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Gulag narratives: a bibliography and metadata project (version 1)

Some years ago, when this blog was a new venture, I started an annotated reading list of Russian and Soviet labour camp narratives. My aim initially was to expand it over time, but as one so often finds, there never is time, and it has lain neglected for several years now, despite fairly regular comments and emails from readers suggesting some very worthwhile additions – many of which I had read, but some of which were new to me. My work has moved on too much to go back to that now, so rather than pretending I’m going to make any further additions to the list, I’m repurposing it as recommendations for readings in translation on the subject.

Instead I’m using the sources I have been collecting for my book to start a new project, which ultimately aims to compile a comprehensive bibliography of published Russian/Soviet carceral narratives. I have begun with texts about Soviet-era imprisonment, and the first version has gone live today. My aim is to continue expanding this bibliography, and eventually add bibliographies of tsarist-era and post-soviet narratives, plus secondary sources.

Wherever possible, I will link to full texts (for the Soviet-era works in this bibliography, the main source will be the Sakharov Archive; for pre-revolutionary texts, it will be the Internet Archive). Where no full text is available, I will give a link to a catalogue entry, generally WorldCat. I have grouped translations together with the original texts, except in the case of Solzhenitsyn, where I have for the time being just given a reference to his Collected Works in Russian and separate entries for translations. Most of the translations I give are in English, for obvious reasons, though I do also include quite a few in French. I have more references to original texts in Polish than German due to my own language competencies.

I have mainly stuck to works about the Soviet labour camps, but have added a couple of works on camps in other Soviet-bloc countries, and would be interested in other recommendations in this category, where my knowledge is very limited. As well as memoirs and other works by survivors, I have included some fictional works by writers who did not experience the camps themselves. A couple of these were in their time controversial, but I think it’s right to list both prominent works that made false claims when the Gulag existed and recent fictional works, because the former played their part in shaping public perception of the Gulag and its texts, and the latter indicate that the continuing legacy of the subject.

The plan is ultimately to release the bibliographies as data, but that will not happen for quite some time as this is obviously a large-scale project, and I am currently working on my own. The first version of the bibliography of Gulag narratives contains around 750 entries, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it barely scratches the surface. The Sakharov archive of Gulag memoirs alone contains around 3700 bibliographic references, and nearly 1600 complete texts. But I think this bibliography as it stands is large enough to be useful, which is why I am publishing it now. And if anybody wishes to suggest a collaboration, I will be very willing to discuss it (German speakers especially welcome!).

With thanks as ever to John Levin for his invaluable technical assistance.

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  1. Michael Herzen

     /  September 5, 2016

    Great work!
    One question on Solzhenitsyn: Sorry, don’t see any entry for “Complete Works”, only “Collected Works”. What am I missing?

  2. This was just an error, now corrected. I suppose I think Solzhenitsyn can look after himself so I’ve not given him much time compared to most of the other writers.

  3. Steve Barnes

     /  September 6, 2016

    This is fantastic! I’m just blown away. So useful and such an incredible amount of work. It is a tremendous service to scholarship and especially to all of us studying the Gulag! There is a now somewhat older attempt to do some of what you did here at http://www.memorialitalia.it/archivio_mem/gulag/gulag/frameset_biblio_generale.html, though it does not offer the fabulous links to sources that you do. It might hit some sources that you won’t find elsewhere. It was valuable when researching my first book.

    For secondary sources, Wilson Bell’s bibliographies published in the sometimes hard-to-find journal Gulag Studies are excellent starting points.

    If you’re interested in trying to engage a community of Gulag scholars on this, there are some good technical options. I’ve never really attempted to use it, but my Center for History and New Media colleagues speak highly of the collaborate options in their bibliographic management software Zotero. I’m not sure at this point of all the technical ins and outs, but I suspect it would enable you to engage collaborators in the work directly without them needing to send suggestions to you that you would then manually enter.

    If I can help at all, feel free to reach out.

    And THANK YOU!

  4. Thanks for this, Steve. I’m really bowled over by the attention this has received!
    I have seen the Italian bibliography before, but I don’t think it’s one I mined whilst compiling this – there is still much to do, and it’s beyond one person to do it, so I’m definitely thinking about collaborative options.
    Zotero is top of my list because that’s what I used to compile the list. I’ve not used Zotpress to present it on my website as a) I needed to do a bit of sorting to keep translations with originals, and b) Zotpress doesn’t seem to work on archiving sites like the way back machine. But for getting other people involved and building up the bibliography it almost certainly is the way forward. I’ll be making an announcement about that soon(ish), but in the mean time, I’m going to publish a separate bibliography of memoirs in English, which I hope will be useful e.g. for Soviet history courses.
    Wilson’s Bell’s bibliography of secondary sources is terrific – it’s now available on academia.edu:

  5. PS I’m coming to ASEEES this year, maybe we could meet up and discuss things there? I’ll be going to THATCamp on Thursday morning, and one of my reasons for signing up to that was to have somewhere to discus collaborations and technical options.

  6. Steve Barnes

     /  September 6, 2016

    That’s great that Marc and Wilson’s two-part bibliography is available online. It’s unfortunate that the journal is not.

    I’d definitely be interested in talking. Unfortunately, I can only attend a small part of the THATCamp, as I have to give my report as chair of the ASEEES Program Committee to the board at 10:45 that morning. Contact me by email and we can arrange a time.

  7. Martin Barlow

     /  September 6, 2016

    I don’t know if you’ve come across it but in Dalkey Archive’s 2012 publication Contemporary Georgian Fiction, there is a short story by Zurab Lezhava entitled ‘Love in a Prison Cell’, about gulag inmates in a transit camp somewhere in Russia. Notwithstanding the rather cheesy title I found this an interestingly different and quite moving take on an aspect of gulag life, and with a desperate humour about it too. It’s based on personal experience – he spent 16 years in prison from 1982.
    I was glad to see Urszula Muskus’s ‘The Long Bridge’ in the bibliography. From the first few pages I didn’t think I was going to like this book but in fact found it utterly and totally compelling for its vividness. It’s also different from other gulag memoirs I’ve read in not being by an intellectual. She was just an ordinary Polish woman caught up in it and that is reflected in the extraordinary matter-of-fact way in which she writes about her situation.

  8. Will do – I look forward to it.

  9. Thanks for this Martin – I hadn’t heard of the Lezhava story so am happy to have the reference.

  10. Impressive work. Though It seems all the activities are about collecting information. I didn’t see any work about bibliography and metadata project. Am I right?

  11. I’m not sure what you expect a bibliography and metadata project to be, other than gathering information. The bibliography as published so far doesn’t have any additional metadata (beyond catalogue entries), but this is something I am currently collecting for later work.

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