Presentations (Communicative Events)

Russophone Emigrant Scientists and Intellectuals in Scholarly Communities

Glebov, Sergey

Political emigrations from Europe provided the United States with a stream of scholars in the 20th century. Often, these scholars proved to be fundamentally important to the trajectories of American intellectual history. One only has to think about the Frankfurt School to underscore this point. As is the case with the life and physical sciences, German refugees usually come to mind as we think about scholarly émigrés in the humanities. Yet, several Russian scholars in the humanities were of significance in American intellectual and cultural history. Although most academic Russians tended to work on specifically Russian issues, a number of them pursued their fields in a broader intellectual context. The historian Mikhail Rostovtsev, for instance, significantly influenced the field of Greek and Roman history and Classical Studies. The impact of the work of the economists Wasily Leontieff, Studenski, Haensel, Simon Kuznets, Garvey, Marschak, and Wladimir Woytinski and their students is felt to this day. Two scholars, however, stand out from the group of Russian émigrés in the 20th century due to their impact on American intellectual life. One is Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin, who served as a professor of sociology at Minnesota from 1924 to 1930, and as a professor of sociology at Harvard from 1930 to 1959. Sorokin, widely viewed as an opponent of Talcott Parsons, articulated an idealist form of sociology broadly in line with the Russian philosophical tradition. The second scholar from Russia who had a profound impact in the United States was Roman Osipovich Jakobson. An extraordinarily prolific writer, teacher and scholar, Jakobson not only helped establish Slavic studies in the US but also contributed to the importation of Russian formalism into the US academic circles. Moreover, it was on American soil that Jakobson translated Russian and Central European versions of the emerging structuralism to Claude Levi-Strauss, thus spearheading the rise of structuralism in Europe. (His brother Sergius was the longtime head of the European Division at the Library of Congress). My presentation will focus on these two scholars and their contributions, as well as on the less commonly discussed issue of their imperial origins. Both Jakobson and Sorokin, albeit undoubtedly part of the Russian cultural world and self-identified Russians, shared in that they both were of minority origin. Jakobson, a son of a wealthy Jewish family in Moscow, was trained initially at the Lazarev Institute for Oriental languages, a school designed to acculturate children of Caucasian and generally Asian notables into Russian imperial milieus. Sorokin on the other hand, belonged to the Finno-Ugric ethnic group of Zyriane (contemporary Komi) in the North of European Russia, and was educated by Orthodox missionaries.



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Harriman Institute
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September 26, 2013