new forms of technology as they are released. Just as the Renaissance public’s relationship to technology and politics was fluid and kaleidoscopic, so, too, is our own.



For further reading:


Alciato, Andrea. Emblematum liber. English & Latin. Translated and edited by John F. Moffitt.       Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2004.


Kaborycha, Lisa. A Short History of Renaissance Italy. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2011.


Manning, John. The Emblem. London: Reaktion Books, 2002.


Yates, Frances Amelia. The Art of Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.


Journeys into the Past: New Tevye Tales

Sholem Aleichem’s popular stories of Tevye the Dairyman made the author famous within and putside the Russian Empire.  Published between 1895 and 1916, the stories are mostly known today as the basis for the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof.

Here three students from HST 374–Addison Caruso, Tessa Ralinwosky, and Emily Erdmann–“find” lost stories of this beloved character and his daughters.

  1. “The Sabbath”

Found by Addison Caruso

Shabbat Shalom, Reb Shalom Aleichem. It may not be the Shabbos when you are reading it, but it is the Shabbos at my house and I have had an interesting experience that I think you might enjoy. Now, not too many peculiar things happen in the life of Reb Tevye, but this one is as I received a guest and learned a little more about the city life. Maybe you can write me back and tell me if it’s true Reb Aleichem as I’m sure you know your fair share of city dwellers. It also started this Friday night as we were getting ready for the Shabbos. I had just finished getting ready for the meal as the sun was setting that night, as you know Reb Tevye is always ready for the Sabbath and not a minute late, as it says in our Torah, “thou shalt honor the Sabbath and keep it holy” and Reb Tevye isn’t one to go against the will of God.

As I am getting ready and my wife Golde is putting the last preparations on the beautiful meal she prepared, I hear a knock at the door. “Who could be knocking at this time” I thought, as it is written in our Talmud: those who disturb a man’s peace before Shabbat are destined to get as cold of a welcome as our ancestors did in Canaan. This apparently did not trouble my Golde though as she called over to me, “Answer the door Tevye!” Oy, is it my lot in life to live with this, I love my Golde, but isn’t this what I have children for? As I open the door though, I was surprised to see a man in a suit. He looked like a big macher, with a gold pocket watch, nice suit, no beard, and fairly plump as well. “This must be a rich man” I thought. Tevye is not one to be rude to someone though, and I answered the door with a pleasant hello and asked him his business. “Hello” he said, “my name is Meir Bronstein, I am travelling from Kiev on important business, but due to the Sabbath I feel I must stop for the evening, would I be able to join you on this Shabbos meal, you will be compensated.” “Ah yes, as the Migillah says: to travel on the Sabbath is like riding a horse backwards, it works but it’s not quite the same.” “Right, I will not need lodging for the night but as I mentioned earlier could I join you for a meal tonight.” How could I turn this man away, we were once strangers in the land of Egypt, so I invited him in and quickly tied up his horse outside to not miss the Sabbath. I must mention this horse though, you have heard about my house, but this horse, its coat shone like the Tabernacle and it was so large as well. “This is definitely one big macher” I thought.

“Golde!” “Yes” she called. “We are having a guest for dinner.” “What!? A guest? No warning, no nothing! You invite a man off the street for food, we are not a charity house Tevye, we barely have enough as it is.” “Ahhhh” I said, “but he seems to have more than he needs, fix a nice meal for him, and maybe he’ll take care of Tevye and his Golde.” “Oh, alright” she lamented. I often wonder how Adam dealt when he first saw Eve, I’m sure at first he was smitten by her beauty, but then I wonder how long it took for him to try to get some personal space away from her.

As the Shabbos started, my wife lit the candles, beautiful ones passed down from her grandmother Rachel, we said the prayers and began to eat. “So what are you doing in our little village I asked?” “I have business in a few towns over.” “What kind of business?” “In Kiev I am a manager at a big factory there specializing in textiles, we have a potential client I am meeting with tomorrow morning, I thought I could make it to the town today, but alas due to various circumstances I had to depart from Kiev late.” “Ah, as the Talmud says, it’s not about the journey but about the destination.” “Tevye” my wife said, “stop with your storytelling, can’t we just have a Shabbos meal without your constant sayings?” “Alright Golde, I’ll stop, I’ll stop.”

The meal proceeded in silence for a little while as I enjoyed the delicious Challah, gefilte fish, chicken, and soup my wife had prepared. I would like to say to you Reb Aleichem, if you ever find yourself in need of a good Shabbos meal, my wife Golde makes a delicious one. My daughters help out and of course while not exactly rich, I always manage to provide a nice amount of food for the holiest day of the week. This did not escape our guest either as he commented several times on the meal. Anyway…I am sorry to ramble Reb Aleichem, as I know you have more important things than read about the deliciousness of my wife’s cooking. I will proceed to my story.

As we were enjoying our meal I heard a banging on the door. “Who could that be at this time? On the Shabbos?” my wife Golde said. As I went over to the door to check, I peered through and saw a group of people standing outside. As the man stumbled outside I opened the door. Though I had a few glasses of wine, I was still in a state of mind to conduct business, these men outside on the other hand were almost falling over. As they say in our Megillah, “if man drinks enough he may turn from a donkey to an ass.” “Hello may I help you?” “Ahhhh Reb Tevye, we heardddd you tellllll a good storyyyy spin ussss a tale!” “I am sorry but it is the Shabbos, I must refuse and go back inside, plus I have guests I must entertain.” As I turned to go back into my house I felt something sharp poke and as I turned around I saw one of the men holding a very sharp pitchfork. Slurring his words rather heavily he said, “This wasnnnnn’t a requessssst Reb Tebye.” As I began to panic, I am not good on the spot with stories, Meir walked up to the door. Pulling out a handful of rubles he said, “Leave this man and be on your way.” Ahh money, the best motivator, if only I had a little more.

As we began to walk back Meir turned to me and asked, “Why do those men bother you like this?” “Ehhh it’s just how it is, why should I question what God does.” “Yes, but is this something common here?” “What, our Russian neighbors paying us unwanted visits, the horse does not want a horsefly to pay him a visit, yet he is powerless to stop it. I am surprised you are not aware of this.” “Well in Kiev things are a little different, while I am not exactly best friends with the Russians, some of my good friends and business associates are them and I often attend cocktail parties.”[1] “With the Russians?” “With the Russians. In Kiev this is not so uncommon amongst the upper classes.” Jews mingling with Russians?? In our little village this is almost unheard of, we stay amongst ourselves and they stay amongst themselves. This is just how it is. As our great Rabbi Hillel says, “The best kind of cake is a layered cake, not a marble.”

My wife Golde seemed surprised by this as well as well as my kids. “I have unfortunately heard about the things that go on in the countryside, it’s horrible that you must go through that. I’m ashamed to say I thought they may be a little exaggerated,” Meir said.  “What can a man do, it’s the lords way.”  “You always talk of this lord, but why don’t you do something?” Meir retorted. “What can I do, confront them? Talk to them, you say that there are options to deal with this but unfortunately here it’s life. I don’t know if it’s humiliation, or why they do it, but why does the rooster crow every morning, it’s what they do, why ask questions.” As we sat down and continued our meal, Meir continued to talk this subject of what they call “pogroms” in the city. “I believe it is an environmental factor, mainly motivated by a social hierarchy and humiliation as they feel powerless so you are the people that they take it out on.”[2] “They feel powerless???” I almost fell out of my chair laughing. “Why don’t they try a day in the life of Tevye the dairyman, then we’ll see how powerless they feel.” “But you must look at it in their perspective Tevye.” “Why don’t they see it in my perspective then Meir.” “Understanding is the first sign of forgiveness and reconciliation Reb Tevye, maybe one day this town will be like Kiev, where you will be able to live side by side with them, and maybe even be friends.” “Wishful thinking, but hey we’ve been waiting for the Messiah for 2000 years so what’s hoping for one more miracle going to do.”

It was then that Golde brought out the dessert. I cannot tell you how happy the sight of blintzes makes me. As the Talmud says, “Dessert is stressed spelled backwards” this means that it is important to eat, and I am often stressed so a little dessert helps that good ol Tevye. As we were eating this delicious dessert I asked Meir, “Is this the kind of Shabbos food you have in Kiev?” “I must tell you something Tevye, I often find it hard to find a good Sabbath meal in Kiev, there are not many who still keep the Sabbath on a regular basis.” “Do not keep the Sabbath.” “Yes, I have occasionally missed it for meetings and parties I must admit. It is mainly the young people who do this, this secularization. It is unfortunate, I think of my mother and how she would be rolling over in her grave thinking of these kids. She moved to the city from a little village quite like this, and I am thankful for it, but as much as I’ve tried to keep my Judaism alive, it can be hard, and it’s hard to see younger generations losing their focus on Judaism. My son, for example, he does not cover his head when he goes out and I’ve even seen him sneak pork into our house.”[3]

“That’s awful!” My wife Golde said before turning to our five daughters, Tzeitel was married earlier as you remember, “If I see any treif in this house you will not hear the end of it from me or your father!” “Yes Mama!” they all said in unison. What good daughters I have, but who is surprised that Tevye has good daughters. As I was thinking of my daughters Meir turned to me and said, “Well Tevye, I believe I must be off, I would like to thank you for this good meal, it was delicious.” “It was a pleasure, King Solomon once said, a nice meal with a stranger is one of life’s small luxiries.” “Tevye” Meir said laughing heartily, “I do not know where you learned all of these sayings but it has certainly made this Shabbos that much better. Please take these rubles as a token of appreciation and I hope things keep going well with you.” As he handed over the rubles and left we saw him walk out the door.

As I held the stack of rubles in my hand my wife Golde rushed over, “Great!” she said “Now we can get another cart, you’re last one is nearly broke!” Leave it to your wife to take all the fun out of getting money. As I watched him ride away in the dark into the forest I began to think about the differences of our lives. Yes, as surprising as it might be to you Reb Aleichem, Reb Tevye does think about these things sometimes. Things are changing in the cities, and I wonder how this change will affect our little village. I often wonder how different my life would be if I was born in Kiev. While still a Jew, obviously there were successful Jews there, and friendly Russians. Maybe I would’ve been a banker, Reb Tevye the banker, the most important Jew of Kiev they would call me. I would ride around and I’d be the big macher. This is wishful thinking though, if this is my lot in life, God will deliver it. I’m sure you are getting tired of reading this letter though Reb Aleichem, like Meir you yourself are an important man so I will not take up much more of your time with Reb Tevye’s stories, but send my regards to everyone and I wish you a happy and peaceful Shabbos.

2. “Teibl”

Found by Tessa Ralinowsky

As I walked out of the house to milk the cows in the morning, the last morning I should own them, I found my sweet Teibl behind the barn sitting under a big tree. I had often found her here as a child. It reminded me of happier days, when the family had not yet been pulled apart. She sat curled up like a little bird that had fallen out of the nest. As I neared her, I noticed her distress.

“Ah, Teible! The tears of my child reach God! What brings these tears?”

“Papa, forgive me!” sobbed Teible.

“Child, lighten your heart. Tell me what ails you.”

“Conviction, father. This has always been our home, and now we are told no longer can we live here.”

My heart sank, losing my dairy farm would be a swift blow below the belt from those whom I called friends. Oi, beware of friends, enemies do not deceit.

“Sweet Teibl, do not stress. This would not happen if it was not part of our fate.” I said calmly.
“But papa,” she pleaded, “Your fate is not the same as mine. I feel as though I see my future darkening as we speak.”

“You cannot know the future until it is the present. Such is the way of life.”

“Father, I need to ask something of you. It is of the utmost importance.”

“Ask away my child.”

“Papa, I fear that while we cannot stay here, we cannot stay anywhere else near here. Haven’t you heard what’s going on around us? They are killing us Jews. We are not safe here. I have a plan to help us, but I need money to make it happen. It must happen now if we are to leave.”

“Tell me of this plan you thought up little Teibl.”

“My friend from the market, Gluke, gave me this pamphlet. It talks of a land where we could freely practice, the United States of America. It is only a matter of getting our papers all together, so we can travel there and live without fear.”

Men fear the knife more than God himself! Teibl, what makes you want to leave our homeland? We will find peace somewhere.”

“Some from Gluke’s family have already moved. She has told me that their trip was long and difficult. But that they have made a life for themselves there, and no longer fear the pogroms, or being asked to leave their new home. I dream of a life where I can practice as I please, and not fear because of it. A land of religious freedom is what we need desperately, and if I am bold enough we can live like Gluke’s family too.”

I sat in silence for a moment. After all I had accepted with my elder daughters, I could hardly believe my ears.

“This is the land of our family, are you willing to give that up?” I asked.

“The land of my family is not here, I no longer feel tied to the land that we are not wanted on. It has been said before, ‘get thee gone thence, you must leave your native land.’ ”

She looked stubborn. She sat now with her arms folded in front of her, until she brought out the literature she had mentioned. It was titled “What Every Emigrant Should Know” and it was written in English and Yiddish. I read through it, feeling farther away from my daughter than I ever had before. I knew that my young Teibl would have no problem getting into the United States, but oh, health comes before making a living! I knew that my health would not hold out long enough to make the journey.

“You see papa, we meet all the requirements. We are lucky that you have taught us to read, this will help us get in. And Gluke has offered to help us further, not only will she and her parents travel with us, for they know the way, but she has offered to make arrangement with her family already there to make sure that we get in. She has a cousin there, and he is looking for a wife. We can be guaranteed entry if I marry him.”

This hurt my heart than more than all my previous daughters had. While they may not have conformed to my traditional wishes, they at least had married for love and happiness. This I could stand behind. But a loveless marriage? She hadn’t even met the man before! I felt my temper rising.

“My daughter, I cannot allow for this! There is so much uncertainty in your plan. If you stay with us at least you will be guaranteed happiness with your family.”

“Papa, you have taught me to love my family, and all that family stands for. But I cannot be guaranteed happiness if I stay in a land so hostile to us.”

“I have talked to your sisters. We will not stay in a land like this, we will go to our true home, in Israel. Here we will be safe, all we must do is stay together. Even your sister Chava will join us.” I explained the plan I had decided, how the whole family could move together and start over.

Teibl looked surprised at my last comment, and raised her eyebrows.
“This is where I see a fork in the road for our family. What opportunity lies in Israel for us? I fear about finding work there, and being able to support the family. The United States is a changing land, and full of work and opportunity. The pamphlet talks of Jewish organizations that will help us find work. I believe there is the best place for us to resettle.”

“I have already lost one daughter, I cannot lose another.” I pleaded with her.

I could tell this displeased Teibl. She picked herself up and ran inside the house, crying yet again. I went in to milk my cows for the last time before I sold them. It was bittersweet; all I could see was loss surrounding me. I thought long and hard while milking about what kind of life I wanted for my daughters. I had thought that riches would bring them happiness. But Tzeitl had taught me otherwise. I thought that giving my daughters freedom from my judgments would bring them happiness, but Shprintze taught me otherwise. Yet again, I saw my daughter choosing a path that would break my closely held value of the family, and all that held dear to me. I finished my milking and went inside to talk to Teibl about what I had decided. With curses and laughter, the world does not change. I found her packing up her things in a small suitcase.

“Teibl, my daughter. I have thought about what you said to me. I see now that it is not about the future I see for you, but the future that God sees for you. It is not my place to tell you what your fate should be, therefor I cannot tell you no. It is your life’s duty to follow the path set for you, where ever it may lead you.”

Teibl again began to cry, but this time they were not tears of sorrow. She looked at me with a half smile on her face and threw her arms around my neck for a tight hug.

“My dear father, I fear that this is the path set for me. I have been given a chance and I cannot let it pass by. I have talked to my sisters. They agree that I should do what is best. I thank you deeply for coming to understand the same.”

“I fear that while I have come to accept your choice, my heart tells me that I cannot go with you. I will still go to Israel, with your sisters. I believe this is the best path for me, the one written in my fate. I hope that you too, can accept this as I have done for you.”

“I understand that we are on different paths now papa. If this is truly what you want, then I will meet Gluke and her family at the train station without you.  While I will miss you terribly, this I can accept.

We set out in the evening by cart for Odessa. We had heard this was a good point to leave where we would not be detained. The cows and house had been sold; we carried with us the few possessions and clothes we had left. Oh how I wished my Golde could be here with us for this life-altering journey. I wanted to weep, thinking of all the memories of her I was leaving behind in my house. All the memories of raising our girls, all our years of struggle and strife to keep the farm, for what? I could not bring myself to look behind me at the house, as it grew more and more distant.

I reflected on all that we had done together as a family. I realized that the most valuable thing I had done as a father was prepare my daughters to make their own independent choices, and know what was best for themselves. I had raised them in a proper home, and given them the skills they needed to succeed.

Our journey was a long one, it took us days to reach Odessa. When we finally arrived there was a strange tension between the family. Everyone was apprehensive, waiting for what was to come next. We stopped at the market to sell the horse and carriage to make as much money as we could. I gave the profits to Teibl, for her journey. Somber and quiet, we all headed to the railway station to say our goodbyes. Myself and only four of my seven were starting out on train, while Teibl would head in the opposite direction and head West to catch a boat.  We shared our final tears, hugs, and I love yous. I stared tearfully at my daughter while thinking about her future, and where God would take her. I knew that this was not our final goodbye; for we would be reunited by the good Father himself one day.       “Scholem Aleheiem, Teibl.”

“Scholem Aleheim, Papa, thank you.”

And with that my little dove spread her wings and began to fly, we parted and went on our separate ways, letting fate guide us from here.




3. “A Daughter’s Prayer”

Found and introduced by Emily Erdmann


The following section of text is intended to represent the prayer of one of Tevye’s unnamed daughters, conveying her frustration and desperation with the treatment of Jews in the Russian empire around the turn of the 20th century. Her grievance is directed at the general mistreatment of her fellow Jewish people, but she is confused as to where to direct the blame: is the fault on God or humanity? This confusion is meant to represent the complex and disconcerting emotions felt by late 19th century Jews as they found themselves being “… punished by [their gentile] friends, for no reason at all.”[4] Regardless of the answer, be it God or flawed human nature, the fact of the matter remained that Jews were manipulated and helplessly subjected to the whims of the Russian Orthodox majority.

Forced to live in a specific region entitled the Pale Settlement, and to serve as the majority’s scapegoat, Jews found it difficult, if not altogether impossible, to merit respect in their European environment. According to Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, pogroms consisted of the persecution of the Jews for their alleged practices, meaning that an assumption was considered a sufficient and acceptable rationale for the terrorizing of innocent Jews. In reality, these mob-like outbursts served not as ‘an eye for an eye’ vengeance, but rather “… documentary evidence [showed that] the pogroms were deliberately organized by the czarist government to divert into channels of religious bigotry and ethnic hatred the Russian workers’ and peasants’ discontent with political and economic conditions.”[5] Their character was out of the question, a given Jew could be the nicest or the meanest man in town and either way he would be considered prey to a pogrom. With no control over their fate, the Jews became increasingly despondent, as Tevye’s family did, and so many others alike. Aleichem speaks through the Dairyman to say that “A Jew must [therefore] exist on hope and faith,”[6] because Jews at the time had nothing and no one else in their environment that could support them; the Jews had no one but their God.

Ultimately, history seems to attest to the fact that many Jews arrived at a state of learned helplessness, wherein they anticipated the next hardship, the next pogrom, the next eviction – whatever it was to be – as something that would inevitably befall them. Existing on naught but hope and faith proved to be an arduous request as misfortune followed misfortune. Tevye, exasperated, exclaims, “… if one tragedy happens, another is soon on the way … That’s the way God created His little world, and that’s the way it will always be—a lost cause!”[7] Tevye, despite being a proud Jew who loves scripture and puts his religion first, is still subject to this phenomenon of fading hope.

Aleichem was a religious practicing Jew, thus it is logical that his main character overcomes his brief bout of doubt as he proclaims near the end “… we have a powerful God and … a person, so long as he lives, should never lose heart.”[8] However, this renewed religious vigor was not the only response to the everlasting trials around the turn of the century. As a result of the Jewish Enlightenment (or Haskalah), which lasted from the late 1700s to the late 1800s, there was a gradually growing secular perspective that separated the religious practice of Judaism from its culture. Jewish Historian Shira Schoenberg notes that “The Haskalah was characterized by a scientific approach to religion in which secular culture and philosophy became a central value.” The rationality of this movement aimed to better integrate Jews into European society—a process that therefore encouraged interaction with non-Jews.[9]  This secularization combined with external interactions and, later on, the tribulations of being used as a scapegoat, is likely to have contributed to the growing number of Jews identifying as secular. Data collected by the Pew Research Center suggests that this trend continued on through the 20th century, perhaps even more notably during the Bolsheviks’ years in power. Former Soviet Union Jewish emigrants to Israel were surveyed and found to be 81% secular. It is interesting to note that “Only 60% of second-generation FSU Jews say they are [secular].”[10] This seems to support the idea that experiencing religious persecution and suffering like that which was inflicted by Stalin contributes to a diminished religious inclination; on the other hand, without the same degree of prejudice, a greater number of the children of said emigrants were recorded as believing.

In short, the prayer below can be seen as a sort of alternate ending, one that attempts to show the inner turmoil and doubting perspective that might lead a once-devout Jew down a more laic path.



A Prayer:

O Father, where did we go wrong? Did You not command us to love the strangers living alongside us as if they had been born unto us?[11] Why did you “… create Jews and non-Jews, and why [are] they so set apart from one another, unable to get along, as if one had been created by [You] and the other not?”[12]  You claim that all are equal in Your eyes and yet we are divided, disadvantaged, and persecuted by the very people we set out to love.

These pogroms have been an issue for other Jews recently, but I never would have thought that our neighbors—although they are Christians—who have forever treated us with kindness, could turn on us unanimously and without warning. Has Papa not worked for them long enough? When did he lose their respect?

Forgive me, for I know that You are supposed to know better than I what is best and what is to come. Yet I remain upset. “Why should people be so bad when they can be good? Why should people embitter the lives of others as well as their own when life could be sweet and happy for all? Is it a given that [You] created man in order to have him suffer?”[13] I fail to see how we are created equal and called to love thy neighbor even as said neighbor arrives, as the mayor did, informing Papa that although he is not a “bad person,” he is still a Jew, and because, in the gentile perspective, these two things have apparently nothing to do with another, Papa must be beat up for the latter.

“… [When] there is a rumor of a pogrom, Jews run from one city to another,”[14] so we are like caged mice, trapped in the Pale of Settlement. Father, where do we go from here? We are leaving the home we have lived in and loved, this harsh fact is certain, but is there anywhere You can guide us where neighbors won’t turn on neighbors and enemy is not distinguished from friend by the mere difference of a symbol?

Papa may endure on faith alone, but I don’t know how much longer the rest of us can last. As Jews, our life revolves around the law that is our service to You, acts of loving-kindness, and Your word in the form of the Torah.[15] But my acts and services to You have only brought me to my deplorable present state: evicted and on the brink of obliteration at the hands of a people towards whom my people showed nothing but love. With each new, negative development, I feel the Torah’s roots slowly withdrawing from the foundation of my life.[16]  Papa always says that “… the more troubles you have, the more faith you must have, and the poorer you are, the more hope you must have,”[17] but this is more simply put than practiced…


Addison Caruso is a senior majoring in History.

Tessa Ralinowsky is a senior majoring in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.

Emily Erdmann is a junior majoring in French and Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.


[1] Kenneth B. Moss, “At Home in Late Imperial Russian Modernity-Except When They Weren’t: New Histories of Russian and East European Jews, 1881-1914,” The Journal of Modern History 84, no. 2 (2012) 413.

[2] Stefan Wiese, ““Spit Back With Bullets!” Emotions in Russia’s Jewish Pogroms, 1881-1905,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 39, no. 4 (2013), 477.

[3] Moss, 411.

[4] Page 120 of Aleichem, Sholem. Tevye the Dairyman. Penguin, 2009.

[5] “Pogrom.” Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2017, p. 1p. 1. EBSCOhost,

[6] Aleichem, 14

[7] Aleichem, 117

[8] Aleichem, 132

[9] Schoenberg, Shira. “Modern Jewish History.” The Haskalah, 2017,

[10] Theodorou, Angeina E. “Israeli Jews from the Former Soviet Union Are More Secular, Less Religiously Observant.” Pew Research Center, 30 Mar. 2016,

[11] Paraphrase of Leviticus 19:34: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (NAS, 1977)

[12] Aleichem, 81

[13] Aleichem, 95

[14] Aleichem, 84

[15] Rich, Tracey R. “Love and Brotherhood.” Judaism 101,

[16] Tevye’s daughter is expressing difficulty in holding to her faith and the devout religious component of her Jewish culture. According to Eugene M. Avrutin, a professor of modern European Jewish history at the University of Illinois, Jews “… turned to Christianity as a last resort. [They] chose to convert for strategic reasons—to alleviate the existential burdens of Jewishness” (Jews and the Imperial State, 118). In other words, if Tevye’s daughter were to go through with such a conversion, she would conceivably be able to marry a Christian, thereby opening a door to more opportunities. Converted men in particular could hope to achieve a better education and a better job.

[17] Aleichem, 34-35.

UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine, Ha’Am, commented that a substantial portion of the Russian Jews that had once comprised the “Jewish Question” had “… [disappeared] into secularism” (Solovey, Mark, et al. “The Difficult History of Russian Jews.” Ha’Am; UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine, 14 May 2015,


Literary Journeys into the Past: Lost Stories by Lermontov

Mikhail Lermontov, The Georgian Military Highway, 1837.  Wikimedia Commons.


Mikhail Lermontov’s short novel remains a classic account of the nature of the Russian Empire and of the conquest of the Caucasus in the early 19th Century.  Here three students from HST 374–Evan Helchen, Mary Seaman, and Emily Erdmann–“find” lost sections of the work and contextualize them.



Evan Helchen


            In A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, we are let in to the mind of the repulsive, yet endearing mind of the main character, Pechorin, for every part of the story besides the one that perhaps should tell us the most about him. In this essay, I attempt to replicate what I believe would be Pechorin’s journal entries during his time with Bela. Within these, I try to answer why Pechorin did things in a way that Maxim was not able to.



4 Mar

“I had a better opinion of Circassian women” I said to Maxim.

Undoubtedly excited to prove me wrong, he smirked and responded, “You wait.”

I had my doubts. In St. Petersburg, there had been tales of the stunning beauty of these Circassian women. To this point, the only women we had seen were certainly nothing special. They had been kind enough to hide from Maxim and I when we came riding in to town.

We entered the hut of the Tatar king. Maxim insisted on ensuring our horses were put in a place that he was aware of. That man worries too much. Afterwards, we were shown in to the best room of the chief’s hut, where the wedding was to take place.

The wedding was nothing out of the ordinary. I hate to admit, however, that Maxim had been right earlier when he had told me to wait. On the other side of the room, I saw what most men probably think of when they speak of Circassian Beauties. This woman had a slim figure, with eyes as dark as the sea. I was entranced by this beauty, the likes of which I had never seen before.

I captured her eye, and held on to it. I knew then that she would be mine. The thing about these women from these exotic lands is that we Russians are just as mysterious to them. We may technically be of the same empire, but we are far from the same people.

After the ceremony, our gaze turned in to action. She came over and sang to me in a language I did not understand. I displayed my gratitude and made sure that Maxim translated that to her. She went back to where she had been sitting previously.

As she walked away, Maxim turned and asked me “Well, what do you think of her?”

“Charming!” I asked Maxim, “What was her name?”


I made sure to look her way periodically the rest of the night. You see, it is easy for a man like me to play this game with a woman from these parts. They do not interact with men that have the intellect or status of myself. The only thing I needed to find was an opportunity to make her mine.


7 Mar

After we got back from the wedding the other night, Maxim told me about an interaction he had witnessed between Azamat and Kazbich            . He told me of these wild offers that Azamat had been making to Kazbich for Kazbich’s horse. He had even offered up his sister!

I have not been able to stop thinking about Bella. I do not understand why. She is not nearly of my status, and typically I do not get transfixed on women. Her hair is wild, like it is consistently being blown by a gust of wind. Her legs go on farther than the eye can see. She moves with a grace that other women of her ilk do not.

There must be some way for me to get Azamat that horse. One time, I promised that brat that I would give him a ducat if he would steal his father’s best goat. The next day, he came lugging that goat. I thought, surely there must be some way to get him to do the same with his gem of a sister.

The horse! I must get the horse! I am sure Azamat will be here within the next few days, and when he comes I will make him a proposition.


11 Mar

I wonder if it is common for all Tatar boys to be so easily swayed.

When Azamat came in to the fortress today, I gave him sweetmeats, as I typically do, and turned the conversation to horses. We marveled at the joy of riding and the majesty of the creatures. I could tell that his attention was waning a bit, which is when I brought up Kazbich’s horse:

“I have seen a lot of different horses in my time traveling this grand empire, but I have to say there has only been one that I have ever been truly enamored with.”

“What is this horse you speak of?”

“Why, Kazbich’s horse of course. It is so handsome. I have never seen another horse run with such a vigor. That horse is enough to make up for the faults of any man that rides it. Surely, there cannot be another horse of this earth that could even compare!”

Maxim chimed in and changed the conversation. I wonder if he was trying to protect the boy from himself. I guess it does not matter, because I know I have captured the boy’s imagination.


11 Apr

Over the past few weeks, Azamat and I have talked about that horse every time he has visited. I saw how the love for the horse was growing inside of the boy. I decided, finally, that enough was enough, and asked, “I see, Azamat that you have taken a desperate fancy to that horse of Kazbich’s, but you’ve no more hope of getting him than you have of flying. Tell me what you’d give to anyone who got him for you”

“Anything he wanted,” Azamat answered.

After he said that, I promised him that I would get him the horse, provided that he gave me Bela. Maxim told me that this was bad business that I had entered. He is so simple minded. How can he not see that I am helping this beautiful girl? With a man like myself, she is no longer limited and confined to this place. I can lavish her with the finest goods from around the world. I can expose her to thoughts that these people of these lands cannot even begin to dream of.

What is it about this girl that has done this to me? I do not know. The heart grows fonder as my anticipation grows for her to be mine. Typically, I like to play with these women. There is not this yearning to make their life better, I merely enjoy the chase. This will not be the same as those past events.


16 Apr

She is mine now, but she will not open herself up to me. I do not know where this deep caring comes from. I feel compelled to win her over. Every day, I give her a gift. Every day, I try and learn the Tatar language so I can communicate with her. Every smile, every time she acknowledges me a second longer, is a moment I treasure.

Even though she will not submit to my wishes yet and even grant me a kiss, I am still determined. After an exchange today where she referred to herself as my slave I was so frustrated that I ran to my room to pace and think for a bit.

Maxim walked in and I exclaimed to him, “She is a devil – not a woman! But I give you my word of honor that she shall be mine!”

Maxim followed that up with some helpful advice. Telling me that these Circassian women do not need these gifts. These women are not like the women in the lands that I come from. He may be a simple man, but he is certainly not bad to have around sometimes.


20 Apr

Finally, I have accomplished my goal. Once Maxim told me that these Circassian beauties do not respond to physical gifts like the women of Russia, I realized where I had erred. The entirety of our relationship, I had been the one expressing. I was the one giving. Bela has never had to face the prospect of me leaving, which means she can feel safe in her own feeling of being my slave. That is to say she doesn’t have to think of the alternative of not having me in her life. So, I decided to stage a walk out. I told her that if she did not love me, that I would leave. The key to my plan was that I actually committed to leaving if she decided to let me go. That being said, I was certain when I hatched the plan that it would work. As soon as I touched the handle of the door, she threw her arms around me. Oh, what a beautiful day it has been.


31 Aug

            I always get bored. Why did I think this would be different? I remember the immense feeling of joy I had once I had conquered Bela and made her mine. Do I just seek thrills? Is that why I love the hunt? There is always another boar to chase, and once I kill the boar, there is nothing to deal with afterwards. The deed is done. With a woman, they need more past the point of the initial embrace. I seem to just need less and less as the time goes on.

Today, Kazbich visited the fortress, presumably because he had heard of my stealing his horse. In reaction, I have told Bela to remain on the fortress grounds, where she is safe. Telling her to be safe was not out of a deep seeded love like the one she has for me.


8 Sep

The other day, Maxim and I were coming up on the fortress after an unsuccessful boar hunt when we saw Kazbich in the distance. We chased him down and got within gunshot and I fired. I did not want to deal with this savage any longer. The bullet caught his horse on the hind leg and it fell to the ground. It was then that I realized that he was carrying Bela with him on the horse.

We went to shoot at him again, and truthfully, I do not remember where we hit him, but I do know that he stabbed Bela and ran off. The savage didn’t have the curtesy to stab her in the heart either, and it was clear when we came up on her that she was not going to make it.

Over the next days, I was at the bedside of Bela for most hours of the day. I felt nothing. This woman, who I had felt so strongly about, stirred no emotions within me on her deathbed. She needed me more than I needed her, and that makes me feel no guilt.

After she finally gave up on her fight for life, Maxim and I paced together for a while, saying nothing. I started laughing. I could tell from Maxim’s puzzled look that he did not understand where the laugh came from. He cannot understand because he cannot understand me. I am a man who has gone to many different lands, hunted many animals, and pursued many women, and none of them have affected me permanently. The one woman who I thought was different than the others could not evoke anything out of me even in death. Is this what it is to be young and have to want for nothing? I think it is time to go and try something new.





“The Recollections of Princess Mary”: A Review of Mikahil Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time


Discovered and Introduced by Mary Seaman


After reading the fiction so graciously compiled by Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov about my time with his “hero,” I feel it my duty to disclose the truth of Pechorin to any who find the opinion of but one of his endless conquests noteworthy. Please understand that my commentary results not from a long-unspoken bitterness regarding the role Pechorin played in my past; rather, it is simply a correction of facts that Sir Lermontov, after merely stumbling upon Pechorin’s misleading musings, could not possibly have discerned, despite his keen eye for a frivolous tale.

As it so happens, Pechorin was not nearly as clever as he thought himself to be. In fact, Pechorin’s influence did not appear in my diaries until May 16th of that year, when I disclosed the following about the day’s events:

“[…] that insufferable soldier friend of Grushnitsky’s ruined a romantic moment today, when his brash actions created an illusion of a Circassian raid to startle me (91). It is obvious that he wishes to usurp Grushnitsky’s courtship with me. It shall be interesting to see how this plays out, for I believe his description to match Vera’s mystery man who loved her long ago in Petersburg. I shall inform her of my suspicions tomorrow morning before she visits the spa, and I’m sure she’ll confirm the truth as I see it.”

Indeed, the most blaring error of Pechorin’s account was his impression that he exercised complete control over his situation. It may surprise my readers to know that the majority of the events described within his narrative resulted from Vera’s most clever scheme to exact revenge upon her former lover. For, after I confronted her the next day, Vera revealed to me Pechorin’s transgressions from her youth, and proposed that we unite to beat Pechorin at his own game.

Since my beloved Vera was so near the grave, and this plot proved a tremendous distraction from her degenerative illness, I agreed to act as her accomplice, although I must admit that it went much farther than I could have possibly foreseen. For, while the goal of my mission was to cause pain and suffering to Pechorin, it caused me a great deal of pain and suffering as well. Indeed, Pechorin correctly guessed that I loved him – I suppose the naïveté of my youth made such things obvious, especially to men like Pechorin. And the love of one as innocent as I was apparently to him “like a flower that breathes its sweetest scent to the first rays of the sun. You must pluck it at once, breathe your fill of its scent and cast it on the roadway to be picked up, perchance, by another” (103).

As I had no way of knowing how this man would impact me, I threw myself full-heartedly into Vera’s scheme. We decided it would be best for him to work for an invitation into our home. According to Vera’s impressive memory, Pechorin was always more inclined to misread situations whilst participating in a chase than he was when placed within seemingly effortless situations. Thus, Vera gave me strict orders not to give him the invitation she so desperately wanted him to receive until he’d proven himself a gentleman worthy of my attention. This did not happen until his actions at the ball, during which he predictably stepped in so that I might avoid a drunken man’s advances and the subsequent humiliations I’m sure would have befallen me without his intervention (96). Our discussions that evening were lively, and I admit that I was taken with him enough to invite him to our residence the next day. When I told Vera all that had happened however, she appeared sullen and distant. She was pleased that her plan had worked, but I believe it was rather obvious to her that I was following in the footsteps of her childish past. She warned me again about falling in love with Pechorin, and said solemnly that he would never be capable of loving any woman, especially not women like us. Of course, I responded that her concerns were unfounded, for I would sooner love Grushnitsky – the man Pechorin had exposed the night before as a man who lied about his rank – than Pechorin. I remember vividly how strangely Vera looked upon me that night, and I truly believe she knew how the summer would end for me in that moment.

I didn’t understand her actions until the end of May, when I realized that Pechorin’s conversation was entirely more entertaining to me than Grushnitsky’s and admonished him for deferring my company to a man so clearly beneath his entertainment value (102). I admit, such sentiments were childish of me, and the fact that he ignored me during this time, which seemed almost like a punishment for my rudeness to his friend, was enough to remind me that Pechorin could be nothing more than a passing amusement between Vera and myself. He was a scoundrel, but I was rather fond of his charm, and, after reviewing my diaries, it appears I was also rather fond of the loyalty he had towards his friend. It wasn’t until the walk to the Chasm, however, that I truly admitted my love for Pechorin.

How could I not? The brutality his honesty maintained towards his history was inconceivable to me. Men simply don’t acknowledge their weaknesses in such a manner to women. Of course, later, I thought his monologue was a rehearsed effort to seduce me into his arms; especially given the hindsight bestowed upon me by the end of the summer. Nevertheless, after reading his account, I firmly believe that he told me the truth that night. He truly saw himself as someone destined to never love, purely because no one had bothered to love him before he’d conquered his own innocence. Of course, I told Vera all of this when I came home. She, of course, told me he’d spouted lies, and that these were things she’d heard millions of times before from his lips, but I believe she knew that I’d lost my heart to him that night. However, she’d gone too far in her plan to give up so easily. So, she fixed it so the next phase of her plan would occur Kislovodsk, away from my admiring gaze of Pechorin.

