Past Event

Unsettling the Union: An Interdisciplinary Symposium

April 14, 2023
9:00 AM - 8:00 PM
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Heyman Center, First Floor  East Campus Residential Center  Columbia University  New York, New York 10027

Unsettling the Union: An Interdisciplinary Symposium 

April 14, 2023 
Friday, 9:00am–8:00pm EDT 

Free and open to the public. Registration required.

Heyman Center, First Floor 
East Campus Residential Center 
Columbia University 
New York, New York 10027 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, erupted into world history as the most large-scale war on European soil since World War II. The unprecedented war prompts an urgent call for a critical reassessment of Russian imperialism, raising anew the question of the Soviet Union’s geopolitical status and nation-building legacy. While scholars have extensively studied the economic, social, and political stakes of Soviet communism and totalitarianism, much of the Anglophone academic discourse remains driven by the so-called “Red Scare” that to this day overshadows and obscures the USSR’s role as the heir and promulgator of Russian Empire’s colonial agenda.

Unsettling the Soviet Union’s “friendship of the peoples” paradigm, this symposium foregrounds the perspectives of the marginalized ethnic and racial minorities by bringing together scholars from the various disciplines that can offer novel methods and theories for analyzing the Soviet Union as a colonial empire: anthropology, ethnomusicology, history, literary studies, religious studies, and Slavic studies.

Participants will present on themes including racialization, colonial resistance, cultural assimilation, nation-building, urban development, historical memory, and environmental colonialism. They will reflect on how cultural specificities within their examined geographic regions may challenge historiographic periodization that has traditionally focused on shifting policies of the various state leaders. How have cultural workers and local bureaucrats shaped the discourse of nation-building in their respective republics? What alternative modes of colonial relationality can provide a more nuanced perspective on Soviet minority politics than the classic center/periphery binary? How did environmental, historical, and social factors contribute to the dissolution of the USSR? And ultimately, how can the reassessment of the Soviet legacy enhance our understanding of present-day geopolitics and provide tools for resisting further expansionist aggression?

This event will be in person at the Heyman Center and live-streamed online. Please register for both in-person and virtual attendance via the link.

For more information, visit the event website.

Sponsored by:
The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University in the City of New York
Harriman Institute
Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies Armenian Center
Department of Music
Gevork M. Avedissian Chair of Armenian History and Civilization