The State of Russian Studies

August 26, 2015

There is a crisis in Russian studies within social science disciplines, according to a new report on the state of Russian studies in the U.S. commissioned by the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.

A survey of 36 universities that provide graduate-level training in Russian studies found that these institutions together employ a total of 50 tenure-line political scientists with Russia-related expertise and collectively award an average of seven political science Ph.D.s per year to Russian specialists. The report, which also includes insights from a survey of about 660 Russia-related experts, notes that political science has historically been the social science field with the largest concentration of Russian specialists.

“Eighty percent of the social scientists in our individual survey sample agree that interest in Russia among Ph.D. students in their field has fallen in recent years,” the report says. “Even top programs with long-term reputations for excellence in Russia-related social science, such as Berkeley and Harvard, have seen the number of their Russian specialists in political science dwindle. The movement within political science away from devoting faculty lines to area specialists in general and Russia specialists in particular threatens to vitiate the ranks of social scientists studying Russia in the medium to long term as current generations of political science faculty who work on Russia retire and are not replaced by other Russia specialists.”

The report finds that coverage of Russia is even weaker in anthropology, economics, geography and sociology, for which the 36 surveyed institutions have collectively awarded a total of 26 Ph.D.s for Russia-related work since 2010. Of those 26, 15 were in anthropology.

Meanwhile, the report notes that humanists studying Slavic literature and culture or Russian history face “declines in job opportunities” and “shortfalls" in graduate student funding.

Another trend highlighted in the 93-page report, authored by Theodore P. Gerber, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is the decline in federal government funding for Russia-related research and graduate training. The report specifically mentions the elimination of the Title VIII grant program that pays for research and language training in Eastern Europe and Eurasia (recently restored, but at half its former funding level) and the relatively poor performance of Russia-related centers in the most recent competition for Title VI grants, which funds area studies centers.

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