Professor Geoffrey Hosking
Emeritus Professor of Russian History
020 7679 8815
020 7679 8777
I first became interested in Russia/the USSR during the Khrushchev 'thaw', when the 'sputnik' was launched. It looked as if the Soviet Union might be freeing itself from the Stalinist terror and offering a serious alternative to the western way of life. Yet the horrors of that terror remained to be explained, and it was not certain that they had been overcome. That was also the time of the first publication of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, which I found to be a fascinating novel. I studied Russian at Cambridge, and then Russian history at Moscow State University and European History at Oxford, before getting my first appointment at the University of Essex in 1966. I taught also at the Universities of Cologne and Wisconsin-Madison before coming to SSEES as Professor of Russian History in 1984.
I have always worked on the borders of political and cultural history. My first book (1973) was on the pre-revolutionary State Duma, and my second (1980) on Russian prose fiction of the 1960s and 1970s, in which I argued that samizdat and officially published fiction differed less than one might expect.
Increasingly my interests turned to the strange and paradoxical situation of the Russians as the dominant people first in the Russian Empire and then in the Soviet Union. Contrary to what one might expect, they did not always benefit from their situation; indeed, one might argue (as did Solzhenitsyn, for example) that they actually suffered from being the main bearers of empire. I examined their fate in what I consider my two most important books: Russia: People and Empire (Harper Collins, 1997) and Rulers and Victims: the Russians in the Soviet Union (Harvard University Press, 2006).
In recent years my attention has turned increasingly to the question of trust as a social phenomenon. This change of direction was prompted partly by the fate of Russian society and the economy after the end of the Soviet Union. It seemed to me then that western politicians and economists were assuming that one could simply graft western economic institutions on to Russia and they would automatically function. But economic institutions - banks, insurance companies, stock exchanges and so on - depend on social trust which cannot be created overnight. So I started asking myself what structures of trust actually existed in Russian/Soviet society, and then to ask more general questions about the operation of trust in any society, which is one of the principal concerns of contemporary sociology. I have come to the conclusion that historians are too fixated on power and conflict, and that we need to say more about trust and social solidarity. Doing so should also enable us actually better to explain distrust and social disharmony.
Teaching and supervision
During my 23 years at SSEES I have taught a great variety of courses, covering at one time or another all periods of Russian history, especially the late imperial and Soviet periods, and also aspects of Central and East European history. I have taught an undergraduate special subject on 'Society, Ideology and Literature in the Soviet Union', and an MA on 'Public Culture in the Soviet Union'. About ten years ago, along with Professor Norman Davies, I launched an introductory course for first-year undergraduates on European History from the ancient Greek city-states to the fall of the Berlin Wall; this was an attempt to impart the kind of general historical knowledge which A-Level history courses usually fail to provide.
Among the subjects my research students have investigated have been: the Orthodox Church in later imperial Russia; law-courts and barristers in late 19th century Russia; the practice of reading in the Soviet Union; the Soviet housing programme of the 1940s-1960s; the history of Soviet ballet; Lev Gumilev and the heritage of Eurasianism; the Orthodox Church and religious practices in the late Soviet Union and early post-Soviet Russia.
This page last modified
Thursday 24 April 2008.