The Great Fatherland War in Contemporary Historiography (in Russian)

My collection of abstracts published in 2015.  One of the first books printed at my Institute after the fire.  Initially we were going to show the current situation in historiography, but so many publications have appeared in recent years that we had to limit our work to a relatively small set of the most interesting books standing out for their subjects or research methods. As a result, most of materials in the collection are based on works of Western historians who still much more often use various methodological innovations than their Russian colleagues. Yet there are also abstracts of several Russian books that deal with some insufficiently explored aspects of the history of the Soviet Union in the Second World War. We used almost no works on history of military operations or of the Red Army as, in spite of their importance, they are not so interesting from the viewpoint of methodology. Instead, we devoted special attention to publications that deal with ‘non-military’ subjects and investigate a human dimension of the Second World War, its long-term consequences and historical context.

The contents of the abstract collection:

  • Foreword
  • Preddverie i nachalo Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny: Problemy sovremennoi istoriografii i istochnikovedeniia [The eve and the beginning of the Great Fatherland War: Problems of recent historiography and source criticism] (Abstract)
  • David M. Glantz about the Red Army in World War II (Joint abstract)
  • A. B. Orishev, V avguste 1941 [In August 1941] (Abstract)
  • The Blockade of Leningrad (Joint abstract)
  • Karel C. Berkhoff, Motherland in Danger: Soviet Propaganda during World War II (Abstract)
  • D. D. Frolov, Sovetsko-finskii plen, 1939–1944: Po obe storony koliuchei provoloki [Soviet-Finnish Captivity, 1939–1944: On Either Side of the Barbed Wire] (Abstract)
  • Jörn Hasenclever, Wehrmacht und Besatzungspolitik in der Sowjetunion: Die Befehlshaber der rückwärtigen Heeresgebiete, 1941–1943 [Wehrmacht and the Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union: The Commanders of the Army Groups’ Back Areas] (Abstract)
  • Igor’ G. Ermolov, Tri goda bez Stalina: Okkupatsiia: Sovetskie grazhdane mezhdu natsistami i bol’shevikami, 1941–1944 [Three years without Stalin: Occupation: The Soviet citizens between the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, 1941–1944] (Abstract)
  • Bogdan Musial, Sowjetische Partisanen, 1941–1944: Mythos und Wirklichkeit [The Soviet partisans, 1941–1944: Myths and Reality] (Abstract)
  • Evacuation and the Rear (Joint abstract)
  • V. N. Krasnov, I. V. Krasnov, Lend-liz dl’a SSSR, 1941–1945 [Lend-lease for the USSR, 1941–1945] (Abstract)
  • Irina V. Bystrova, Potselui cherez okean: ‘Bol’shaia troika’ v svete lichnykh kontaktov (1941–1945 gg.) [A kiss across the ocean: the Big Three in the light of personal contacts, 1941–45] (Abstract)
  • Anna Krylova, Soviet Women in Combat: A History of Violence on the Eastern Front (Abstract)
  • Soviet Jews in the Years of War and Holocaust (Joint abstract)
  • A. Iu. Bezugol’nyi, N. F. Bugai, E. F. Krinko, Gortsy Severnogo Kavkaza v Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine 1941–1945: problemy istorii, istoriografii i istochnikovedeniia [Mountain-dwellers of the Northern Caucasus in the Great Fatherland War 1941–1945: problems of history, historiography and source criticism] (Abstract)
  • Warlands: Population Resettlement and State Reconstruction in the Soviet–East European Borderlands, 1945–50, ed. Peter Gatrell and Nick Baron (Abstract)
  • The Veterans of World War II in the Soviet Union (Joint abstract)
  • The Significance of World War II for the History of the Soviet Union and the Post-Soviet States (Joint abstract)
  • Notes on Contributors

Download the full text (PDF, 3,4 Mb, in Russian).

Patriotic War of 1812 in Contemporary Historiography (in Russian)

Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda v sovremennoi istoriografii: Sbornik obzorov i referatov, ed. O. V. Bol’shakova (Moscow, 2012).

The text of the collection (PDF, 1 MB, in Russian).



