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A Field in Search of a Name

Still catching up after a fun weekend at Harvard for a Political Institutions and Economic Policy conference. By pure coincidence, this year’s papers were all on the political economy of nineteenth-century agricultural societies: my work with Paul Dower, Evgeny Finkel, and Steve Nafziger on peasant unrest and local self-government in Imperial Russia; a paper by Bryan Leonard and Gary...

What’s Next for the Study of Nondemocracy?

I'm back from a stimulating workshop on autocracy at Indiana University. Regina Smyth, Armando Razo, and Michael Alexeev have some exciting plans to institutionalize the study of nondemocracy at IU, and as part of the planning process they asked Konstantin (Kostya) Sonin and me to provide some perspective on the field. Armando joined us for a freewheeling discussion at...

One Hundred Years

One hundred years since a small group of extremists seized control of a major European state, thus launching a civil war, collectivization, terror, the complete reorganization of economy and society, and a geopolitical standoff that could well have ended in human extinction—all in the name of an untested and ultimately incorrect theory of human nature. When Keynes wrote of...

Watch the Borders (GIS pro tip)

Speaking of the countryside, Evgeny Finkel, Dmitrii Kofanov (UW grad student), and I are writing a short paper on peasant unrest in 1917 for a special issue of Slavic Review on the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. There are limits to what you can do in a 3000-word essay for an interdisciplinary audience—data description, a couple of maps...

A Presentable Enemy (on the future of U.S.-Russian relations)

Andrei Kozyrev, Boris Yeltsin's foreign minister from 1991 to 1996, was in Madison Thursday for a talk on the future of U.S.-Russian relations. We covered a lot of ground at the public seminar and later at our house for dinner—a thrill for faculty and grads alike. What a moment to be discussing such issues, with a U.S. president under...

History and Economic History

Can historians and economic historians understand each other? That was the subtext of a panel discussion on "Number Trouble" at last weekend's meeting of the American Association for Slavic and East European Studies (ASEEES). On the panel were some of my favorite historians of Imperial Russia: David Darrow, Tracy Dennison, Steve Hoch, Yanni Kotsonis, and Katia Pravilova. In the...

The Illegitimate President

Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election is the stain on Donald Trump’s presidency that will not go away. Trump will emerge from January’s inauguration viewed as an “illegitimate” president by large segments of the American population. But what does it mean to lack legitimacy? And does it matter? Any discussion of legitimacy begins with Max Weber, of course, and...

What CEU Means (to Me)

Not good. Ignoring an international outcry and over 50,000 protesters in downtown Budapest, Hungarian President János Áder has signed a bill intended to force the Central European University from Hungary. As I write, students are marching to Fidesz headquarters to protest the decision. This is a critical juncture for Hungary—and a personal moment for me. I started my academic career...

Not According to Plan

David Bordwell—the William Riker of film studies—writes: It’s a commonplace of film history that under Stalin (a name much in American news these days) the USSR forged a mass propaganda cinema. In order for Lenin’s “most important art” to transform society, cinema fell under central control. Between 1930 and 1953 a tightly coordinated bureaucracy...

How Propaganda Works, U.S. edition

The New York Times reports that Rush Limbaugh and company have decided to turn the label "fake news" against the mainstream media: Until now, that term had been widely understood to refer to fabricated news accounts that are meant to spread virally online. But conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr....