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Love of art in the Siege of Leningrad

Posted in Academia, Art, Russian, War by Alex L. on January 7, 2012

"In the Abstract" header

This first of a series of posts, called “In the Abstract”, are ideas for topics for new history books. Sometimes historians, I think, shoot themselves in the foot by framing their research projects in an uninteresting way. Others, though, do this masterfully and create history books that are engaging, relevant, insightful, and bring the characters and world of another age to life not only for the academic community but for the general public too. Often the path of success or failure begins in the choice of topic. In an effort to sharpen my skills in framing historical topics, I welcome your criticism and comments of my imaginary abstract.

ART is frequently seen as flourish to life for those that can afford leisurely activities. Love of art is something that supposedly dies in people when other, more basic, human needs are not being met. But to a select group of Russian writers, poets, artists, and musicians that lived in Leningrad during the siege of 1941-44 by the German army, the drive to produce new creative work did not vanish. Amid the base struggle for survival in that city under blockade, with starvation, violence, death, cannibalism, terror, and inhumanity permeating their existence, many artists in Leningrad later wrote that they experienced the strongest artistic drive of their lives. There has not been a book in English devoted to their stories. A book about the individuals, meeting places, and creative works that these artists produced (among them Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7–the “Leningrad Symphony”) under the most unpromising circumstances would be a testament to the basic importance of creativity in human life.

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History off the press (September ’11 edition)

Posted in American, Books, Christianity, Culture, European, Islam, Music by Alex L. on October 21, 2011

New history books, September 2011

Below the fluorescent lights of an auditorium, a professor lectures to students about current historical ideas gleamed from countless of hours of collective research and collegiate debates. A journalist, after decades of reporting on current events in a foreign land, publishes a book about a historical subject she deems particularly important to understanding what is happening there today. A popular film gets released about the past that lights up the public imagination to a certain era of history.

Public recollection of the past happens in many ways. To follow every one of these events, which occur daily, is almost impossible. But patterns emerge from observation, though understanding why they occur is sometimes difficult. In the following previews of new books, I hope to draw attention to trends in the public discourse about history. A more detailed look at the context and causes of these dialogues, though, requires further research.

Fighting to the last

Ever since I first heard the lyrics of Alexander Gorodnitsky’s song “Atlases”, the Siege of Leningrad has become elevated in my mind as an eternal symbol of people’s remarkable ability to endure suffering and emerge victorious. The symbols and metaphors of the song are ingenious. In the famous Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, there are sculptures of Atlas from Greek mythology that act as structural columns for a portico . The Soviet men and women who died to stymie the advance of Nazi warriors before Leningrad are, to Gorodnitsky, like the Atlases of the Hermitage, “up-holding the sky / with arms of stone”. (more…)