This meant I had to make my association with him at the ball last, which meant that my primary objective shifted from playing coyly distant to his flirtation to engaging him for as long as I possibly could. This meant that I could waste no precious time on Grushnitsky and his change of rank, of which he seemed quite excited. However, fate was not on my side, as it seemed the entire ballroom conspired against me to keep Pechorin away from me, Grushnitsky blabbering all the way along about his new position ever so intolerably every time he found me. The only solace of the night came with a kiss to my hand from Pechorin as he helped me into my carriage (112).

That brush of his lips sustained me for a week. I floated on air, and there was no one around to stop me from admitting it to the world. Of course, Grushnitsky endeavored for my affections in the absence of his friend, but even he could tell that I was completely lost to him now. My only thoughts were of Pechorin, my songs held all new meanings now. He was everything to me, and in my youth I seemed to forget my propriety. With Vera too far away to reprimand me properly, I acted truly lovesick for the first time in my life. It was then that the rumors started about the hot spring that Pechorin and I were engaged to be married.

All of these fantasies came crashing down after Pechorin and I rode together when I finally arrived in Kislovodsk, after which I heard from his own lips that he harbored no feelings of love for me (123). When I told Vera of his actions, she became very angry and decided to employ her plan the next day. And, on June 15th after she met with him and confirmed that my words were true, she felt no sorrow in the events that transpired next.

For you see, she had orchestrated such an elaborate trap for Pechorin that even the actions of Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain were orchestrated by her efforts. She’d purposefully made it so that Pechorin could only see her if he could seduce me to affect the favor I’d previously bestowed upon his friend, knowing that after he saw Pechorin as a traitor, he would go to his brigade and seek their sympathy for his cruelties. By isolating Pechorin from his fellow soldiers, Vera believed we could make him truly miserable. And, originally, that was the extent of her plan. However, after seeing how truly broken I’d become after his seduction, Vera endeavored to permanently damage his honor, by informing Grushnitsky that she’d seen Pechorin peering through my window the past night. This meant that he was waiting for Pechorin to come down from Vera’s window after their meeting the 15th, and subsequently made possible all the events that transpired later.

But before you blame a dead woman for the murder of Grushnitsky, please believe me when I say that she meant for no such thing to happen. Her only goal was to provide Pechorin with as much suffering as she could. When her husband informed her about the duel, her face went ashen. She begged him to take her home. She had no desire for the bloodshed. I think she died with the guilt of Grushnitsky’s blood on her hands.

And, after reading the letter she’d left to Pechorin, I cannot believe the obvious concern she felt for me during this time. She was so concerned with the fact that I might marry Pechorin – the man who’d never loved me to begin with, that she allowed her last words to him be about my welfare.

Nevertheless, I will never forget the terror and desperation I saw on Pechorin’s face as he rushed away from his quarters on a horse he’d already tired half to death to chase after Vera. I recalled that Vera had once said Pechorin could never love a woman, that he was incapable of such emotion. But after seeing that display, I believed it was I who was incapable of loving a man, for I could not so much as empathize with what he was feeling at that moment.

When he returned home and my mother confronted him about the rumors floating about concerning his affairs with her daughter, he understandably rejected me with a coldness I’d grown to expect from the man I so admired. I told him that I hated him, for I did. In that moment? After witnessing all the death and destruction he’d caused – I ask you, how could I not hate him?

So you see, the majority of this segment of Mikhail Yuryevich’s novel was inaccurate. Even though the sequencing of events was correct and the characters were the same as my recollections, the way I loved Pechorin developed completely independently from how he inferred. And, after reading all this as an older woman, and one who has felt true love and borne many children from that lasting partnership, I cannot avoid the feeling that this summer with Pechorin was merely a distraction for me.

However, it remains noteworthy that the majority of this novel was written by a man whose opinion I once greatly admired. And, while Pechorin was wrong about me in more ways he could ever fathom, he was right about the lasting impact that summer impressed upon my soul. After reading his thoughts about our time together, I found myself moved to tears from the sheer senselessness of it all. While Lermontov saw heroism in Pechorin’s actions, I can discern nothing noteworthy about them in the slightest, save for an exceptional fear of lasting happiness, which it seems plagued Pechorin his entire life.

Is this what makes a hero in our era? A man so afraid to accept happiness, to accept graciousness and love that he will murder a close friend to presumably protect the honor of a woman he claimed to never love? If this is the ideal for the modern man, then I am quite pleased to be a widow, and will retain no further desire to court any suitors in the future. To those who emulate Pechorin, I feel nothing but sorrow for the chasm that has replaced their hearts. No one deserves emptiness, regardless of their unrelenting fears of unadulterated satisfaction. If you feel yourself relating to the plight of Pechorin, please know that I sincerely pity you, from the bottom of my heart, and that I pray for you to find joy in the dangers behind true vulnerability. As someone who knew Pechorin well, and understands him completely now, I must say that his walls were the strongest facet of his spirit, and the fact that he never allowed anyone entrance to his soul is what made him abhor our society and our time. How could any man such as this be a tribute to his culture, his generation, or his heritage?



“A Hero’s Response”

Found and Introduced by Emily Erdmann



This essay is intended to serve as Pechorin’s defensive response to the critiquing, conservative Russian masses who claimed his story to be “… a slander on Russian society” (Foote, xxvii). The footnotes offer a greater depth to the paper that cannot necessarily be added from Pechorin’s point of view as he conveys the idea that the Russian elite are united not by a productive, national identity, but rather by an alienation that leaves them bored and motivated towards idle manipulation.


Does my title as “hero” offend you?

Hero is the one who leads the many, and by extension, the one who represents all the others. I am less of the former and more of the latter. I am no Scaevola;[1] I stand not for courage, I stand merely as the superfluous man. I am all of you, the only thing setting me apart being my admission to these idiosyncrasies we share. Suffice it to say that I am not the hero who saves, but rather the one who reveals a truth, however bitter it may be.

On the surface, though, I think we all aspire to be the saving type – myself included, although it pains me to admit it. I have forever run against the current of Russian society, flattering myself to be different or special. I thought that an adventure to the Caucuses would prove an exciting and heroic one, defending the Fatherland with Asiatic bullets flying about. And yet, I soon found myself disenchanted with all of it. Along with this disenchantment came the ability to see through the illusion that I myself had suffered from as it played out in other people.

My dear Russians, your concept of hero seems regretfully to align with that of Grushnitsky’s, who, for his part, “knows nothing of people or of the weaker sides of human nature, since the sole preoccupation of his life has been himself. His ambition is to become the hero of a novel” (73). Caught up in his own airs, this variety of hero pretends to understand and overcome humanity’s weaknesses, but in reality, he perpetuates them.

You are all naïve to think that this could be the image of a hero in our time. Your characters belong in a fairy tale, whereas the only fictional hero meant for reality is the like of the Vampire: a leader who is not macho, but sinister, and not virtuous but a destroyer of the lofty yet shallow beliefs we deign to hold up as “virtues” (168). The only heroes of the real world are born and bred upon the vices of this génération pitoyable.[2]

I will not save Princess Mary from a fiery fate, but I will relentlessly draw attention to the charades and illusions of everyday society life that keep us entrenched and held back from a system that would put our existence to effective use.


Do you perceive me to be callous?

I must be a psychopath for I have no emotions. You are inclined to tell yourself this, because you wish it to be true. And yet, my fellow Russians, I am not devoid of emotions – I am simply educated beyond requiring them. I pride myself on the supremacy of my intellect over my own feelings,[3] but this does not imply that such feelings have ceased to exist altogether. My personality is not black and white as you are wont to believe, but rather gray and fluid as is yours. I am not an impenetrable wall of apathy.

I gave Grushnitsky a chance to repent, telling him honestly that I would forgive his slander. It is not my fault that he chose death over degrading deliverance. Murder did not come easily to me. The finger may move quick on the trigger, but the mind is slower to accept. The turmoil in my mind made me physically ill. I am sickened by society, but I do not pretend to be anything but a product of it.

You are so quick to judge me because you have read my thoughts. Yet, did not Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain also play manipulative games? Did they not pray on my sanity and cause me to cry out “Why do they all hate me?” (122) as my entire being filled with sorrow and spite? This goes not only to show that I am capable of being moved to a point of rational feeling, but additionally that nefarious and malignant actions are not limited to me alone. Would you be disappointed to find out that there is trivial difference between myself and the others? What about between me and you? I suspect you will find that the deviation is little.


Do you think I’m a cynic?

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I wander through life “T’ward good and evil shamefully uncaring”[4] – too many times has life provoked me to try and left me without fruit. Why shouldn’t I seek enjoyment in what I already know to have a bitter end? I sought adventure and found boredom, I loved and I was abandoned.

As the narrator puts it, “It is sad to see a young man’s fondest hopes and dreams shattered when the rose-coloured veil through which he has viewed the actions and feelings of men is plucked away. But still he has the hope of replacing his old illusions with others, just as fleeting, but also just as sweet” (53). I am only labeled a cynic because I see the illusions where you see happiness. It is senseless to live in ignorance of the fact that we are ever in pursuit of the next happiest moment. Boredom is the only enduring sentiment when there is no cause for anything more permanent.

Russian society is as flat and static as its geography.

In idleness stagnating, growing old.
We have received, when barely finished weaning,
The errors of our sires, their tardiness of mind,
And life oppresses us, a flat road without meaning.4

In our own boredom, we reach for the diversity and variance of the Caucuses only to find that we don’t belong there either. Yes, at first I was attracted to the foreign element of Bela’s existence but it didn’t take long to realize that we were too different. With the disparity between the cliffs and the chasms of the rural mountains, there is also the discrepancy between hierarchical strata: for all our mediocrity, we remain superior to the uncivilized masses of the Caucuses. I do indeed regret the way Bela left this world, but there was no sense in painting illusions for her in those final days. “I’m just as much to be pitied as she is, perhaps even more. My soul’s been corrupted by society” (35).

I had loved Vera in days passed, and in talking myself out of the regret I felt as she left me, married to another man, it would seem that I talked myself into the idea of marrying someone else. I should have known life would leave me disappointed as ever it has and ever it will. I noted the disdain in Maxim’s face, but I cannot change the way of things. I come from an education that forces me to reason through what he cannot seem to see. I cannot enjoy the trifles of life, the monotony of societal “sophistication;” there is naught but mindless platitudes and illusions.

Even if you all join me in this point of view — seeing Russia for what it is — I fear there will still be no solution to the “vices of our whole generation” (4). Because we lack connection to a semblance of Russian identity, we guide ourselves by intellect, not feeling. Educated and well-off, those of us from society know not where to direct our efforts and intelligence. We are not European, we are not Caucasian. What can we do from here but entertain ourselves in the boring blip between birth and obliteration?

Hélas, finita la tragedia.[5]


[1] Allusion to the legend of Gaius Mucius Scaevola, a Russian soldier who was considered a hero for having burned himself to prove Russian courage and loyalty (Kivelson & Suny, 150).

[2] “pitiful generation”

[3] “He scorns emotions and prides himself on the supremacy of his intellect over his feelings” (Foote, xviii)

[4] Verses “Meditation” (1838)

[5] This is a reference to the ironic statement “finita la commedia” (141) that Pechorin says after murdering Grushnitsky. The inherent irony is that the story is, in fact, a tragedy (denoted by the fact that the main characters die). Because Pechorin offers no solution to the Russian condition, the only ending to the “flat road without meaning” (“Meditation,” v. 7) is death.


Evan Helchen is a junior majoring in Business Analytics and Economics with a minor in History.

Mary Seaman is a sophomore majoring in History.

Emily Erdmann is a junior majoring in French and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

Digging Into the Costa Rican Past

By Rachel Wydra

Santiago, who goes by “Santi,” is seven. He has recently learned the phrase “Come on!”. It is a useful English phrase for a Costa Rican child to learn, especially one who is surrounded by American college students. Santi has endless energy. His buzzing imagination is always coming up with a new game to play. Playing hockey in my host family’s living room can be exhausting when the humidity is heavy and the heat seeps deep into your bones. But after I left Costa Rica in January of 2017 I longed for those long nights running around after Santi, talking about life with his parents over a cup of coffee, and jumping up on a chair when the inevitable frog appeared in a corner of the kitchen.

When I returned to Miami for the spring semester my heart was still in the small Central American country. As I sat in my history honors class, trying to come up with an idea for my thesis, the scent of vigorones wafting onto the beach and the friendly face of the owner of my favorite smoothie stand were still fresh in my mind. So I did what I do best. I followed the research rabbit hole and uncovered a rich and fascinating history. Most Americans know little to nothing about the history of Costa Rica. Most don’t know that the small country fought a short Civil War in 1948. It was an earlier conflict in the Cold-War era of Latin America. I dug further and found that the Popular Vanguard Party (PVP), formerly known as the Communist Party of Costa Rica, was a major actor in the forty-four day conflict. Opposing them was the United States-backed National Liberation Army, the winning side. Within the PVP, women, especially teachers, played a large role. I had my topic. I would research women and activism in Costa Rica in the era leading up to the Civil War.