Abstract: Charles Esdaile, Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803–1815 (London; New York: Allen Lane, 2007)

Abstract: D. Lieven, Russia against Napoleon: the True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace (New York: Viking, 2010)

Abstract: A. Castelot, The Russian Campaign [A. Castelot, La campagne russe (Paris: Perrin, 2002)]

Oksana V. Babenko, The Russian Campaign of Napoleon I in Polish Historiography (Joint abstract)

Abstract: N. A. Troitskii, Alexander I Against Napoleon [N. A. Troitskii, Aleksandr I protiv Napoleona (Moscow: Iauza: Eksmo, 2007)]

Abstract: V. M. Bezotosnyi, Intelligence and Parties’ Plans in 1812 [V. M. Bezotosnyi, Razvedka i plany storon v 1812 godu (Moscow: Rossiiskaia politicheskaia entsiklopediia, 2005)]

Abstract: A. I. Popov, The Grande Armée in Russia. Pursuing a Mirage [A. I. Popov, Velikaia armiia v Rossii. Pogonia za mirazhom (Samara: NTTs, 2002)]

Oksana V. Babenko, The Fatherland War of 1812 in Works of L. L. Ivchenko (Joint abstract)

Abstract: I. Iu. Lapina, Russian Territorial Militia in 1812–1814 [I. Iu. Lapina, Zemskoe opolchenie Rossii 1812–1814 godov (Saint Petersburg: Izdatel’stvo Sankt-Peterburgskogo gosudarstvennogo arkhitekturno-stroitel’nogo universiteta, 2007)]

Abstract: S. V. Belousov, Provincial Society and the Fatherland War of 1812 (Evidence from Middle Volga Region) [S. V. Belousov, Provintsial’noe obshchestvo i Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda (po materialam Srednego Povolzh’ia (Penza: PGPU, 2007)]

Abstract: Ralph Ashby, Napoleon against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814 (Santa Barbara, Denver; Oxford: Praeger, 2010)

Abstract: Andrew Roberts, Waterloo June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe (New York; London, etc.: Harper Collins, 2005)

Abstract: David King, Vienna, 1814 : How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna (New York : Harmony Books, 2008)

Abstract: Karl J. Mayer, Napoleon’s Soldiers: Everyday Life in the Grande Armée [Karl J. Mayer, Napoleons Soldaten: Alltag in der Grande Armée (Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 2008)]

Julia V. Dunaeva, Female Faces of the Napoleonic Wars (Joint abstract)

Ol’ga V. Bol’shakova, 1812 and Russian National Self-Consciousness: Anglophone Historiography (Review article)

Abstract: Napoleonic Wars on Mental Maps of Europe: Historical Consciousness and Literary Myths [Napoleonovskie voiny na mental’nykh kartakh Evropy: Istoricheskoe soznanie i literaturnye mify, ed. N. M. Velikaia and E. D. Gal’tsova (Moscow: Kliuch-Ts, 2011)]

Abstract: Richard Stites, Decembrists with a Spanish Accent, in Kritika 12, no. 1 (2011): 5–23


We offer our readers a collection, prepared by the forces of the Department of History of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of Russian Academy of Sciences, timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. It seeks to give the slice of modern historiography, Russian and Western, with the twofold aim. On the one hand, the collection is designed to help the reader to get an idea of the topics and trends of modern studies of this important historical event, on the other—it contains a wealth of factual material that should be useful for anyone interested in history.

The War of 1812 has left an impressive mark in the history and culture of Russia. For two centuries it had been the subject of many volumes of historical and literary works, numerous paintings, museum exhibitions, films and even computer games. Although there were a great number of various wars in Russian history, “the twelfth year storm” stands out first of all for its images, familiar to everyone on the Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, appear in the public mind again and again during the turmoil. They embody the examples and samples of Russian patriotism that resonate in all layers of the population.

