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Faculty Research Profile: Stephen Norris

Recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Scholar award from Miami, Dr. Stephen Norris, Walter E. Havighurst Professor of History and Director, Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, took time to discuss recent projects. 

Norris’s research focuses on modern Russian history with an emphasis on visual culture and propaganda since the 19th Century. As a teacher, Norris has received the Miami University Student Government Outstanding Professor Award (2006) and in 2017 was named the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Educator. He teaches a number of classes, including Introduction to Russian and Eurasian Studies, A History of the Russian Empire, Soviet History, History at the Movies, History through Literature, and World History since 1945.

What are some of your current research interests and/or projects?

My research focuses primarily on Russian history from the 19th Century to the present, with specific interest in visual materials: I have written about 19th Century popular prints, post-Soviet and Soviet historical films, as well as Soviet political cartoons. I am also interested in themes such as nationalism, imperialism, and historical memory.

Akunin Project book coverI just had two edited volumes appear, one on the bestselling Russian author Boris Akunin, who is known mostly for his historical mystery series starring the tsarist secret policemen Erast Fandorin, and one on new museums that have appeared in Central and Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism.

I am also working on a biography of the Soviet political caricaturist, Boris Efimov. Born in 1900, he started drawing cartoons for the Bolsheviks in 1918, just after the revolutions on 1917. He was named principle political caricaturist for the newspaper Izvestiia (which means The News) in 1922, the year the USSR was founded. In that same year, he also started publishing in important periodicals such as Crocodile, the Soviet satirical magazine that was quite popular. 

Efimov continued to publish cartoons right up to the collapse of communism in 1991, so he worked from beginning to end, making him the longest-serving and most prolific propagandist in Soviet history.

He died in 2008, just after his 108th birthday (and three months after I met him). You can read a little more about him and his work in an article I wrote for Origins, a joint publication of Miami’s and Ohio State’s history departments.

What are some of the outcomes of your recent research?

Museums of Communism book coverThe museum book—called Museums of Communism and published last year by Indiana University Press—contains 14 chapters written by historians and anthropologists on the various memory sites dedicated to remembering the communist era that have appeared since 1989. From “Occupation Museums” in the Baltic Republics to museums of everyday life in Berlin and Prague to the new Gulag Museum in Moscow, the book explores how various museums narrate the recent past in a number of ways. Many of these new museums are problematic (to say the least), for they tend to focus on how people were victimized and therefore don’t delve into more nuanced experiences.

For anyone interested, you can read a short post on Bulgarian museums I wrote for the Indiana University Press blog. If you want a taste for the range of these museums in Moscow alone, you can visit the site of the new Gulag History Museum or the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines, both featured in the volume (and if you visit the latter, be sure to play “Sea Battle”!).

I should mention here that this project began in many ways from various trips and workshops I either lead or participated in with Miami students and faculty, a testament to the work of Global Initiatives!

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your research?

Yes, absolutely. A lot of my research requires travel to archives and libraries in Russia and elsewhere in Central Europe.  The pandemic has ground that to a halt and it’s unclear when we’ll be able to return to this part of research.  I was fortunate that both the museum book and the book about Boris Akunin—which explores his incredible output and the reasons for his popularity—were both finished before the pandemic hit. 

I have also been able to take advantage of the online databases through King Library, including the complete digital archive for the satirical magazine Crocodile, but my plans to travel to Moscow over the J-Term and then again this summer to do research had to be canceled. A planned exhibit of Boris Efimov’s works at the Wende Museum in Los Angeles also had to be postponed.

What are your plans for the coming year?

I am hoping to write a good chunk of the biography on Boris Efimov, the political caricaturist, and am also hoping the exhibit will be able to happen in 2022.  If the current health trends continue and travel is allowed, I will help my colleague Neringa Klumbyte (Anthropology) with a planned student workshop to the Baltics in summer 2022, one sponsored by the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies.  My other plans include a continuation of the great family time I have had over the last year, including long daily walks, which have been incredibly beneficial.

About Dr. Stephen Norris

Walter E. Havighurst Professor of History
Director, Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies

  • Ph.D. (History) University of Virginia
  • M.A. University of Virginia
  • B.A. (History) Millikin University
  • Joined Miami in 2002

Research Interests

  • Modern Russian history with an emphasis on visual culture and propaganda since the 19th Century

Current Projects

  • Writing biography on Boris Efimov, Soviet political caricaturist