Within just eight months I was able to return to the country I had fallen in love with to conduct research for my senior history honors thesis. This August I spent nine days in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, digging into the country’s past. Most of my time was spent delving into documents from the early twentieth century in the country’s National Archives. I also visited a couple museums, the National Institute of Women (INAMU) and the National Public Library for my research. Throughout my journey I acquired a rich collection of both primary and secondary sources. I dug into the writings of political activists Carmen Lyra and Luisa González, uncovered government communication regarding communist activity, learned about the legacy of these women, and fell in love all over again with Costa Rica.

When the Archives were closed for the weekend I headed to Puntarenas to visit my host family, my original inspiration for this project. It was a bizarre feeling to walk the streets of the sleepy beach town again. I hadn’t expected to return here so soon after I left. The reunion with my host family was a joyous one. They met my sister Cara, my travel companion. I cherished the short time I spent with my familia tica. It felt right to re-visit the place and the people that had inspired my research. The great thing about historical research is that I visit Costa Rica every time I sit down to work on my thesis. The way I see it, I get to spend my senior year in the beautiful country, even as I sit in King Library. Pura Vida.

A candid shot captured by my host father of myself (left), my sister Cara who is a sophomore a Miami (right), and my host brother Santi (front). Santi hates pictures and wants to return to building his castle and playing in the waves.

San Jose is nestled in a mountainous region. The walk to the Archives from my hotel was less of a walk and more of a hike but there were gorgeous views of the city and the surrounding landscape.

In the midst of one of the torrential downpours that San Jose is famous for we popped into the Jade Museum, which is devoted to Pre-Columbian history of Costa Rica. The indigenous population that inhabited Costa Rica prior to the arrival of the Spanish created tools, art, and jewelry out of jade found in the region.

This is a photo of myself outside the National Museum in San Jose. The museum is housed in a military fort from the early twentieth century. After the 1948 Civil War Costa Rica abolished its military with hopes of a peaceful future.

I was excited when I found this photo in the National Museum of one of the women I am researching.

The Archivo Nacional de Costa Rica, the National Archives in English, resembles a spaceship but the building is devoted to housing documents from Costa Rica’s past. I spent most of my time here digging up Costa Rica’s fascinating history.

This is my visitor pass that was needed for entry into the National Archives. My Spanish skills certainly grew through interactions with archivists. I am now Facebook friends with a woman who works in the Archives.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Elementary School in San Jose is decorated by this painting of the history of the school. My research focuses on women teacher activists so it was amazing to see an artistic work depicting Costa Rican educational history.

Clash of cultures! Throughout the twentieth century, the Costa Rican Communist Party was in contact with communist parties from around the world, including nearby Mexico. My sister and I dined at a Mexican restaurant in San Jose where I photographed this painted skull decoration, associated with the Day of the Dead. We ate pan de muertos, the Mexican bread consumed on the holiday.

Though I was in Costa Rica during the rainy season, I was still able to enjoy one of Puntarenas’s signature sunsets. As the ticos (people of Costa Rica) say, pura vida or life is good.







Elsewhere and Back Again

By Jacob Bruggeman

Why do we travel? Temporarily transporting ourselves to foreign places, regardless of how far removed from home they may be, is both exciting and frightening, and quite often time-consuming. To travel is to break routine, to take a willing step out of the common steadiness of the household, striding apace with the human urge to explore.

Most of the time I’m content to move within the spaces I’ve carved out for myself in the communities I love and live within. I think this a shared sentiment: we love our homes because our memories tie us to them. Memories of being, of experiencing a space, personalize, they superimpose peoples’ past interactions with structures and the memories of those interactions. Places are pieces of our identities, they are, as Michel de Certeau wrote, “fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read.”[1] There is a distinctiveness to each of our home spaces, a uniqueness imbued in everyone’s domestic experience, such that the home can only ever be alien to others, even those with whom we might share our home space. Our homes are exclusive, the stories within their pages entirely our own, illegible to those who would try and read them.

Despite the comfort and ease of my own homebound ‘histories’, I never fail to agreeably, even eagerly, exit the home: to embrace an opportunity to travel. I crave the sense of belonging inherent in many communities—and I thrive because of the networks I craft within them—yet I yearn for novelty, and I never shy away from exploring a new corner of the modern world. Indeed, instead of the place itself, its architecture, foodways, and the people populating it, sometimes I most look forward to the ambiguities—the unknowability of the place, the not-now of its histories and its future—and a familiar hesitancy to map the unmapped. Just as the home is steeped in individuality, so too are the places we travel to. Our travel to certain places, and the time we spend in them, constitutes a web of histories in that place, memories and sentiments unknown to all others.

This summer I had the pleasure of writing many personal, micro-histories of cities, parks, museums, and of doing so in gatherings of others doing the same. It was a summer of mapping for myself many corners of the world. In this photo essay, I will try to convey some simulacra of those ‘histories’, and hope that they call you to write, and thus to experience, your own.


In early June, I spent a week in New York City with the 2017-2018 cohort of History Scholars at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  (See my essay on it here:

History in These Times

) Having never before been to New York City, I made the trip out east three days before the start of the History Scholar program. My dad, an endearing man he is, made the trip with me. Though we spent the entire weekend together, this particular night was wonderful. Earlier on we saw the play version of Orwell’s 1984, and, having so much to discuss, we decided to make the long walk from Times Square (we were staying in a hotel on 45th and 7th) across the Brooklyn Bridge, and from there walk another mile or to eat at a to-die-for pizzeria. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a more enjoyable walk, nor company with whom to share it.


During the same week in New York, I repeatedly lost myself in Central Park. On several occasions throughout the week, I spent hours meandering in the foliage. Absent my ambitions, worries, and all the cares in the world, I danced atop the park’s many protruding rocks, spent countless moments people-watching with new friends, all our lips childishly stained from snow cones. I tried to capture the joy I felt in those hours with pictures and poetry both, but the carefree jollity I felt in the Big Apple’s greenery was simply fleeting. Whenever I try to remember that feeling, I always find myself returning to this photo of Balto’s statue in Central Park. I can describe neither its draw, nor its relationship to my experiences in Central Park, but maybe that’s because its meaning is as fleeting as the experiences themselves.


The History Scholar cohort had the incredible opportunity to peruse the Gilder Lehrman archives. Appraised as “priceless” by multiple accounts, every shelve in their archives houses irreplaceable artifacts. One such artifact is pictured above. Yes, that is a lock of hair, and it belonged to James Madison.


A week or two after returning from New York, I made my way down to Atlanta, Georgia, for a conference on economics. Having arrived about 7 hours before the conference commenced, I stowed my bags away in my hotel’s lobby and left to explore the city. I walked about 11 miles in the following hours, all of which I spent admiring Atlanta’s abundance of public sculptures, some Southern food, and several museums. I can’t remember the name of the building pictured above, but I clearly recall its brutal, brown, spire-like ornamentation striking me in its contrast with the clouds. For the remainder of the three days I had in Atlanta, I used up most of my free time by walking back to this building, sitting in a bench under its shadow, and reading through materials for my summer research. I hope to one day return to that oddly memorable, well-shaded spot.


In late June I spent a week in week in Washington, D. C., as a participant in on one of the American Enterprise Institute’s summer honors programs. In the evenings after our lectures and dinners, small groups of us broke off from the whole and explored our nation’s capital. The program I participated in was centered around pluralism in America, and was led by a kind, brilliant scholar from Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. John D. Inzau, whose new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference, served as a touchpoint for our discussions. Exploring the National Mall one evening, I decided to linger around the WWII Memorial. A dozen minutes or so later, I was lucky enough to witness these two young girls meet each other as they dipped their hands in the Memorial’s pool.


Two or three nights later, I visited my favorite memorial in Washington, the Korean War Memorial. My Grandfather, Tullio Joseph Buccitelli, fought honorably in the Korean War. He earned a Bronze Star for his bold honesty, and a Purple Heart after he was wounded by shrapnel from a mortal shell barrage. Winding through Washington that evening, I couldn’t shake a revived sorrow I felt at his loss over three years ago, and wished that he were there with me, laughing, naturally arching his unusually bushy eyebrows, coloring my understanding of that Memorial with histories of his own.


As my week in D. C. came to a close, I went to the Hirschhorn with some good friends. One such friend, Garret, is pictured above on the right; my dopey figure is on the left. Garret is a loyal lad to people and ideas both, one who trades in timeless aphorisms, who treads above fads and fiercely defends the things he holds to be true and good. Though we disagree often, I always look forward to meeting Garret throughout the year. We put pluralism into practice.


In early August, I traveled out to Portland, Oregon, to kick-off a year-long ISI Honors Scholar Fellowship. I spent a week on the West Coast discussing ideas about American Founding, the trappings of good government, and the human condition. In our free time, we enjoyed the wonderfully weird city of Portland, particularly its cultural offerings. Pictured above is the Portland Museum of Art, a surprisingly splendid museum, filled with some stunning Expressionist and Post-Expressionist art, and an equally impressive collection of Modern Art.


While moving through the museum’s exhibits, I snapped this picture as I looked over balcony on the fourth floor. For some reason, I found it enchanting.


All my summer travels said and done, I attended the Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland’s Little Italy in mid-August. While not traveling and at home in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, I spent every Monday and Tuesday in Senator Sherrod Brown’s as a constituent services intern. My appreciation for Cleveland grew considerably during those Mondays and Tuesdays, and renewed my love for the city I call home.

[1] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, Berkeley 1984), 108.

Recreating a Propaganda Room

Honors students enrolled in Dr. Stephen Norris’s Russian Revolution class transformed the Upham Room in Upham Hall into a propaganda room.  Half of the students, and half of the room, took the form of early Soviet propaganda spaces.  The other half, inspired by a photograph in Miami’s Havighurst Special Collections of Russian emigres, took the form of an emigre club.

Émigré Propaganda Room

By Cameron Devitt

The first stage of putting together any type of propaganda, advertisement, or persuasive material is first understanding your audience and the argument you want to make. In crafting our emigré propaganda room we determined our target audience would be the emigré population in France as the image presented to us of the Gallipoli Society in class suggested. Then, we thought about the historical platform of the emigrés during the Russian Revolution. They aimed to restore the old order by crushing the Bolsheviks and their Red Army and freeing the Tsar. Thus, one could say that our argument was that through our propaganda room we hoped to persuade individuals of the cultural superiority of the old Russian history as well as convince them that the white army and our cause was still powerful with potential for success. Accordingly, we hoped they would be more likely to support the cause as they had in history.

Since the monarchy was symbolic of Russia’s old history, it became a vital symbol to the white army’s platform and propaganda. To blatantly emphasize this, an incredibly large photograph of Tsar Nicholas II in the middle of the propaganda room reminded viewers that to escape the chaos and insecurity with Bolshevism, they needed to restore order as it was. Likewise, a Double-Headed Eagle coat of arms used by the royal family suggested the deep Russian history that was being destroyed. Finally, the Russian flag was symbolic of the historical Russian spirit. When looking though sources to put in the room in special collections, it was interesting to see the extent to which the monarchy played such an extravagant but large role of the people’s lives and for me it reawakened the sense of urgency the émigrés must have felt to restore order amidst chaos.

Equally important propaganda to the emigré cause was white army propaganda. Because the white army quickly became the more decentralized of the two armies, it was important to convince people that there was still hope for the possibility of returning to a secure country. Thus, portraits of Anton Denekin, Alexander Kolchak, Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel, and Nikolai Yudenich were meant to reassure the emigrés of their strong leaders. Likewise, pamphlets such as Who Is Denekin? and Who is Kolchak? were available if people wanted to learn more about these leaders and their backgrounds. In addition, pictures such as the Nurses of Kornilov’s Army (1918), the Group of Kornilovtsy (“Followers of Kornilov”), and the pictures of Colonial Schleglov (part of Kornilov’s Army) and General Bazaravich (a military agent in Serbia) served to remind émigrés of the network of people supporting their cause and acted as propaganda showing that the white army was doing well. The designers of the propaganda room in Paris understood the importance of maintaining hope and positivity among the émigrés for continued support and in our replica we tried to do the same.

In the same vein, communication was very important. Since the émigrés were not living in Russia where they could walk out their door to purchase a newspaper about the daily events, they created their own newspapers such as Voennaia Byl., “La Sentinelle,” and Posledniye Novosti which presumably they may have had access to in propaganda rooms. Either way, these newspapers were powerful in keeping the émigrés informed and their goals coherent. White poetry, like red poetry was also key in evoking feelings towards the revolution. Poetry has the ability to connect with people on an emotional level and keeping people attached to the white cause was vital. Thus, we included a white poetry book in the propaganda room and two white propaganda posters suggesting the importance of the white cause.

