Slavic Languages and Literatures | William Poklebkin: Historian Contribution to Russian Culture and Cuisine
S540 | 28647 | Feldstein


This is a course on Russian culture, based on the life and works of
the historical and food writer, William Pokhlebkin. It is designed for
students who have had two or more years of Russian. It is anticipated
that most readings and lectures will be in English, unless all of the
students are able to fluently read and understand Russian. At least a
sample of Pokhlebkin's works will be read in Russian, with vocabulary
and notes provided for students who do not read Russian fluently.
Special attention will be devoted to Russian vocabulary related to
Pokhlebkin's works, especially with respect to foods. Videos both by
and about Pokhlebkin will be viewed and discussed. The use of English
translations and subtitles will depend on the level of the students. A
student who completed only two years of Russian would most likely make
use of the English translations, while a fourth-year or graduate
student might prefer to use the original Russian sources.

The Russian documentary film about the life and times of William
Pokhlebkin starts with his dramatic murder in the year 2000. Found
stabbed to death, on the floor of his Podol'sk apartment, his book
about Stalin was on the floor next to him, a bootprint on its cover.
This course traces the life and times of the non-conformist genius
Pokhlebkin, as a reflection of the Russian society in which he lived.
One of the most promising historians of his generation in the early
1950's, he was fired from his job and evicted from his Moscow
apartment, because of criticizing the system. Reduced to living in
penury, far from his old Moscow apartment, he went on to produce
classics in the fields of history, heraldry, and especially the
culture of cuisine. His most famous book proved the Russian origin of
vodka for legal reasons, but his original book on tea was considered a
major news item as well. It became a bestseller in Poland, but the
Russian Communist Party cynically attacked it as proving his
disloyalty and this led to his inability to hold any job in Russia at
the time.

Only two of Pokhlebkin's books have been published in English, but
several chapters of his works have been translated into English for
the purposes of this course. Some Russian selections will be studied
with study aids to fit the level of the students in the class. The
author's penetrating essays on the cultural and culinary differences
between the peoples of the former Soviet Union will be explored by
reading and discussion. Readings will be selected from the authorís
work on food in various regions of the former Soviet Union, the
histories of tea and vodka, works on Russian history, the history of
heraldry and symbols, and commentaries by others on the life history
and eccentricities of Pokhlebkin.

In addition to articles on the food culture of Russia, the life story
and historical works will also be sampled. Pokhlebkin will serve as a
gateway to many aspects of Russian culture as well as the life and
times of a scholar in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia.