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Dr James Ryan

Dr James Ryan

Senior Lecturer in Modern European (Russian) History, Director of International

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

Email
ryanj5@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 6511
Campuses
5.32, John Percival Building
Users
Available for postgraduate supervision

Overview

I am a historian of modern Russia, and more specifically Soviet Russia between the world wars. My published work is mainly in the intellectual history of Soviet political violence. I seek to understand how it was possible for the Soviet state to become the most violent and destructive regime in modern peacetime European history.

More generally, the strands of my research and teaching interests can be grouped as follows:

*Political violence and repression; ideology; dictatorship; secrecy; criminological thought

*Intellectual history

*Historical memory and the politics of history, especially in contemporary Russia

My first book was a comprehensive study of violence in the political thought of V.I. Lenin, the Bolshevik Party leader and effective first leader of the Soviet state, with the title Lenin's Terror: The Ideological Origins of Early Soviet State Violence (London, 2012). In that book I examined the development of Lenin's views on political violence from the 1890s until the 1920s in relation to the political crises of Russia and Europe more generally during that time. I argued that the particular nature of Leninist ideology provides the primary explanation for the creation of the Soviet state as a violent dictatorship.

My current monograph project bears the provisional title, 'We value and love life too much': An Intellectual History of Soviet State Violence, 1917-1939. This book is the first, full-length intellectual history of Soviet state violence during the most brutal period of the state’s history. It examines the fascinating and complex relationship between political violence and Bolshevik thought, identity, and political practices. This includes how and why repression and its underpinning dictatorship were justified, excused, and criticized - and sometimes left unspoken. And it includes how those conceptions, rhetorica strategies, and discursive parameters developed over a twenty-year period.

As such, it contributes to our understanding of the tragic first half of twentieth-century European history. It reflects on the nature, preconditions, and consequences of mass political violence; how political extremism is possible; and how human beings individually and collectively can perpetrate extraordinary levels of political brutality.

In addition to my work on Soviet state violence, I am very interested in the politics of history and the significance of collective memory. In particular, I follow discussions about the Soviet past in Russia today. I have written about the Russian government's commemoration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and about perceptions of Stalin and Stalinism in contemporary Russia.

In my teaching, I offer a second-year undergraduate module that takes a broad look at the history of Russia's twentieth century, and a third-year advanced option module that looks more specifically at my current book project, the relationship between violence and ideology in inter-war Soviet Russia.

In the academic year 2022-23 I will take up a Gerda Henkel Foundation Scholarship to begin work on chapters in the final part of my monograph project, and I will not be teaching.

Biography

Education and qualifications

2010: Ph.D Modern History, National University of Ireland (Cork)

2005: BA (Hons), First Class, National University of Ireland (Cork)

Career overview

2018- Senior Lecturer in Modern European (Russian) History, Cardiff University

2014-2018: Lecturer in Modern European (Russian) History, Cardiff University

2011-2014: Government of Ireland/Marie Curie COFUND Postdoctoral Mobility Research Fellow in the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Warwick and University College Cork

2010-2011: Assistant Lecturer, School of History, University College Cork

Honours and awards

2022-23: Gerda Henkel Stiftung Research Scholarship for 'The "Great Turning Point": Rites of Repression and Repentance in Early Stalinism

2021: Fellowship at the Imre Kertesz Kolleg, University of Jena, Germany (declined, due to Covid)

2017: Elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS)

2015-17: Erasmus Plus International Credit Mobility Scheme award to oversee teaching exchange partnership between SHARE, Cardiff University, and the History Faculty, State Academic University for the Humanities, Russian Academy of Sciences

2011-14: Government of Ireland/Marie Curie CARA Postdoctoral Mobility Research Fellowship

2007-9: Government of Ireland Postgraduate Research Scholarship

2005-7: Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Research Scholarship, University College Cork

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS)
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA)
  • Member of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)
  • Member of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES)
  • Member of the BASEES Study Group on the Russian Revolution
  • Member of the Irish Association for Russian, Central and East European Studies (IARCEES)
  • Member of the Irish Association of Professional Historians (IAPH)

Since 2015, I have been reviews editor for the journal Revolutionary Russia.