In creating this propaganda room, I think we reignited the spirit, the tension, and the chaos of the Russian Revolution. I can only imagine the challenges that must have come with trying to manage an army outside of the country you are fighting in with the lack of accessible communication. Despite their ultimate failure, their dedication to the cause is evident through the poems we read and the newspapers published. It must’ve been extremely frustrating to work so hard at protecting an old Russian spirit that so essential to your prior life experiences and yet see it slowly crumble at the expense of the “newness” of the Bolshevik socialist experiment.

Mark Steinberg, in the conclusion of his The Russian Revolution, suggests a theme about the revolution in the present that has helped me to best understand why the propaganda room project was significant to my learning and self-growth. He writes,


It is not the work of the historian to predict the future- the past’s futures are hard enough to predict. Yet, somehow in our times we see a remarkable number of people across the world, mostly young, acting as if they believe that one must venture beyond the limits of life as it is to create life as it ought to be…These dreamers challenge all they judge to be negative in the world…and, not least, resist what we tell them is impossible to achieve. (356)

To me, creating this propaganda room was an act of empathy. By forcing me to act as an émigré in the time of the Russian Revolution, I was able to gain insight into the emotional connection all Russians had to the revolution, but especially the connections of those abroad. As someone who is fascinated by entrepreneurial spirit, I admire the ownership the large proportion of Russian’s took in trying to help create their own destiny in this time of disorder as evident in the newspapers and poems. They “resisted” the “impossible” and took a stance. I believe this stance speaks to both their brilliance and lack of identity; brilliance in the action they took and failure in their ability to recognize that radical change has only the slimmest change of long-term success in its first trial. Of course, this failure is understandable due to the oppression they faced and looking at the Russian Revolution through the lens of a first year college student has made me all the more grateful for the emphasis my high school English courses put on exploring self-identity. Thus, the most valuable opportunity the creation of this room gave me was a chance to connect and think more deeply about the spirit of the ordinary actors of the Revolution. While learning about Lenin and Kolchak and Stalin is and Denikin is vital to the context of the revolution, as someone who is still trying to discover and mature the future path of my life, it is neat to look at the 1917-1921 actors and see how their stories are remarkably different, yet remarkably similar to my own. Although I’d never hope to experience the brutality of the Russian Revolution, there is something to be said all of these people trying to find their voice in the wake of freedom to try and make an impact. After all, as John Green said, “What is the point of living if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”


Recreating a Soviet Space

By Jacob Bruggeman

In the opening pages of his new book, The Russian Revolution: 1905-1921, Mark Steinberg writes: “I want to imagine we can walk through the streets during the ‘springtime of freedom’ [of 1917]: go to the demonstrations and meetings, listen to speeches, talk with people in public […] Above all, I want to imagine we can ask people what they meant by that […] idea that everyone insisted defined the revolution: ‘freedom’.”[1] I would posit that Steinberg’s most recent addition to the historiography succeeds in painting for readers a better picture of the past; yet, for all Steinberg’s efforts, is it always impossible for people of the present to fully understand events from a century ago. Steinberg’s history of the Russian Revolution, like all histories, provides a series of lenses through which we see a recreation of the past fashioned from its sources or “traces,” if you will. A different way of understanding the past is to act it out, to attempt to place oneself in the mindset of our far-back-in-time forerunners; to engage the past by recreating it, not through abstractions in prose, but through informed actions. Through creating our Propaganda Room for class, we engaged with the past in an all-to-often rejected vehicle for learning history: hands-on activities. In so doing, my group—that is, the group representing the Bolsheviks—was forced to grapple with the sense of authorship, newfound freedom, and utter uncertainty felt by Bolsheviks in 1917.

The Propaganda Room was split down the middle to allow for both Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik propaganda rooms, or half-rooms, to be constructed. Our side of the room had many moving parts: there was a banner, posters, Suprematist artwork, excerpts from literature, mass-produced pamphlets, a portrait of Lenin and flag dedicated to his everlasting life, and countless reproductions of Bolshevik propaganda cartons and images (one perk of being on the “right side of history” is an abundance of sources to work with). Stripped of their independent historical contexts, each piece of propaganda in the room carried is own historical gravity, informed by the histories we have explored through class, and its own emotional aura, moving viewers in ways unique to their understanding, or lack thereof, of what we have learned. The room, then, was a sort of amalgam of Bolshevik propaganda, each piece plucked from different places, different points throughout the “springtime of freedom,” and different individuals’ imaginations of what was to come for Russia. As such, our half of the Propaganda Room lacked the cogency and coherency of a museum exhibit; however, in my view, this was for the better.

As Steinberg notes in his book, Walter Benjamin observed that human history contains the possibility “of a ‘springtime’,” and that revolutions, when they occur, are one of humanity’s “strongest expressions of […] desire, vision, and possibility.”[2] I see an interesting alignment between our Propaganda Room project and Steinberg’s argument about the Russian Revolution: as noted earlier, our construction of the Propaganda Room reflects our effort to engage the past through acting it out, yet, in acting as Bolshevik revolutionaries, we felt no compulsion to order our room in any particular fashion; therefore, we voiced “desire[s]” and “vision[s]” for the room with an anarchistic disregard for the contemporary conventions of presenting traces of the past as is done in museums. Instead, we built our Propaganda Room with a random blend of artifacts and artwork, signifying a reconceptualization of time, which, as Steinberg suggests, often results from revolution. Indeed, the unpredictability with which we picked traces of the past for presentation the Propaganda Room speaks to the how, as Steinberg points out, “revolutions “blast open the continuum of history” […] and allow humanity to “leap in the open air of history,”” thereby transforming history into “radical possibility.”[3]

In a world of “radical possibility” the only impossibility can be a singularity of meaning, and so it would be hard to argue that our Propaganda Room had a single thrust, for there were many meanings which could be drawn from the disparate races of the past in the room. As mentioned earlier, many of our traces of the past came from very different contexts, and so they can be said to have different purposes. On one wooden panel, we posted two poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, and these works represented the Russian Symbolists’ eschatological vision of “the dreary, rationalistic, thoroughly corrupt world […] [being] swept away by a destructive, “purifying” fire”;[4] yet directly under these poems were piece of propaganda calling upon Russian to engage with industry, and therefore maintain—at least to some extent—the time’s industrial order. The divergent meanings of our traces of the past resulted in each panel, or even each piece on each panel, having its own atmosphere of meaning, its own thrust of propagandizing. Furthermore, a piece of Suprematist art I made, which sat to the panel at the right of the Mayakovsky poems, depicted the sense of dissimilar meanings in the Russian Revolution through triangles colliding with one another, and so, in another odd parallel, may even reflect heady theory interpretation of the room. In this way, the room mimics the cacophony of voices during the Russian Revolution, each with their own “desire[s]” and “vision[s],” and thus demonstrates the utility of learning history through a physical engagement with it.

[1] Steinberg, Mark D. The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford UP, 2017. Print. Pg. 15.

[2] Steinberg, Mark D. The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford UP, 2017. Print. Pg. 17.

[3] Steinberg, Mark D. The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford UP, 2017. Print. Pg. 17

[4] Dralyuk, Boris. 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution. London: Pushkin, 2016. Print. Pg. 50.


Reenacting Revolution

Note:  On February 2, 2017, students in Stephen Norris’s Spring 2017 Introduction to Russian Studies course engaged in a role-playing exercise that aimed to replicate the decision-making the Bolsheviks faced when they seized power in October 1917.  One-hundred years after the momentous events of that year, Miami students placed themselves in the shoes of revolutionaries and then reflected on what that in-class exercise helped them learn about the Russian Revolution.  Below are papers written by students in the class.

By Addison Caruso, Adam Cloch, Chelsea Leipold, Katelyn Scheive, Nick Schleter, Mary Seaman, and Brad Terrace.

Addison Caruso

It was a dark and cloudy day, and as the wind rustled all around me I knew it was time to plan a revolution. We had succeeded previously in toppling our autocratic Tsar, and the successor, an autocrat in all but name, Kerensky. The task for building a government was ours on this foreboding day, and it is a task that was to be done in the utmost urgency. Comrade Lenin appointed me to the security council, where I was to, in the face of enemies from everywhere, come up with a way to keep our new nation safe. As there were threats from all around us; the Whites, kulaks, and double agents within our own party, we had to proceed fast. We had a mere forty-five minutes to come up with a plan to protect this government of the proletariat from its enemies. Luckily this was not a barrier for us. Through sheer will and compromise we were able to reach a decision that all were proud of.

In my committee, there were two personalities that were prominent, mine and comrade August. He is a wise and well-read Bolshevik but his ideas of violence are abhorrent to me. I was taught very young about the French Revolution and the reign of terror that followed it. The number of people killed in the name of freedom and liberty is staggering, and something that must not be repeated. I believe a revolution can happen without the shedding of blood.  He disagreed. It was hard to reach an agreement given our strong personal beliefs. He shared with me his hatred of the bourgeoisie, as his father had been killed by his landlord when their rent was behind due to a bad harvest that was happening. Despite this we managed to reach an agreement that violence would be used only as a last resort. I guess a little violence is better than no violence. The other two comrades in my committee were not so forceful, and once me and comrade August agreed on a solution, the other two members were happy to follow along.

As a fervent Bolshevik, I have read many of comrade Lenin’s and Trotsky’s writings and treatises. One of the writing’s that inspired me in this endeavor was Lenin’s speech describing the three components of Marxism. His talk of the class struggle and how the new revolution must bring the proletariat into power, caused me to think how we would design a justice system based on this. I decided on a court system based on class, where the proletariat would have the power in tribunals and we would rid ourselves of the bourgeoisie excesses that exist. We also decided that we must rid ourselves of the ruling class who refuse to commit to this new order. While this does sound harsh, as comrade Lenin said, we must destroy the old order to build a new one, and no single victory of political freedom was won without struggle by the capitalist classes. We knew that the old order would resist, but I advocated for letting them declare their support for the revolution. I always support the olive branch over the sword, and it is this idea that I tried to impart on the committee.

After we had decided on a solution I felt relieved. We had solved one of the central problems plaguing Russia. A hundred years from now as students reenact this glorious day, I do hope they can grasp the pressures that we were put under and understand that while our decisions might not have been the ideological ones, we were under tremendous pressure to keep our new government safe from harm. With enemies, all around you it can be hard not to resort to violence, this temptation is there, but to those that want to give into this temptation, I caution restraint as I did during our meeting. Violence only leads to more violence, only through offering reconciliation and a chance to be a part of this new Russia, can we make this socialist utopia we have all dreamed of, a reality.

Adam Cloch

Comrades, as we look back on our last meeting we must remember to proceed with great haste. Time is of the essence if we are to implement our ideas for our glorious revolution. We met and discussed for only a short amount of time, but we accomplished much, especially in our group on economics. Comrades Mohinee, Madison, and Abby all worked diligently to come to our conclusions, but they did not come without great argument and uncertainty. Lenin should also be proud of the work of his we have followed as laid out in his April Theses only five months ago. As we look back on the meeting we have just finished, we must understand that our findings fall in line with what other comrades of ours who have discussed and that moving forward we make haste to ensure our economic goals are successful.

The matter of discussion only being 45 minutes long was a great constraint and burden felt within our group. In order to accomplish the most we could, egos and nonconformist ideas had to be left outside. It was of extreme importance that we had only those in our group that wanted the revolution to succeed and no bourgeoisie spies in the mix. Comrade Mohinee and I had very good discussion on what our goals should be within economics and in doing so, we knew beforehand each other’s biases. I believed, and still believe, that our revolution should happen within the quickest time-frame possible, while Mohinee at first wanted to take a more gradual approach. If I had not understood this beforehand, I would have thought of her as a spy from the wretched bourgeois. I found my job to be persuading my other two comrades, Madison and Abby that my way was the correct one for changing the economy.

Our ultimate conclusions follow Lenin’s plan as laid out in the April Theses including the nationalization of all lands and the seizure of banks so they fall under one collective controlled by the Soviet of Workers Deputies. Our work also follows true on the words of the interpretation of Marx, by Lenin, who talked greatly about the need for workers to understand their position and rise up together. Our plan entails the seizure of the factories and fields by the proletariat and peasants in unison to take back what they deserve from their own labors. As this will be a very rapid turn of events the original job is to be carried out under the watch of the local Soviets, but power will be transferred to a central group of Soviets where we can decide our best course of action within one month.

