Union University
Union University Dept of History

Department News

Expert on Soviet Russia serves as Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer

Oct 6, 2000 - Dr. Richard Stites, Professor of History at Georgetown University and an expert in modern Russian history, was the speaker at the Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecture Series on October 5, 2000.

Stites’s topic, "Tarzan Versus Stalin: The Entwining of American and Russian Popular Music and Movies in the Twentieth Century," dealt with, in Stites’s own words, "the nature of popular culture in the twentieth century and the impact of American music and movies on Revolutionary and Soviet Russia. In thinking about Lenin and Stalin and the horrors of the Soviet system, most people do not usually connect them in any way with jazz, rock music, and Hollywood films. But that connection, though full of contradictions and distortions, remained a powerful one all through the Soviet period and beyond."

In an afternoon talk, Stites focused on Gorbachev's years as the ruler of the Soviet Union (1985-1991).  According to Stites, Gorbachev had his greatest successes in the areas of glasnost (openness) and foreign policy: he laid the groundwork for democracy in Russia and was decisive in bringing the Cold War to an end.  He was least successful in addressing the problems of nationalities and the country's command economy.

Professor Stites, who received his Ph.D. degree in history from Harvard University, is the author of three books: The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930; Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Social Experiment in the Russian Revolution, which was awarded the Wayne S. Vucinich Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies; and, Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900. Stites has also edited ten books and published approximately 50 articles that involve such subjects as science fiction, gender, music, film, and popular culture. Among other honors, he has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities grants, and several Fulbright awards. In addition to serving on the faculty of Georgetown University since 1977, Stites has taught in Finland, Russia, Germany, and Denmark.

Stites was the fourth speaker in the annual Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecture Series. Professor Jack P. Greene of Johns Hopkins University inaugurated the series in the fall of 1997, and was followed by Professor Gerhard Weinberg of the University of North Carolina in 1998, and Professor Martin Marty of the University of Chicago in 1999.

The Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecture Series is an endowed lectureship intended to bring leading historians to Union University to present lectures on significant topics in their areas of study. The lectureship is named in honor of Mr. And Mrs. Ernest P. Carls and the late Grace Schwerdfeger, whose generous support has done much to make this series possible.