• Slider Image

Excavating “The Last Empire”: Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii

Why did the Soviet Union collapse?

Since the USSR formally ceased to exist on December 26, scores of books have been written on the Soviet dissolution, an event that resulted in the creation of fifteen new states across Eurasia and that current Russian President Vladimir Putin famously called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century. In his new book, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Harvard professor Serhii Plokhii offers a definitive account of the end of the Soviet state.

Serhii Plokhii's latest book, "The Last Empire"

Serhii Plokhii’s latest book, “The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union”

Based on research in archives in Russia, Ukraine, and the United States interviews with high-level officials, The Last Empire explores the decisions taken in Moscow, Washington, and various Soviet republics between 1989 and 1992 that led to the dissolution of the Soviet experiment. Standing at the center of his story are tensions between Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachëv and élites in the Ukrainian SSR. Already weakened by pressure from Russian President Boris Yeltsin and an abortive coup, Gorbachëv and his visions for a revitalized Soviet confederation were doomed by the decisive results of a December 1991 Ukrainian referendum in favor of independence.

The account of The Last Empire, published by Basic Books this May, might surprise to American readers, many of whom are led to believe that it was decisive action by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his successor, George H.W. Bush, that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. But as Plokhii shows through exhaustive research–and interviews with important figures like Brent Scowcroft–the Soviet collapse arose far more due to internal Union dynamics than American foreign policy.

Toynbee Prize Foundation Leadership Featured in New York Review of Books

In the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, Tamsin Shaw reviews Toynbee Prize Foundation Vice-President Darrin McMahon’s most recent work,  Divine Fury: A History of Genius (New York: Basic Books, 2013). “Darrin McMahon’s Divine Fury,” writes Shaw: does not shy away from the preposterous and the ridiculous, or from the disturbing and…

Global History Forum: Discussing “Starvation and the State: Famine, Slavery, and Power in Sudan, 1883-1956” with Steven Serels

For most audiences today, the word “Sudan” evokes images at once terrorizing and timeless. Older readers may recall the images of emaciated bodies that television crews relayed from western and eastern Sudan during the great famines of the mid-1980s. Anyone reading today, however, will remember the outrage – but also lack of meaningful reaction – that the Sudanese government’s terror in the western region of Darfur evoked during the early 2000s. (Those wars, which then-Secretary of State Colin Powell called genocide, still continue.) According to these images, Sudan remains at once black, Arab, Muslim, poor, hungry; but also – crucially – in the present. Appalled by the horrors of famine and genocide, it is easy to forget to probe the past – a colonial past – to inquire after the structural roots of hunger and famine not as an accident but as an accomplishment of modern state-making. Moral outrage and a human rights-inflected imagination may be important, but it’s solid empirical history that furnishes an understanding of the roots of crises like those that plague – or define – Sudanese stateness.

That’s why the Global History Forum was delighted to sit down recently with Steven Serels, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Weatherhead Initiative on Global History. Steven, whose first book, Starvation and the State: Famine, Slavery, and Power in Sudan, 1883-1956, was just published by Palgrave MacMillan in December 2013, graciously met with GHF to discuss his work, his future agenda, and – at the center of it all – Sudan and the broader region and even world order that the country fits into.

Call for Papers: “Trafficking, Smuggling, and Illicit Migration in Historical Perspective”

A group of scholars from the Birkbeck (University of London), Sydney, and Texas Tech have recently announced a conference on the history of trafficking, smuggling, and illicit migration to take place at Birkbeck from June 18-20, 2015 – a great chance for a field that necessarily invokes global themes to coalesce more and for scholars…

International Research Award in Global History 2015

Here’s an exciting opportunity for post-doctoral scholars of global history, advertised jointly by the Universities of Heidelberg, Sydney, and Basel. Scholars are invited to propose and organize a conference on global history, to be hosted by the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg in December 2015. The three participating institutions will make available a purse of €10,000 to help…

Toynbee Prize Foundation Announces New Leadership

Professor Dominic Sachsenmaier, a renowned scholar of Chinese and global history, will succeed Professor Raymond Grew as the President of the Toynbee Prize Foundation. Named after Arnold J.Toynbee, the Toynbee Prize Foundation was chartered in 1987 “to contribute to the development of the social sciences, as defined from a broad historical view of human society and of human and social…

“Europe in a Global Perspective” Lectures at Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences

The Gerda Henkel Foundation has made available the videos of two recent lectures on global history given at the July meeting of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences’ Akademievorlesung series. The lectures, given by Professors Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (Wilhelms Universität Münster) and Sebastian Conrad (Freie Universität Berlin,  are titled “The Europe of Enlightenment – A ‘corps politique?’” and “Whose…

Lynn Hunt on Globalization and History

Professor Lynn Hunt of UCLA chimes in with a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education here on the role that globalization takes on in historical writing today.  “Two new developments are reshaping the way we study history,” begins the piece. The social and cultural theories that stimulated much of our writing, from the 1950s on, have lost their…

Two International and Global History Conferences for Graduate Students and Post-Doctoral Scholars

It’s not always easy for graduate students and post-doctoral scholars to find the right venues to present work in progress. Sometimes, graduate students can feel hesitant about making the transition from seminar paper to conference paper – and thence to dissertation or book chapter. Even post-doctoral scholars can face similar challenges, whether it’s to do…

Mark Mazower on the End of Eurocentism

Critical Inquiry has just published a piece by Columbia University’s Mark Mazower, titled “The End of Eurocentrism,” that looks promising. The abstract for the piece follows: From one viewpoint, the years from 1945 to 1948 can be seen as a story about European reconstruction; from another, they emerge as the opening chapter of decolonization. Putting these…