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Dr James Ryan

Dr James Ryan

Senior Lecturer in Modern European (Russian) History

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

Email:
ryanj5@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 (0)29 2087 6511
Location:
5.32, John Percival Building

I am a historian of modern Russia, and more specifically of Soviet Russia between the world wars. My published work is mainly in the area of political violence and intellectual history. It concerns the relationship between violence and ideology in order to understand why the Soviet state proved to be the most violent and destructive regime in modern peacetime European history.

More generally, my areas of research and teaching interest include:

•Political violence and repression, and political ideology

•Intellectual history of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union

•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 is provisionally titled, 'We value and love life too much': An Intellectual History of Soviet State Violence, 1918-1941. This book is the first, full-length intellectual history of Soviet state violence during the most brutal period of the state’s history. Its focus is the complex and contradictory relationship between the ruling Bolshevik Party and political violence. As such, it contributes to our understanding of the tragic first half of twentieth-century European history, mass political violence, Leninist thought and identity, and Soviet political culture and political practices. 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.

Education and qualifications

2005-2009: Ph.D Modern History, National University of Ireland (Cork)

2002-2005: BA (Hons) First Class, National University of Ireland (Cork)

Career overview

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

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

2020

2018

2017

2016

2015

2013

2012

2011

2007

  • 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, 1918-1941

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 warfare, the communist Bolshevik Party was inspired by the idea of the complete liberation – indeed, the salvation - of Russia, and humanity in general, from all forms of exploitation and suffering. Bolsheviks sought to eradicate the travails of capitalism and the horrors of imperialist war, and thereby remove the very possibility of warfare and violence and give true meaning to the concept of the dignity and value of human life. However, through that endeavour, the Soviet state became the most violent and repressive in modern peacetime European history. Leninism, an ideology that professed popular emancipation and empowerment, became the theoretical basis of an extraordinarily repressive regime. This is the great paradox of the Russian Revolution, and perhaps of twentieth century politics. But how was that possible?

This monograph project provides the fullest explanation and most in-depth analysis of that question. It is the first full-length intellectual history of Soviet state violence during the most brutal period of the state’s history. It examines how and why violence and repression were justified, excused, and criticised – and sometimes left unspoken - and how those conceptions, rhetorical strategies, and discursive parameters developed in response to evolving circumstances and political practices.

The book contributes to our understanding of the tragic first half of twentieth-century European history, mass political violence, Leninist thought and identity, and Soviet political culture and political practices. 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.

Revisioning Stalin and Stalinism: Complexities, Contradictions, and Controversies

I am co-editing this volume with my colleague, Dr Susan Grant (Liverpool John Moores University).

This book brings together thought-provoking essays, grouped thematically, which analyse the complex, multi-faceted, and even contradictory nature of Stalinism and its representations. This was an extraordinarily repressive and violent political model, and yet it was led by ideologues committed to a vision of socialism and international harmony. The volume ‘revisions’ Stalin in the sense suggested by my academic mentor Prof. Geoffrey Roberts, who wrote in 2006 that there were ‘many Stalins: despot and diplomat, soldier and statesman, rational bureaucrat and paranoid politician.' These 'many Stalin' add up to 'a complex and contradictory picture.’

Broadly speaking, three important areas of debate are examined in this book, united by a focus on political leadership. These are key controversies of Stalin’s leadership role; a reconsideration of Stalin, Stalinism, and the Cold War; and new perspectives on the cult of personality.

My chapter in this book is titled 'Stalin and Stalinism in Putin's Russia: Reckoning with the Past.' It examines and explains the views of Russians today - both political elites and ordinary citizens - on Stalin and Stalinism. In so doing, it considers the politics of history in Putin’s Russia, the complexity of representations of the Soviet past, and what these issues can tell us about the mindset of Russia’s ruling elite and citizenry. It is a study of the ways in which a society comes to terms with an extraordinarily complex, contradictory, and traumatic recent past. It reflects on the normative basis and validity of dominant assumptions about the need for public reckoning with, ‘working through,’ and ‘overcoming’ the past; how that should be conducted; and its consequences for a society’s progression.