Report on a Semester
Spent at Harvard University’s
Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies

March 26, 2009, by David Wolff  

From August until December 2008, thanks to a grant from the “Accelerating Internationalization Program” (Zaiken), I was able to spend four months in residence at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My specific goals were to study how the Harvard Program on Cold War Studies and the Davis Center work together to develop a wider knowledge of the Cold War and of the Slavic Eurasian successor states to the Soviet Union, how they cooperate with other research units at Harvard, and how they interact with the teaching tasks of the university. As a specialist on Cold War history, particularly its Northeast Asian aspects, I have been hoping to develop this direction at the Slavic Research Center of Hokkaido University, so examining the Harvard experience is particularly relevant. So far, two events have been held in Sapporo in order to explore this possibility. The first was a workshop held in September 2007 to discuss the encouragement and potential benefits of Japanese scholars playing a more active role in the development of the international history of the Cold War. To date, with certain significant exceptions, Japanese scholars, documents and viewpoints have been all but absent from the seminal conferences and publications that have built on the opening of Russian, East European and Chinese archives, starting in the early 1990s.

In convening the September 2007 event, I was greatly aided by the Slavic Research Center’s 21st Century Center Of Excellence Program, then in its final year. I am grateful to its former Director, my colleague Osamu Ieda, for supporting this initiative as one of the final initiatives of the 21th Century COE. Both Professor Ieda and then-Director Kimitaka Matsuzato attended the whole workshop, and saw the high level of enthusiasm among the participants, together with the potential for the creation of new knowledge. This encouraged me to continue the initiative. The participation of two experienced experts of the Cold War in Northeast Asia, Haruki Wada (University of Tokyo, Emeritus) and Odd Arne Westad (London School of Economics and Political Science) along with a multidisciplinary group of junior professors and graduate students guaranteed that our one-day workshop would produce a profusion of ideas that proved to be extremely useful for me as I planned for the second event, the Slavic Research Center’s Summer Symposium on “The Cold War in Northeast Asia” held in June 2008.

With major funding from the Ministry of Education and Technology International Conference Support Program, more than 20 scholars were invited from seven countries to present new evidence and multiple perspectives, both archival and contemporary, on the events, processes and people that made up the Cold War in Northeast Asia. With sessions spread over two days, we addressed such questions as: What were the regional peculiarities of the Cold War in Northeast Asia? How did the regional “battlefield” relate to the global Cold War? What was the role of alliances in Northeast Asia during the Cold War? With a burgeoning arms race, divided nations and Communist rule still in place in Northeast Asia, can we really say that the Cold War is finished here? What do we know and what do we still need to learn? I am extremely grateful to my colleagues Shinichiro Tabata and Tetsuo Mochizuki for serving with me on the Symposium Organizing Committee. As a fairly recent arrival on the Japanese academic scene, it would have been impossible for me to organize the many technical, bureaucratic and scholarly aspects of the symposium without their experienced guidance.

The conference also benefited greatly from the “hidden hand” of incoming Director Akihiro Iwashita, whose first activity as Director of the Slavic Research Center was to welcome the guest scholars and general public to the Summer Symposium. The first batch of papers from this conference will be published as a special issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies in late 2009.

Accomplishment of Zaiken* Goals
With Zaiken support, I took part in the academic and intellectual life of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University with particular attention to the programming prepared and executed by the Harvard Project for Cold War Studies based at the Davis Center. In addition to publishing the Journal of Cold War Studies, the Cold War Project under the directorship of Dr. Mark Kramer also runs a very full program of lectures, often co-sponsored by the Andrei Sakharov Program on Human Rights, the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, or the Davis Center itself. On average, the Cold War Project sponsors 2-3 lectures per week, although at the beginning of the semester, the calendar would list less than one per week. Often, additional activities would be added on at the very last minute with an announcement only going out the morning of the event. But since this is a very e-mail based intellectual community, even last minute events would sometimes attract large audiences. Also, since this is Harvard, sometimes very big figures would “drop in.” Most of these, however, gave their talks at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Although there were talks on a very broad range of topics, for the Cold War Project, the fall of 2008 was the end of a long year of events honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Prague Spring. Because Dr. Kramer is one of the top experts on the events of that year in East and East-Central Europe, there were quite a few events hosted at the Davis Center in commemoration. While I was in residence in the fall of 2008, there were three events linked to 1968 and its consequences. One was sponsored by the Cold War Project, another was sponsored by the Sakharov Program, and a final one was co-sponsored by both of them. The Sakharov Program is also affiliated with the Davis Center and runs its own events on a separate budget, while hosting short-term fellows from Russia. Since Sakharov’s activities were intimately connected with the very fabric of the Cold War, the Sakharov Program and the Cold War Project’s interests tend to overlap, although the Program tends to focus more on contemporary issues, while the Project is more strictly historical. Nonetheless, in October 2008, a retrospective on Sakharov’s first step as a dissident, the publishing in the West of a critical report on Soviet and global “progress” became the centerpiece of a two-day conference relating the role of free speech to the effectiveness of scientific inquiry.
(See website at

Another roundtable event brought together three experts to make scholarly presentations and then answer questions. Gunter Bischof (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on the Consequences of War) began by talking about the US decision to not become involved in any substantive manner. On July 22, 1968, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk met with Soviet Ambassador Anatolii Dobrynin and told him that this was a “matter for the Czechs”. Rusk, at a Cabinet meeting, warned that military intervention could spark World War III. On August 23, as originally planned, President Johnson left for a vacation on his ranch in Texas, three days after the Warsaw Pact invasion. This non-action makes Prague 1968 a successor to Yalta 1944 and Budapest 1956, in tracing the American acceptance of Soviet power on the ground in Eastern Europe, a “betrayal” of the many who had fought the Allied fight to free all Allied countries, including their homelands.

Bischof was followed by Mark Kramer, who touched on various aspects of Russia’s relations with members of the Warsaw Pact, as revealed by declassified Politburo transcripts and the diaries of Petr Shelest. Kramer also discussed the military aspects of the intervention, describing how Marshal Andrei Grechko, the Soviet Minister of Defense, called the Minister of Defense of Czechoslovakia a few hours before the invasion, demanding that all soldiers be disarmed and confined to barracks. Grechko had served as Commander in Chief of the Warsaw Pact until 1967 and knew all the East European generals very well. Grechko also added that if any soldiers were seen armed outside their barracks, he would make sure that the Polish Minister would “hang from a lamppost.” The Czechoslovakian army was instantly neutralized by a phone call.

Finally, Jacques Rupnik from the Institut des Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris took the chair and talked about European perspectives on the events of 1968. He noted how the different positions taken by the Czech and Slovak parties contained the seeds of later separations. As a matter of national and European policy, the events of 1968 are often portrayed as the nation’s finest hour, united in the unwavering desire for freedom. Others have been more critical, noting both the US’s cowardly inaction, as well as the lack of combat losses in the streets of Prague. Indeed, one could point to the pitched battles and Molotov-cocktail attacks on tanks in the heart of Budapest in 1956 and wonder about the (non)resistance in Prague in 1968. On the other hand, the powerful message sent round the world: “The Cold War is not over.” was successfully transmitted. This was an important demonstration of the power of non-violence as a method of resistance. It is this accomplishment that actually links the unsuccessful events of 1968 to the dissident and samizdat movements of the 1970s and eventually the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

There were too many questions and not all could be asked due to time constraints, since a graduate seminar was scheduled in the same conference room immediately after the 1968 roundtable. At Harvard, research and pedagogy share the same facilities and schedule. Looking more closely at the activities above, we see many of the hallmark traits of the Davis Center approach to Russian Studies. Participants brought multidisciplinary as well as multinational perspectives to the table. One Harvard-based scholar was speaking, so Harvard was not only hosting, but participating as well. Several research units worked together not only to fund the event, but also to publicize it to overlapping mailing lists. Also the discussion of the role of 1968 in the end of the Cold War and its aftermath, pointed to the intersection among the contemporary interests of the Cold War Project, the Sakharov Program, the Ukrainian Research Institute and the Davis Center. Although much strictly scholarly research is conducted here, there is always a special bias in favor of subjects with contemporary relevance, a kind of built-in presentism. This is not necessarily a bad thing for it forces scholars to consider “social utility”. Thus, it is no surprise to find a cluster of central topics for individual research units running in parallel to create the impression of a shared research agenda. The Ukrainian Research Institute’s long-running concern with nationality politics and Ukrainian autonomy matches well the Sakharov Program’s focus on human rights, the Harvard Cold War Project’s credo of archival openness and the project on democratization based at the Institute of European Studies. This, of course, makes cooperation among the projects, programs and institutes even more likely.

How does this work in practice? In December, Harvard Cold War Project Director Mark Kramer attended a conference reevaluating Stalin and research on Stalin in Moscow. The day before the conference, police raided the Leningrad office of one of the conference’s sponsors, the non-profit organization Memorial, a group devoted to registering the victims of Stalinism and keeping the memory of violations and atrocities alive. The police are reported to have confiscated hard drives with images of historical and archival data on Stalin’s deeds. The police claimed to be searching for information on planned terrorist events. Reporting on this conference went beyond the bounds of historical discourse to include issues of human rights, legal process, and the never-ending interplay between the past and the present. Events in the news, such as the Georgian invasion and the Ukrainian pipeline standoff were well covered at Harvard.

While I was in residence, a one-day event celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Davis Center as the Russian Research Center in 1948. Just like the Slavic Research Center created in the early 1950s, the Cold War played a key role in creating institutions of learning linked to the state’s great need to know more about the secretive and potentially dangerous USSR that Stalin had constructed towards the end of his life at the beginning of the Cold War. Several generations of scholars and students attended the anniversary conference, making up a meaningful cross-section of the Slavic profession in the United States.

In addition to observing the daily life and practice of this vibrant intellectual and scholarly center, I was able to advance my own research agenda and the cooperative relations that have developed between the Slavic Research Center in Sapporo and the Davis Center. For my own work on late Stalinist foreign policy, the Harvard collections, especially Widener Library and its storage archival facilities, recently contained over 3100 works. Of these, more than half, around 1800 had “Stalin” or “Stalinism” or “Stalinist” in the title. In comparison, Hokkaido University libraries held 957, an impressive number thanks to the rich holdings in English and Russian source materials at the Slavic Research Center in partnership with the Hokkaido University Library system. In particular, there are hundreds of publications in German and French that I can read, although some of the more “exotic” publications from far-away places are in languages I will never know.

My presence and Hanya Shiro’s presence at the Center as the first International Training Program (ITP) postdoctoral fellow were main “events” of the SRC-Davis Center partnership during the fall of 2008. As a postdoctoral fellowship, the ITP program symbolizes the dual tasks of research and training pursued by both the Davis Center and the SRC. We have also been able to plan actively to inaugurate a series of Joint Faculty Seminars, which will be held alternately in Cambridge and Sapporo.

Conclusions and Recommendations
An examination of institutional practices at the Davis Center suggests the following recommendations to be considered for adoption, in whole or in part, by the SRC:

 1. Coordinate Cold War research and publication goals with other related organizations both in Japan
     and abroad, including Harvard University’s Davis Center and the Harvard Project for Cold War Studies;
 2. Integrate teaching and research opportunities around visiting scholars at the SRC. Select visitors with
     this in mind;
 3. Actively pursue contemporary linkages of historical work to provide research products that are
     useful and relevant to policy studies;
 4. Build on “anniversary” dates to organize events that stress human linkages and generational ties,
     as well as more traditional scholarly events based on shared  research topics. This leads to
     self-conscious and efficient field-building.

*Accelerating Internationalization Program


*The views expressed in the essay belong solely to the author and do not represent the official position of any organizations to which the author is permanently or was temporarily affiliated.


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