44 Lenin Avenue

A researcher's journey to Siberia

Stokes Seminar at Dalhousie University

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Ignatii Dvernitskii,Knowledge mobilization — Wilson Bell at 4:51 pm on Thursday, September 5, 2019  Tagged ,

As I begin the academic year of my sabbatical, I will be presenting on my research at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.

I completed my undergraduate degree in History and Russian Studies at Dalhousie in the year 2000, so it’s exciting to be presenting at the department (even if it has physically moved from some beautiful Victorian houses into a large, but cramped, academic building).

I’m particularly delighted to be part of the Stokes Seminar. The late Lawrence Stokes was one of favourite professors while at Dalhousie. I took German and Holocaust history courses with him, and was especially fond of the tangential stories he would tell related to certain historical figures and events.

The presentation is titled, “A Murder Most Siberian: The ‘Bad House,’ Crime, and Punishment in 1909 Tomsk.” It will build on my research around the murder of Ignatii Dvernitskii as I get closer (fingers crossed) to submitting this aspect of the project for publication. One of the main areas I’m trying to explore in the project, as a whole, is the importance of place/space… rather than a backdrop to the events, the place of the events (in this case the building at 44 Lenin Avenue) is of crucial importance. Was the “Bad House (нехороший дом),” as the building came to be known, destined for “bad” events?

Insight! “44 Lenin Avenue” receives its second SSHRC Grant

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Knowledge mobilization — Wilson Bell at 1:53 pm on Monday, July 22, 2019  Tagged , ,

Sometimes academic life can be a long slog, with little validation for our efforts except, perhaps, from those (rare) students who take the time and effort to let their professors know how much they enjoyed a particular course. Tenure and promotion, of course, are key times for reflection and assessment, and, if successful, reveal both internal (institutional) and external (expert reviewers) approval of a particular professor’s research, teaching, and service accomplishments.

We shouldn’t, perhaps, need institutional or external validation to feel satisfaction in our work. Yet, it’s part of the job. So, I must say that I’m very pleased to announce that my “44 Lenin Avenue” project has received another major external grant, this time a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant, valued at $55,000 over three years. Given that Insight Grant applications first need institutional approval, and then are judged at SSHRC by a panel of accomplished scholars (multiple disciplines) and external reviewers (experts on the specific subject), this grant not only gives me the opportunity to complete my research on the project and to hire multiple student researchers, but it represents a validation of the project as a whole, and my work on it to date.

The research office at Thompson Rivers University issued a brief article on the Insight Grant and Insight Development Grant winners, and you can also find a full list of Insight Grant recipients on SSHRC’s website. It is an honour to be included among so many great researchers and projects. For help with the application itself, I’d especially like to thank Anita Sharma at the TRU research office, and Tina Block, a great history colleague at TRU. And, of course, I’m very grateful to SSHRC and the reviewers of my application.

A couple of other very brief research notes:

  1. I’ve started my position as Visiting Researcher at the Department of History, Dalhousie University… the first stop on my sabbatical. While here, I’ll be researching and writing on the “44 Lenin Avenue” project. I will also have the opportunity to present on this project at the history department’s Stokes’ Seminar Series in September. I majored in history and Russian studies at King’s/Dalhousie, so this was where it all began.
  2. I also received my official acceptance as Visiting Scholar at L’Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris. I’ll be there in May 2020, and will deliver a series of lectures on the “44 Lenin Avenue” project, and will also be able to conduct research in a community that includes many of France’s top experts on Russia and the former Soviet Union.

30 Years of the Tomsk Memorial Museum, “NKVD Remand Prison”

Filed under: Stalinist repression,Tomsk Memorial NKVD Remand Prison Museum — Wilson Bell at 8:21 pm on Tuesday, June 18, 2019  Tagged , , ,

Just a brief post, but I wanted to highlight a recent exhibition at the NKVD Remand Prison Museum in Tomsk (44 Lenin Avenue), on the 30th anniversary of the local authorities’ decision to designate space to help perpetuate the memory of Stalinist repression, a decision that led to the founding of the Museum. Follow the link to the museum’s website for photos of the exhibit. The date was 13 June 1989, a period of intense changes in the Soviet Union. Despite the changes, the Tomsk decision was a bold one, and the Tomsk museum was, along with the Perm’-36 museum, essentially the first in Russia dedicated to issues related to the Gulag and repression. You can find out a bit more about the founding of the museum, and the placing of the “sorrow stone” in the adjacent square, in my chapter in the Russia’s Regional Identities book. Here’s a photo I took of the Museum’s entrance in the summer of 2016.

Museum Entrance (photo by W. Bell)

Young Technicians

Filed under: Late-Soviet Period,Methodology — Wilson Bell at 6:52 pm on Monday, June 3, 2019  Tagged , ,

Komsomol stamp, on occasion of the 16th Congress of the Komsomol, 1970 (via Wikimedia commons)

One of the difficulties for this project, in terms of the public record, is the period between 1944 and 1989, when 44 Lenin Avenue was mostly residential space. The website of the NKVD Remand Prison Museum contains a 9.5 minute interview with Valida Grigorievna Khairulina-Ivanova, who helped run a “Young Technicians Station” in the basement of the building in the 1970s. In this 2014 interview, Khairulina-Ivanonva mentions that there were several youth clubs (kruzhki) that operated in the basement, including her youth group for radio-technicians. These were part of the Tomsk city Komsomol. She describes these clubs as providing activities to keep young people from getting into trouble. Apparently, there was even a temporary discotheque in the basement, on occasion! She also mentions that one of her friends, who was the daughter of an NKVD officer, grew up in the building. It was from this friend that she learned that there had been a remand prison in the basement. Other clubs seem to have included an astronomy club and a photography club, although from the interview it is clear that Khairulina-Ivanova does not remember all of the details. In any case, some of these avenues might be worth exploring, for a story for the late-Soviet period. Such a story could fit within the growing literature on the Komsomol, for example, or on Soviet youth in general (for one example, see Margaret Peacock’s recent book, Innocent Weapons). It could also link back to stories about the building earlier in the century, when it was an educational institution. In any case, if anyone knows anything about the Young Technicians Station (Станция юных техников) as they existed in the late-Soviet period, please let me know!

Podcasts: Stalin’s Gulag at War

Filed under: Gulag,Knowledge mobilization — Wilson Bell at 4:41 pm on Tuesday, May 21, 2019  Tagged , , ,

Not directly related to the 44 Lenin Avenue project, but just another brief research update:

So far, I’ve taken part in two podcasts related to my book, Stalin’s Gulag at War (UTP, 2019).

  1. Sean Guillory of the SRB Podcast interviewed me in February. I’ve known Sean since we were both doing our doctoral research in Moscow in 2005, and it was a pleasure to be a part of his podcast, which has become the go-to resource for information about new books in Russian/Soviet/Post-Soviet history, politics, and culture. In any case, you can find my interview, and a partial transcript of the interview, here. A couple of relatively recent favorites of mine include Sarah Cameron on the famine in Kazakhstan, and Julia Mickenberg on ‘American Girls in Red Russia.’
  2. When I was in Waterloo in January, Eric Storey of the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic, and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) interviewed me for the “On War & Society” podcast. The interview came out in early April, and you can listen, here. I’m very grateful to LCMSDS for bringing me to Ontario to speak about my book. My public talk was very well attended, with around 70 people in the audience.

Resurrecting this Blog!

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Knowledge mobilization — Wilson Bell at 8:28 pm on Wednesday, May 15, 2019  Tagged , ,

So, it has been a while…

I was very active on this blog for the first year or so of the 44 Lenin Avenue project, but as it came time to complete the finishing touches on my book, as well as getting bogged down by various other aspects of my job, I have not had much time to devote to this project (or to the blog), over the last year. That is about to change, for two exciting reasons!

  1. My book was finally published. You can purchase Stalin’s Gulag at War directly from University of Toronto Press (the paperback is only 22.95 CAD on the UTP website!), or most large booksellers that sell on line. If anyone is reading this from Kamloops, copies are also available at the TRU Bookstore!
  2. I’ve earned tenure, promotion, and a research sabbatical, all starting July 1! The sabbatical is specifically designed for this project. Some of the planning is ongoing, but it will take me to Halifax, Paris, Oxford, and Russia for research and writing, so be ready for some updates! I’m particularly excited to have been awarded funding to spend one month at the EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) in Paris, where I’ll be lecturing both on the Gulag and on the 44 Lenin Avenue project.

I found my initial posts especially helpful for working through preliminary ideas, or for discussing interesting nuggets of information, and I intend to use this blog as a type of research journal (albeit a public one). Any feedback over the coming year, especially, would be greatly appreciated.

Research progress

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Gulag,Knowledge mobilization — Wilson Bell at 5:56 pm on Wednesday, July 4, 2018  Tagged , , ,

It has been awhile since I’ve posted, here. Just a quick update, and perhaps I’ll make some of these items into larger posts:

  • My first publication based on the 44 Lenin Avenue project came out in January: Wilson T. Bell, “Tomsk regional identity and the legacy of the Gulag and Stalinist repression,” in Edith Clowes, Gisela Erbsloh, and Ani Kokobobo, eds., Russia’s Regional Identities: The Power of the Provinces. Routledge Contemporary Russia and Eastern Europe. London: Routledge, 2018. I’m particularly excited about this publication because it combines my new research (“44 Lenin Avenue”) with my older research on the Gulag in Western Siberia, and it is also my first publication dealing with contemporary Russia.


  • Speaking of my older research, my book, Stalin’s Gulag at War: Forced Labour, Mass Death, and Soviet Victory in the Second World War, is scheduled to come out this fall with the University of Toronto Press. All that is left is basically the indexing and the double/triple-checking of the proofs. If you pre-order the book, you can receive a large discount: the paperback version is only $19.95 at the moment! UTP has been a pleasure to work with, so far. I already have one speaking engagement lined up to discuss my book: a talk at Wilfred Laurier University’s Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies on Jan. 9, 2019. Details to follow, but you can also check their website for updates.


On collaborative projects

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Methodology,NKVD — Wilson Bell at 6:24 pm on Tuesday, November 14, 2017  Tagged , ,

While not directly related to the “44 Lenin Avenue Project,” I thought I’d highlight a recent collaborative publication in which I participated with Alan Barenberg, Sean Kinnear, Steve Maddox, and Lynne Viola. At the May 2017 meeting of the Canadian Association of Slavists (Ryerson University, Toronto), we participated in a roundtable discussion on new directions in Gulag studies. Heather Coleman, editor of Canadian Slavonic Papers, attended the discussion, and encouraged us to re-create the discussion in written form. We did so in early September 2017 on a Google Doc, with Alan Barenberg facilitating the discussion. Thank you to everyone involved!

I found the group-writing process quite rewarding. We responded individually to the questions, but directly on to the same document,  making the final result a truly collaborative effort. It has a lot of rich discussion of the current state of Gulag historiography and suggestions for classroom use of certain publications. These types of academic discussions often only appear at conferences if at all, and it is great to see it in print (soon), and available on-line, now. “New Directions in Gulag Studies: A Roundtable Discussion” is available on-line, here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00085006.2017.1384665

I even manage to mention the “44 Lenin Avenue” project a couple of times, briefly, in the discussion. If you have any interest in the Gulag, it’s worth the read!

Tomsk as Imperial Project

Filed under: Conferences & Presentations,Ignatii Dvernitskii — Wilson Bell at 7:59 pm on Friday, November 3, 2017  Tagged , , ,

I’ve been thinking a bit about Tomsk as a project of empire. These thoughts arose partly out of my early modern European survey course at TRU, during which I recently lectured about Russia’s eastward expansion. Tomsk was founded in 1604 as one of a series of fur-trading outposts along Siberia’s vast river routes, and thus in timing and motivation wasn’t that different from much of the European expansion into North America (my hometown of Annapolis Royal, NS, for example, was founded in 1605 as Port Royal, a French fur-trading outpost).

Outpost of Tiumen. Wikimedia commons. Public domain.

My thoughts about Tomsk and empire also relate to my upcoming presentation at the 2017 ASEEES (Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies) Annual Convention in Chicago, Nov. 9-12, 2017. The title of my presentation, “A Murder Most Siberian: ‘Crime and Punishment’ in 1909 Tomsk,” is a nod to Louise McReynolds’ excellent book, Murder Most Russian: True Crime and Punishment in Late Imperial Russia (Cornell U.P., 2012), which notes, among other arguments and information, that Dostoevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment, influenced the criminal justice system in numerous ways. The 1909 murder of Ignatii Dvernitskii, supposedly motivated in part by Dostoevsky’s writings, seemed to fit into McReynolds’ framework (“a desire to put Dostoevsky to the test,” one of the perpetrators allegedly said. See: unknown author, “Ieromonakh’’ Ignatii i ego sistema,” Sibirskie voprosy vol. 5, no. 20 (30 May 1909): 24-37, quotation 36-37).

Still, as I was writing the paper and thinking about the title, I thought, “What is specifically Siberian, as opposed to Russian, about this murder?”; “Does it tell a story that is unique to, or reflective of, specific issues that Siberia and/or Tomsk faced?”; “Is this murder, in other words, most Siberian?”

(Read on …)

Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions

Filed under: Monument square,Stalinist repression — Wilson Bell at 4:45 pm on Monday, October 30, 2017  Tagged , , , , , ,

Just a quick note: In Russia, October 30 is officially the “Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions.” As the museum at 44 Lenin Avenue is run by the Tomsk chapter of the Memorial Society, dedicated to preserving the memory of the victims of Soviet-era repression, it’s a key day for the museum staff and for the building itself. In the square outside of the building, people gathered and read 1500 names of those repressed under Stalin. Vasilii Khanevich, director of the museum, referred to Tomsk as a key site of Stalinist repression, because the region was such a major centre for exile, and Tomsk itself was the “gateway to Narym.” There are some nice photographs of the event at the link, above.

This particular October 30 is special, too, because it is the official opening of a national monument to the victims of repression, in a prominent Moscow location. Vladimir Putin himself officially opened the monument, stating, as reported by Radio Free Europe, “This horrific past must not be stricken from the national memory”. While some have argued that Russia under Putin has ignored the violent side of Stalinism, including the Gulag, my own sense is that it is much more complicated, a complexity certainly highlighted by this monument and the relatively recently opened Gulag Museum.

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