That is why the anniversaries of the French invasion of Russia were always celebrated throughout the country: celebrating its century in 1912, became an important social event, and to the 150th anniversary, the opening of such important monuments was timed as the Borodino Panorama in Moscow. Anniversaries stimulated the development of historical research as well. In 1912, seven-volume The War of 1812 and the Russian society was published which was attended by many of the leading historians of the time. 50 years later, in 1962, Soviet historiography was enriched by a number of interesting studies and publications of documents prepared for the nationwide anniversary. However, it was then that in the Soviet historical science, a model for studying the War of 1812 was established which was based on the ideology of the Cold War. The Iron Curtain by the time not only separated the Soviet scientific community from the international one, but also divided the Soviet researchers themselves; as a result, the war of 1812 was studied by specialists on the history of the USSR, while such topics as the War of the Third Coalition, foreign campaigns of the Russian army in 1813–14, the Congress of Vienna, became the prerogative of specialists in world history.

This bias is starting to be overcome, especially in Western historiography, which is no longer inclined to regard Russia in isolation, as something unique and dangerous. For Western scholars who study the “revolutionary era” in Europe and America, 1780s—1820s, the Russian Campaign is an important, but relatively poorly studied episode. However, after the end of the Cold War in the interpretations of Western historians, changes could be observed toward a more balanced and objective evaluations, recognition of the importance of the Russian Campaign for the course of the Napoleonic Wars as a whole.

In the new millennium, much more active study of the history of the Napoleonic era in Europe began. Perhaps we can talk about the beginning of a new phase of research on this topic, which is characterized by a high level of international cooperation. In modern research, much attention is given to Russia as well, as, for example, in the monograph of the British historian Charles Esdaile on the history of the Napoleonic Wars (see abstract prepared by Ol’ga V. Bol’shakova). This material opens the collection and places the Patriotic War of 1812 in the European context.

An extensive summary of the book by D. Lieven, a professor at the London School of Economics (the author of the abstract is Michael M. Mints), is entirely devoted to Russia and its struggle with Napoleon. The War of 1812 is presented in the text as a component part of a long historical process, as the culmination of the Napoleonic Wars.

French historiography of the campaign in 1812 was known for its anti-Russian position, but in the 1990s there was a tendency to revise one-sided views. An example of such a re-evaluation is presented in a library-research paper written by Tatiana M. Fadeeva on the book by French journalist, historian and writer A. Castelot. Polish historiography of the Russian Campaign, still not entirely free from secular bias against Russia, is reflected in the joint abstract written by Oksana V. Babenko.

Important episodes of Napoleonic Wars, not enough known for Russian readers, are highlighted in library-research papers written by Sergei V. Bespalov and Victor M. Shevyrin which address the final stage of the battle in Europe in 1814–15. A number of foreign policy issues is reflected in abstracts that deal with the Russian intelligence, comparative biographies of two emperors Napoleon and Alexander, and, finally, the ending event of the Napoleonic Wars’ era—the Congress of Vienna and the creation of the Holy Alliance (papers by Vadim S. Konovalov and Julia V. Dunaeva).

Considerable attention in Russian and Western historiography is payed to the study of everyday life in both the Russian, and Napoleon’s armies (abstracts by Oksana Babenko and Michael Mints). “Female face” of Napoleonic Wars is a topic of a joint abstract written by Julia Dunaeva.

New for the post-Soviet historiography aspect in the study of the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars in general is special attention to memory and mythology. The first sign in this respect was the international conference held in the Russian State University for the Humanities in 2011 (an abstract of its proceedings is submitted by Irina E. Eman). Another event which is important for further development of international cooperation in the investigation of this subject was the conference “After the storm. 1812 in the collective memory of Russia and Europe,” organized by the German Historical Institute in Moscow (May 2012). The role of war in 1812 in the formation of Russian national identity is the topic of a review of English literature, written by Ol’ga Bol’shakova.

The collection is concluded with a library-research paper devoted to the Decembrists’ movement, which is discussed in a posthumously published article by American historian Richard Stites in the European context, as a legacy of the Napoleonic Wars.

Ol’ga V. Bol’shakova

The Beginning of the Great Fatherland War. Modern Historiography (in Russian)

Nachalo Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny: Sovremennaia istoriografiia: Sbornik obzorov i referatov, ed. M. M. Mints (Moscow, 2011).