Speaking engagements

2017: 'Lenin and Leninism: a Centenary Perspective,' Institute of History Research, London, 1917 Centenary Public Lecture Series, 25 April

2015: 'They know now what they do?' Bolshevik Understandings of the Agency of the Perpetrator, 1918-1930,' Fisher Forum: Violence in Twentieth-Century Russia and Eurasia: Experience, Affect, Memory, and Legacies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 19-20 June

2014: 'They know not what they do…or do they?' Bolshevik Understandings of the Agency of the Perpetrator, 1918-1928,' Study Group on the Russian Revolution, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 3 January

2013:

«Сакрализация насилия: Большевистское оправдание насилия и террора во время Граждансой Войны» ('The Sacralization of Violence: Bolshevik Justifications for Violence and Terror during the Civil War'), Взгляд Сквозь Века: Россия и мир в оценках современных исследователей. All-Russian Scientific Conference, Moscow State Pedagogical University, Moscow, 29 November

'The Ideological Dimension of Soviet State Violence during the Civil War: Justification, Ambiguities, Disagreements,' Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), Boston, 23 November

'Messianism and the Sacralization of Violence: The Ezhenedel'nik VChK as a window on early Soviet terror,' Study Group on the Russian Revolution, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 5 January

Publications

2020

2018

2017

2015

2013

2012

2011

2007

Teaching

In 2022-23, I will take up a research scholarship and will not be teaching.

  • HS1776 The Soviet Century
  • HS1883 Violence and Ideology in Inter-War Soviet Russia
  • HS1107 History in Practice
  • HS1105 Making of the Modern World
  • HS1801 Dissertations

Teaching profile

My teaching focuses on modern Russian and especially Soviet history, with an emphasis on notions of cultural revolution; political violence; ideology; and economic factors in political decision-making. My teaching also engages with political violence and related issues in a broader, comparative context. I would be happy to supervise students in any of these areas.

Research projects

'We value and love life too much': An Intellectual History of Soviet State Violence, 1917-1939

In the late 1950s the Moscow-based literary critic, Andrei Siniavskii, wrote a striking critique of the foundational logic of the Soviet regime. 'So that prisons would disappear forever,' he remarked, using a pseudonym, 'we built new prisons.' So that work would become pleasurable, he continued, 'we introduced penal labour.' And so that 'not a single drop of blood would spill again,' he intoned, 'we killed, killed and killed.'

Russia's October Revolution of 1917 represented the most ambitious and sustained attempt at human transformation and emancipation in modern European history. Coming to power at a time of unprecedented warf, the new ruling Bolshevik Party was inspired by the idea of the complete liberation of Russia - and humanity in general - from all forms of exploitation and suffering. Bolsheviks believed that exploitative socio-economic structures were the root cause of war, violence, crime, and disorder. THeir envisioned socialism would remove the very possibility of violence, as it would give true meaning to the dignity and value of life itself. However, the Soviet state would become the most violent in peacetime modern European history. This was the great paradox of the Russian Revolution, captured so eloquently by Siniavskii. It was the great paradox perhaps of twentieth century politics. But how was it possible?

I am writing a wide-ranging book that will provide the most complete, in-depth analysis of that question: the first specific intellectual history of inter-war Soviet state violence. My work examines the fascinating relationship between political violence and Bolshevik thought, identity, and political practices. This includes how and why repression and its underpinning dictatorship were justified, excused, and criticised – and sometimes left unspoken. And it includes how those conceptions, rhetorical strategies, and discursive parameters developed over a period of twenty years.

The book contributes to our understanding of the tragic first half of twentieth-century European history. It reflects on the nature, preconditions, and consequences of mass political violence; how political extremism is possible; and how human beings individually and collectively can perpetrate extraordinary levels of political brutality.

In the academic year 2022-23, I will take up a Scholarship provided by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung in Germany to begin work on chapters in the final part of the book. I also intend to use this time to complete an article about the significance of secrecy and transparency in the intellectual history of inter-war Soviet state violence.

Supervision

I am interested in supervising PhD students in the following areas:

* Various themes in the political, intellectual, cultural, social, economic, and legal history of the inter-war Soviet Union

* Political violence in modern Russian and Soviet history

* History and memory in post-Soviet Russia and the former Soviet Union