Historian: Sheila Fitzpatrick


Name: Sheila Fitzpatrick

Lived: 1941-

Nationality: Australian-American

Profession: Historian, academic

Books: The Russian Revolution, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union (1921-1934), In the Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women

Perspective: Social revisionist


Synopsis
One of Australia’s foremost historians, Sheila Fitzpatrick graduated from Melbourne University in 1961 before completing a PhD at Oxford. She has become a recognised expert on modern Russian history, especially the social conditions and changes that occurred under the regimes of Lenin and Stalin. Fitzpatrick’s histories are undoubtedly revisionist: they provide an overview of historical changes and events but are largely focused on everyday Russians. She asks what the revolution meant to them, and how it shaped and defined the the way people lived. Fitzpatrick examines crucial social concepts and themes, like class, identity, education, mobility, social expectations and etiquette. She argues that life in post-revolutionary Russia created a new breed of citizen, which she labels ‘homo sovieticus’. Fitzpatrick also dwells on the lives of Russian women: both those who played an active part in the revolution and those who simply lived through it.

Quotations

“Despite their reservations about sexual liberation, the Bolsheviks had legalized abortion and divorce shortly after the Revolution and were popularly regarded as enemies of the family and traditional moral values. In the 1920s, the leaders had held to the principle that state intervention in matters of private sexual morality was undesirable.”

“Successful revolutions tear off masks: that is, they invalidate the conventions of self-presentation and social interaction that existed in pre-revolutionary society. In such upheavals, people have to reinvent themselves, to create or find within themselves personae that fit the new post-revolutionary society.”

“As a social historian, I have a long history of dissatisfaction with class as an analytical category for Soviet society and of impatience with Soviet and Western-Marxist discussions of “class consciousness”. The Russian workers whose story I know best were primarily interested in getting themselves and their children out of the working class.”