The collection contains analyses of works by Russian and Western historians on problems such as Soviet foreign policy in 1939–1941, the USSR’s preparation for a forthcoming war against Germany, operations on the Eastern Front in summer–autumn 1941, everyday life in the years of the war. These works were published between 2000–2010 by various presses in Moscow and abroad. Full text (PDF, 1,5 Mb, in Russian).



Michael M. Mints, The Beginning of the Great Fatherland War in Modern Historiography: (Review article).

Abstract: Vladimir A. Nevezhin, “If Tomorrow a Campaign…”: Preparation for War and the Ideological Propaganda in 1930s–1940s [Nevezhin V., “Esli zavtra v pokhod…”: Podgotovka k voine i ideologicheskaia propaganda v 30-kh—40-kh godakh (Moscow: Iauza: Eksmo, 2007)].

Abstract: Aleksandr O. Chubar’ian, The Eve of a Tragedy: Stalin and the International Crisis, September 1939—June 1941 [Chubar’ian A. O., Kanun tragedii: Stalin i mezhdunarodnyi krizis: Sentiabr’ 1939—iiun’ 1941 g. (Moscow: Nauka, 2008)].

Abstract: Mikhail I. Meltiukhov, Stalin’s Missed Chance: Struggle for Europe, 1939–1941: (Documents, Facts, Opinions) [Meltiukhov M. I., Upushchennyi shans Stalina: Skhvatka za Evropu: (Dokumenty, fakty, suzhdeniia), 3d ed. (Moscow: Veche, 2008)].

Abstract: David E. Murphy, What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2005).

Abstract: John A. Lukacs, June 1941: Hitler and Stalin (New Haven; London: Gale University, 2006).

Abstract: David M. Glantz, Barbarossa: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, 1941 (Stroud, Gloucestershire; Charleston, South Carolina: Tempus Publishing, 2001).

Abstract: V. V. Abaturov, 1941: The West Direction [Abaturov V. V., 1941: Na Zapadnom napravlenii (Moscow: Iauza: Eksmo, 2007)].

Abstract: D. B. Khazanov, The Struggle for Supremacy in the Air [Khazanov D. B., Bor’ba za gospodstvo v vozdukhe (Moscow: Iauza: Eksmo, 2008)].

Abstract: Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941 (Lanham, Maryland etc.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

Abstract: Christian Hartmann, The Wehrmacht in the War in the East: The Front and Rear, 1941–1942 [Christian Hartmann, Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg: Front und militärisches Hinterland 1941/42 (München: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2009)].

Abstract: Rodric Braithwaite, Moscow 1941: A City and its People at War (London: Profile Books, 2007).



The tragic start of the war on the Eastern Front (1941–1945), surely will long remain one of the most painful issues for the Russian historiography. This is due not only to the enormous losses the country suffered through four years of war, but also because of the agonizing process of rethinking the Soviet past, a process which began a quarter-century ago and continues to this day. In the divided Russian society, any dispute about the past almost inevitably turns into a dispute of values: this is not surprising, since the historical memory is one of the key elements of national identity.

The memory of war is no exception. In the scientific community, discussions about the events of 1941 differ somewhat from the exterior dialogues, but are no less acute.

A radical rethinking of the history of the first months of the Patriotic war began in the Perestroika years after the removal of the prior censorship restrictions. In this period, the most heated debate first of all was concerned with the secret protocols to the Soviet–German agreements of August 23 and September 28, 1939.

Among the events of 1941 most actively discussed were such issues as the main causes of the catastrophic defeat of the Red Army in the first months of the war, Stalin’s errors in preparing to repel the aggression and in the organization of the resistance against the enemy in the first weeks after the Germans attacked, the problem of his personal responsibility for the failure of the Soviet Union in the beginning of hostilities.

In the 1990s, the situation in Soviet studies changed significantly due to the “archival revolution” (in fact, in this period researchers found a qualitatively new source base for the study of World War II history), the emergence of new methodological approaches (military-historical anthropology, the history of everyday life), and also due to the “unplanned discussion” about the purpose of Soviet foreign and military policy in the prewar years, triggered by the publication in Russia of Viktor A. Suvorov’s books, which highlighted a number of previously unexplored issues. These circumstances made possible the emergence of numerous works on the history of Soviet foreign policy, force development, strategic planning and propaganda.