As I compare the work that my economic group has accomplished compared to others in the party I believe that we can learn much from each other in our short amount of time. One of the biggest points that effected our decision making, besides time, was the biases that were known in our group. As I said earlier, not knowing that Mohinee wished to take a slower approach, one that curtailed no use of violence and the use of elections before seizures, I would have thought of her as a spy. Since I did know that she was on the revolutionary side, I did not call for her execution for her actions. We should, however, remain vigilant to combat any bourgeois infiltration and proposals.  Besides the economic outlook, the groups on executive power and state security had similar, radical ideas to our own. I believe that together, and with considering other factors we can all work together to accomplish the goals of the revolution. Also, the use of the writings by Comrade Lenin proved to be very useful as well as the understanding in the lead up to the events that led us to our meeting in October. I believe some members on economics may have forgotten some details of where we stood since we had seized power before our meetings. It felt as if I spent a lot of time convincing some of my other party members that it was time to move forward with her revolutionary ideas and not get hung up on saying it is what we should do once we had seized the power.

The next coming days and months will tell us if our revolution is successful or not. As we look back on the decisions we have made and if they are carried out effectively I am confident that we will continue to see the rise of the proletariat not only in our glorious Russia, but across Europe and the rest of the world.

Chelsea Leipold

Coming into the role-playing exercise, I was unsure what to expect. The day before, I had gotten an email giving me a side to take and argue to my group. In the Nationalities Committee, I was to convince my group that the Bolshevik state should reconstitute the Russian Empire and oppose any efforts to declare independence. After doing the readings in preparation, I found that Lenin had a viewpoint separate from the stance I was to take. I tried to pick out short quotes that, out of context, would support my argument. I also hoped that some of my group members would come to class having not read the assigned Lenin writings, or wouldn’t have strong opinions on the matter, and thus go along with whatever I said.

I walked into class determined to carry out my mission of reconstituting the Russian Empire. It quickly became apparent that my fellow committee members had read Lenin’s writings, and that I had my work cut out for me. Through our discussion, it was clear that some favored letting the repressed nationalities declare independence, while another was leaning towards my own side of keeping the nationalities on a tighter leash. After some debate and referencing Lenin’s works, we reached a compromise, which was essentially what Lenin had proposed and discussed. As a Nationalities Committee, we proposed what was essentially a veiled independence. We decided that each formerly repressed nationality should be given the option to declare independence, however going along with that, the Bolshevik state should remain incredibly close to this newly formed, independent nation in order to keep them in check. More importantly, there would be a push to ensure that all nationalities see themselves as the proletariat as their main identity, as discussed by the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in their Resolution on the Nationalities Question. The hope is that they identify more as a class than a nationality, therefore uniting all of the workers in our newly formed socialist state. Lenin says in his Resolution on the National Question, “Only the merging of various nationalities… will make it possible for the proletariat to wage a successful struggle against international Capital and bourgeois nationalism.” It is essential that all of the nationalities come together as a working class so that socialism can take hold.

While we did compromise relatively easily, as neither side was very aggressive in getting their own way, I did push for the loyalty to the working class, as well as to the new Bolshevik state. I made sure that the committee was clear that it was pseudo independence, only used to achieve unity among the working classes. I think had our group been composed of individuals with larger, possibly more stubborn, personalities, compromise would have been much more difficult. I imagine that during 1917 this would have been the case. Prominent figures would have duked it out more often than they sat down, talked it out, and eventually reach an agreement. This is what seemed to have happened in several of the other committees during the exercise. Under the pressure of having a country dropped in your lap in need of a new government, I could imagine individuals getting very stressed, and not everyone reacts positively to such situations. I picture tensions running high and many arguments taking place, which again, was not the case in my group. I would say that as a whole, my committee was probably not as representative of what happened in 1917 as some of the others. Filled with calm and levelheaded committee members with willingness to compromise, we drafted a proposal supported by the works of Lenin in which everyone, including formerly repressed nationalities got something that they wanted.

Katelyn Scheive

In preparing for the cultural committee, I read the listed key document and Lenin’s cultural speech on the Marxist website that was given before the Revolution. As a group, we tended to agree that we should use propaganda but struggled to figure out whether we should use any forms of the traditional culture. We also focused much of our discussion on how to implement these policies across the Soviet Union. We decided to use traditional cultural forms and propaganda focused on the proletariat. The time restrictions, given preferences, and different personalities in each committee helped to reflect the certain conditions of the Russian Revolution, but I have a few ideas in how these factors could be improved to more closely resemble the actual committees.

The time restrictions placed on us helped me to understand how quickly and challenging it was to put untested theories into practice. According to scholar Stephen Smith, the restlessness of the people and risk of threat of foreign intervention affected the committee’s urgency. Fast decisions were necessary, which didn’t allow for much debate (Smith, 67). We discussed at great length how we should implement our cultural policies in a timely manner so that the culture would reflect the changes the revolution was trying to make. We wanted to use radio, posters on buildings, art, and the educational system to bring about the new culture focused on the proletariat. We did not focus on the ethical implications of our ideas; we simply wanted to get a solid plan in place that could dictate how the policy would be carried out. We lost the luxury of in-depth debate and democracy, as the real committees did. The time restrictions and other constraints could be adjusted to reflect the changing atmosphere of committees. In 1921, factions were ‘temporarily’ banned, but this was never changed (Smith, 68). This activity could reflect the reduced dissent by giving more time to work on plans of execution after presenting our views to the class, but telling us we couldn’t change our ideas from our original plan. You could also email or give a note to one of the participants telling them that anyone who debates the in-place ideas are bourgeoisie or anti-revolutionary.

The given preferences reflected the many conflicting ideas on how the ideals of Marx should be carried out that the class as a whole new little about. Even though this was only a simulation, the given preference gave me a starting base for research and helped form a strong opinion for what we should do as a committee. I do think there are additional ways to reflect the motivation of the committee. For example, Stalin rose to power through his strong opinions in committees. More power and higher rank were very real rewards for doing well in committees. In this activity, the emails could say that if their idea is agreed upon by the committee, they’d receive candy or extra credit. This would strengthen our given preferences and help reflect people’s motivations and intentions in the committees in 1917.

This activity helped me to understand much more the power of personalities in the committees at the time. Clearly, in hindsight, the ideals of the revolution were not carried out through the committees. In the very limited time that was available, people relied upon their confidence and persuasion abilities, like Stalin. For example, he argued “self determination should be exercised only by the laboring classes, and not by the bourgeoisie” (Smith, 55). Decisions were often based on “pragmatic abilities” when there was not a clear decision (Smith, 55). In my group, another person and I tended to disagree based on our preferences. The other person tended to be more firm and ‘louder.’ And since she was the one who presented our ideas to the class, she focused on the topics she thought were most important. I think our existing differences in personality easily reflected the individual differences in 1917. In both cases, strong and persuasive personalities tended to have their opinions reflected more in policy.

This activity helped me most realize the critical effect of the limited time frame, the differing positions based on Marx theories, and the power of personalities in discussion. October 1917 could have resulted in many different outcomes in a communist government. The simulation helped demonstrate how the ideals of the theories were sometimes lost in committees and lead to the dictatorial communist government that existed for decades.

Nick Schleter

In American history, it is often taught that one of the reasons we were victorious in the Revolutionary War was that we fought harder. We fought harder because we were defending our own land and believed deeply in our cause. Before it happened, it was idealistic – thinking 13 colonies subject to the most powerful king on earth could rebel and win to become the land of the free. Going through the activity of building a revolution of my own, it put into perspective just how much idealism was required for the Bolsheviks to have succeeded in building a revolution.

As late as spring 1917, no logical person could have argued that the Bolsheviks would be able to take over the government. But logic is not revolutionary. Suspension of disbelief is revolutionary. Going into the activity, we were assigned to read Lenin, Lenin, and Lenin. A well-informed decision draws evidence from multiple sources but not if the ideas of Lenin and Marx are the absolute truth without room for interpretation. The revolution could not have carried on upon the will of one man if that one man did not believe unconditionally. Any shred of doubt would have derailed the entire operation.

By trying for a short 45 minutes to replicate this fervor, it became clear that it was impossible to think it. The revolutionary spirit must be felt, and that is why our proposal would not have stood up to light scrutiny. Using the sources, we knew that strikes must be abolished, markets must be closed, currency and ownership of property must cease, and the war must be ended. However, each suggestion was met with a scoff or a discussion of how impossible it would be to implement. As students taught capitalism and its flaws from birth, we were incapable of the idealism required to set such lofty goals. Our proposed timeline was vague and our big questions were merely touched on. Part of this was due to time constraints, but another part was because of an underlying unwillingness to entertain such a fantasy. Without ‘pure’ ideals, the effort and focus required to answer such important questions in such a condensed timeframe was absent.

Lenin lacked nothing in the department of revolutionary spirit. In his work, An Open Letter to the Delegates of the All-Russian Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, he opens with “All the land must belong to the people. All the landed estates must be turned over to the peasants without compensation.” He says this confidently and treats it as a matter of fact. He continues “The dispute here is where or not the peasants in the local areas should take all the land at once…” His baseline is that land that had been in families for generations that collectively is worth millions upon millions of dollars should be stripped without compensation. The only question, to him, is whether or not it should happen overnight. There is no mention of possible upheaval or outrage. There is only a sense that right is right and right must be done.

The most important sense, from my experience in the exercise, which Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries had was that the history progressed in stages and theirs was the next one up. From Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism Lenin writes “If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism.” With the most important countries on earth using capitalism in some form or another, it is fair to state that history was in a capitalism stage. And with the globe divided up as it had been among the wealthy, it was believable that that capitalism had evolved into imperialism. Additionally, the chaos and carnage surrounding the Great War enhanced one’s ability to believe that history was on the precipice of change. The relatively stable geopolitical order today as well as the benefit of hindsight robbed our group of that belief. When making our decisions, it was not under the assumption that our proposal would be successful and mark the beginning of global socialist utopia. Many victors in battle have believed that God himself was on their side, and the Bolsheviks had a similarly powerful ideal that history itself was careening down the railroad tracks in their favor.

The activity allowed me to see the faith required for the Bolsheviks to seek power, let alone obtain it.

Mary Seaman

Procrastination is going to kill me; Mary swore to herself as she typed her reflection for an exercise she barely remembered. She flung her head against her desk. English didn’t make sense anymore, which wasn’t surprising considering she’d stayed up all night trying to word her first assignment perfectly. She scrunched her eyes together. Maybe, if I wasn’t such a perfectionist, I’d be done by now and I could sleep. Just…sleep…

She felt a hand shake her shoulder and became alert once more. She rubbed her eyes and turned to thank the person who woke her. Her jaw dropped. Scrutinizing her with an icy glare was Leon Trotsky. There were so many questions she didn’t know how to ask whirling around her brain that she naturally sat motionless, in shock, until he finally said with a barely repressed rage:

“You did it wrong.”

Stupefied, she replied, “D-did what wrong?”

His eyes narrowed. “The exercise. Everything was wrong.”

“Um…how so?”

His head tilted, nostrils flared, and eyes widened in outrage. “How so?” He moved to her desk and stole her laptop. He began to read patronizingly, “Our security committee was able to produce a functional system that didn’t repeat the mistakes of Revolutions preceding it; additionally, by allowing dissenters to be ‘reeducated’ we ensured the peaceful transition to a historically right, Marxist society, with limited bloodshed.” He closed her laptop and flung it at her. She caught it, just barely, and held it protectively to her chest. “I almost pity your ineptitude.”

She put her laptop down and turned to Trotsky with a confused expression, “The Marxist system was, in your view, historically inevitable. If that was truly the case, doesn’t that mean everyone would have caught on eventually? If you wanted to speed up that process – reeducation is the most understandable solution: not execution.”

Trotsky laughed. “Oh, in theory maybe. But we were forced to execute! The ‘dissenters,’” he emphasized with air-quotes, “entered a war against that inevitability and became the enemy of progress. In war the enemy must be made harmless, and in wartime this means that he must be destroyed.”[1]

“One of my groupmates argued a similar point, and I’m positive you know what you’re talking about here, Mr. Trotsky.” Mary said with a cautious glance his direction, “But how can you claim to support a Marxist revolution if you have to use violent oppression to ensure its success?”

He scoffed, “How could you expect to make the enemy truly accept the conditions of its conqueror without violent repression? Repression remains a necessary means of breaking the will of the opposing side. Terror can be very efficient against a reactionary class. It kills individuals, but intimidates thousands. We didn’t have the time to both ensure our supremacy beyond question and subscribe to your lofty idealism.”

For some reason, Mary still wasn’t convinced, “If that’s the case, then wasn’t this Revolution just as morally bankrupt as the bourgeoisie Revolutions before you? A Marxist Revolution, a perfect Revolution, would respect the sacredness of human life more than a bourgeoisie Revolution could ever hope, because it’s the natural progression of the history, right?”

Trotsky gritted his teeth in annoyance, “The principle of the “sacredness of human life” remains a shameful lie, uttered with the object of keeping the oppressed slaves in their chains.” He crossed his hands over his chest, “You were scared history would repeat itself, and said your piece about the French Revolution during the discussion, but I doubt you actually think that avoiding a Terror would have ensured the survival of our Revolution, given our precarious position at the time.”

Mary averted her eyes; he did have a point. She wasn’t even sure if she would have brought up the French Revolution during the discussion if Dr. Norris hadn’t emailed her beforehand, and, if she hadn’t advocated for that, the group would’ve enacted a policy of extreme prejudice against any dissidents. Still though, it was the only historical event remotely precedent to the Russian Revolution at that time – how could it not be relevant?

Trotsky sighed, “The Bolsheviks held out not only by ideas, but by the sword. It was a new Revolution and we couldn’t afford to be swept up in the idealism of nonexistent historical precedents. I suggest you say as much in your paper.”

And with that, Trotsky disappeared. Mary blinked at the place he’d just stood with a mixture of confusion and horror. She shook her head and opened her laptop to finish her essay, I’m never drinking Red Bull again.

[1] Anytime that the text is underlined, it is a direct quote from the Trotsky reading – albeit, some of them are out of order.

Brad Terrace

Transporting myself from 2017 back to 1917 helped me to understand the circumstances surrounding the revolution and also allowed me to take on a new role as Vladimir Lenin. When I received the email from Dr. Norris, I recognized that he wanted me to take on the role of Vladimir Lenin in my group, a role that I was excited, but also a role with huge responsibility. Ultimately, I was able to convince my group to make the decrees that I was instructed to do in the email. Although I wish I was able to take full responsibility and brag about a superior intelligence, there were factors that I will discuss that I believe contributed to my success. At the end of the day, I believe that I had a much greater understanding of the crucial events of 1917 that would send shock waves through the world.

The first factor that influenced my success in my group was comrade Aleah informing the group that she received an email from Dr. Norris, a fact that I kept secret. Once I knew that comrade Aleah was the “poison” of the group, but didn’t fully believe her argument, I started pointing out passages and quotes from Lenin to sway the group. In the April Thesis, Lenin of course states his opposition to the provisional government in #3, but more importantly for our group, he argued that a return to a parliamentary government would be a retrograde step in #5. Right as we were discussing this point, Dr. Norris handed a secret note to comrade Danny and immediately Danny switched his attitude from a casual supporter of the argument to an ardent supporter of my argument. With Danny and I both arguing the points, Tianyang and Aleah soon agreed that we should establish a dictatorship.

Our next debate centered on whether or not we should allow other parties besides our own to participate in this dictatorship. Once again I turned to the Lenin readings because Lenin stated in From the Political Situation that “the aim of the insurrection can only be to transfer power to the proletariat… with a view to putting our Party program into effect.” Vladimir Lenin obviously believed that only Bolsheviks should rule; he did not trust other socialists because they could try to implement bourgeoisie policies. I conveyed this lack of trust to the group and with Danny so enthusiastically on my side, as well as the pressing time factor, the group decided that our Party would be the only party in power.

I believe that the reason that I, Vladimir Lenin, was successful on both of my major objectives were my previous knowledge, comrade Aleah stating she received an email, and time. Beginning with time, we were able to rush comrade Aleah and pressure her into doing what we wanted because she was unable to think of alternatives to our plan that fit what she was supposed to argue. It also helped that the group knew what she was trying to argue since she revealed her secret about the email and her opposition to the points made her easily persuaded. Another factor, and the reason I was most excited to be Lenin, was taking POL 331 last semester gave me a lot of background information about the history of the Soviet Union and the policies of Lenin. I used this information to persuade Aleah further because I presented myself as an expert on the subject and the true positions of Lenin. Overall, transporting myself back to 1917 was educational and entertaining because it gave us an opportunity to feel what the Bolsheviks felt during that time. We could feel the passing of every second was important and the roles we played allowed us to understand the different arguments and personalities involved in the original process. Most importantly, I learned that in my specific situation, I would have made Lenin proud by achieving the things that he wanted and was able to achieve in 1917. As he was quoted in Smith, “Soviet socialist democracy is not incompatible with one-person management or dictatorship.” In Spring of 2017, Executive Committee Group B was able to put his writings into practice.

All seven students were in HST 254, Introduction to Russian and Eurasian Studies.


Meg Drown explores the continued significance of the Vietnam War in the form of the UXO Museum in Laos, a site she visited on July 4, 2016.

By Meg Drown

About five months ago, I visited the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, a beautiful, little-understood country in Southeast Asia that shares a border with Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar. When I talked to family and friends before I embarked on my trip to Laos, I would consistently receive the response “Where is that?” Ironically, our country is responsible for the tragedy this country experiences everyday, yet many–if not most–Americans ever think of Laos. This tragedy manifests itself in the form of Unexploded Ordnance – or UXO for short – which are remnants of the “Secret War” in Laos during the Vietnam War. Although the United States did not recognize our involvement in this “Secret War” until recently, we were responsible for making Laos – not Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, or Afghanistan – the most bombed country per capita in the history of the world.

As tragic as the war was – killing more than 50,000 Lao civilians – the unexploded remnants of the war prove to be just as tragic, killing more than 20,000 civilians since the end of the war in 1975. Among those who have died because of UXO, 40% have been children, and these are fatalities alone. Many more Lao civilians do not die on impact of the explosion, but rather receive life-long injuries that hinder their ability to farm and provide for their families. This continued cost of the war is devastating for families in Laos, who subsist off the yield of their rice paddies and depend on the health of their family members to be able to work for their food.

This harrowing reality was revealed to me on July 4th of this year – the 240th anniversary of our country’s independence and the day we are supposed to be celebrating our country’s democracy and freedom. The experience of having visited this museum on our country’s Independence Day proved to be one of the most poignant experiences of my lifetime. It seemed such a paradox that our country should be celebrating in the midst of all of the death and destruction caused during the Vietnam War. As an American tourist in Laos, you don’t know how to begin to apologize for the transgressions of your own country; however, I found that the Lao people did not want my apologies. They have accepted history and understand that we, as volunteers and tourists, are not responsible for the devastation ourselves. In the wake of all of the destruction we have caused there, they have created something positive and beautiful in the form of the attitudes they adopt towards Americans in accepting and welcoming us just as they would do for all of humanity.


Outside the Museum.


Shell casings of rockets, decorated with cleanly trimmed bushes and flowers, lead up to the entrance of the museum.



Just one tiny red dot represents one bombing mission performed by the US Air Force during the Second Indochina War, or the Vietnam War as more commonly known by Americans.


98% of known cluster bomb victims are civilians, and roughly 40% are children.


Jewelry and silverware a local created from UXO. The economy created from the UXO market creates a huge problem in the country of Laos. The demand for UXO by merchants puts the civilians’ lives at risk whose job it is to find and extract this UXO.



Large aircraft bombs such as these are very common around Laos. Civilians will use these shell casings for tasks they may lack basic materials for.




Shell casing of a rocket that detonated and partially melted.
Cluster-bombs are bomb casings, such as this one, that split in half and distribute many small sub-munitions more commonly known as “bombies” by the Lao people. These “bombies” are what infest the country today and are the most common form of unexploded ordinance.
The shells you see here are “bombies” that never exploded. There is no safe way for a civilian to deactivate these bombies. In many cases it takes a whole team of professionals who risk their lives to deactivate them.
While bombies are the most common unexploded ordinance in Laos, they are not the only form of UXO. In this picture there are grenades and fuzing that never exploded…

Megan Drown is a sophomore majoring in International Studies and Economics.  She studied the global Cold War in HST 296, World History since 1945, in the Spring 2016 semester.

HISTORICAL JOURNEYS: Craters of the Moon and Other Traces of the Great War

In this photo essay, Maddie Lazarski, a recent History graduate, reflects on how the experience of visiting sites associated with the Great War in January 2015 helped her grasp its lasting effects.  The tour guide in Verdun, as the essay notes, compared the land around the battle sites to the surface of the moon.


Landscape near Verdun.

After visiting various sites in Verdun and the Somme region in France, and Ypres, Belgium, I felt that a photo journal was the best way to display my feelings about what I learned and how it affected me.  Reading and learning about something is completely different than actually being there to physically witness it.  This is the primary lesson that I learned on our study tours.  After reading and learning about World War I for years, I knew that it was destructive for Europe, but I had underestimated just how much.  Four years of brutal warfare caused damage that cannot be adequately described by words alone.  Being in the places where these horrible battles took place was an experience that I will never be able to replicate.  I was finally able to see what these soldiers and civilians had witnessed and to understand why WWI is known as the Great War.  One hundred years later, and its effects are still very obvious throughout France and Belgium.


The shells that were used in WWI caused extreme damage to the landscape.  When we visited Verdun, our guide prefaced the tour by talking about how some areas almost look like the moon.  When I got out of the bus, I knew exactly what he was talking about.  It was a completely different experience than just reading about the damage to the landscape.


This is a real trench that was used during the Great War.  Being able to stand in the trench helped me to put myself in the place of the soldiers as they were travelling from one location to the next.  The dreary, rainy weather also helped me to better understand what they went through.


The bones of 130,000 unknown soldiers are laid to rest at this Ossuary.  It was incredible to actually see the sheer volume of the men who could never be buried by their families.


Fleury is one of nine towns in and around the area where the Battle of Verdun took place that was completely destroyed and abandoned.  The only thing in the town was rebuilt was the chapel that is pictured.  There are markers around the church that label where roads, homes, and farms used to be.  It was really incredible to see how much the war affected civilians as well as soldiers.


Though the United States suffered far fewer casualties than the rest of Europe, there were still many young lives that were lost.  Along with the monument to American soldiers, the cemetery helped me to understand the importance of American troops in the war.  Our tour guide talked about how in some ways they saved the French.


The Reims Cathedral was destroyed by the Germans in WWI and it was rebuilt shortly after the war ended.  It is where French kings were crowned and was full of culture and history.  It was shocking to me that they would destroy such an important location and really attested to the brutality of the Great War.


At each cemetery for soldiers that fought with the United Kingdom, there is the common theme of the cross of sacrifice and the stone of remembrance.  On the stone are the words, “Their name liveth for evermore.”  I felt that it was a beautiful way to remember the soldiers who gave their lives in the war.


This is one of many graves of unknown soldiers that fought in the Great War, this one located in the Somme region of France.  The amount of headstones that said only “A soldier of the Great War, Known unto God” was impressive.  Sometimes it was possible to identify the rank or nationality of a soldier, but this was not always the case.


The Thiepval Memorial Gate lists the names of 72,000 Anglo-French soldiers that died in the Somme region and were never recovered.  The arch was massive and completely covered with names.  I was shocked to see how many people in that region alone were not recovered.


When burying the known soldiers, the family had the option of paying to add a small inscription.  These were some of the most impactful aspects of the trip for me.  It was heartbreaking and beautiful to see the ways that families chose to remember their sons, brothers, and husbands.  The inscription on the left reads: “Tread softy, our dear hero boy sleeps here” from the soldier’s father, mother, and brothers.  The inscription on the right says: “Another life lost, hearts broken for what.”  It made me think about the meaning of the war and whether it was worth it to lose so many lives.  In the end, I believe that they fought for a noble cause, but it is hard for me to rationalize the loss of so many young men.  Seeing the amount of graves and the moving transcriptions was an experience unlike any other.  It made me feel closer to the soldiers and witnesses than anything else that I saw on these tours.


This is a shelter made from concrete, located near Flanders Fields.  It was crooked, dark, depressing, and small.  But it was the best protection from shells that soldiers could get.  These areas were reserved for medical care, high-ranking officers, kitchens, and bathrooms.  When I walked into the shelter, I was shocked at how low the ceilings were and how depressing the atmosphere was.  I could only imagine what it was like with shells raining down outside in the middle of a battle with wounded, dying soldiers being carried in to be cared for.


The German cemetery at Langemarck in Belgium had a drastically different atmosphere than the other cemeteries we visited.  The gravestones were flat on the ground and did not have inscriptions.  The coloring of the whole cemetery was dark and depressing as opposed to the light, beautiful places of remembrance that were created for the French, Americans, British, and others.  I really felt the anger and sadness of the French at this cemetery.  These were the people who attacked them and brutalized their land, but they still honored them in death.


Similarly to the Reims Cathedral, the Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium is an ancient building (constructed in the 1200s) that was destroyed by the Germans and later rebuilt.  It furthered my understanding of the destruction that took place during the war.  Nothing was off limits.  Though the building is still beautiful and historic, it is not the same as it was before.


The Menin Gate in Ypres is very similar to the Thiepval memorial, covered with names of soldiers whose bodies were never recovered (54,000).  What really struck me was the fact that every night at 8 pm, a ceremony, “Last Post,” is held to honor the victims.  Though it began 100 years ago, the war is still so real in Europe.  This is something that we are unable to experience in the United States, as we have never had such a destructive war at home.