At the same time, difficulties appeared, on the one hand, with a significant amount of newly declassified materials requiring interpretation, and, on the other, with the apparent incompleteness of the “archival revolution,” since many important archival collections have remained secret.

These processes continue. New challenges have also appeared. Half-hearted political and economic reforms of the 1990s were the reason why, at the turn of the millennia, Russian ruling circles manifested authoritarian tendencies once again, including, in particular, the promotion of nationalist ideas. This resulted in the fact that the memory of the war has once again become a pawn of the official propaganda, and the “archival revolution” has been replaced by re-classification of several documents, some of which at that time had already been published.

With such a change in the “state order,” those authors who tried to justify the policy of Stalin’s leadership, including during the pre-war period, became active. In addition, a shortage of qualified specialists and of qualitative research on the history of World War II was evident, so that the resultant gap in the literature began to be filled up with amateur research and numerous works of a journalistic nature.

The Western historiography of World War II has undergone major changes in the last 25 years. The opening of access to Soviet archives, as well as the publication of a large number of previously unavailable documents, significantly upgraded its source base. (In previous years, in studying the war on the Eastern Front, Western researchers had mostly to limit themselves to German sources, which inevitably made their conclusions somewhat one-sided.) The end of the Cold War has allowed certain stereotypes to be overcome. At the same time, in recent years there has been a definite decline in interest about the Soviet era amongst Western historians.

Yet the literature on the history of the USSR, including the history of World War II and the preceding period, has been supplemented by a number of fundamental papers that need attention.

The purpose of this collection was to give readers a concise, but relatively integral picture of modern historiography of the eve of the war on the Eastern Front and of the summer–autumn campaign 1941. Several Russian and Western monographs are analysed that were published in the recent decade and deal with such problems as Moscow’s foreign policy in 1939–1941, the development of Soviet armed forces in the same period, the Stalinist leadership’s response to the deterioration of the Soviet–German relations and to the incoming information about imminent aggression against the USSR, operations on the Eastern Front in June–December 1941, and the causes of the Red Army’s defeats.

The specified chronological framework was chosen deliberately. The first six months of the war on the Eastern Front were perhaps the most dramatic period of the Soviet–German rivalry. The Battle of Moscow not only marked the collapse of the Operation Barbarossa and the strategy of Blitzkrieg, but, according to some researchers, has become, along with the U.S. entry into the war and certain other events, the beginning of a turn in the Second World War as a whole. On the other hand, the origins of the Red Army’s defeats in the initial period of the war should be sought in the pre-war years, not last of all in those of the Soviet–German partnership based on the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and on the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation of September 28, 1939. That led to our interest in the events of 1939 through the first half of 1941. The collection opens with a general review of contemporary literature on the problems listed above.

This is followed by abstracts of eleven the most interesting Russian and Western works. The book by Vladimir A. Nevezhin “If Tomorrow a Campaign…”: Preparation for War and the Ideological Propaganda in 1930s–1940s deals with the history of Soviet military propaganda in the prewar period; the author analyzes its organization, and also the evolution of conceptions it promoted.

Aleksandr O. Chubar’ian in his monograph The Eve of a Tragedy: Stalin and the International Crisis, September 1939—June 1941 examines Soviet foreign policy in the period of the Soviet–German “friendship,” revealing its motives and results.

Mikhail I. Meltiukhov’s Stalin’s Missed Chance: Struggle for Europe, 1939–1941: (Documents, Facts, Opinions) is an attempt, rather a rare one in Russian historiography, at a comprehensive analysis of foreign and military policy of the USSR during the period under consideration, in the overall context of the Second World War.

The work of Soviet intelligence before the Nazi aggression is described in the monograph by the American researcher David E. Murphy, What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa.

The book by John A. Lukacs (USA), June 1941: Hitler and Stalin, deals with the personal relations between the two dictators.

The fighting on the Eastern Front in June–December 1941, is particularly detailed in David M. Glantz’s “Barbarossa”: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, 1941.

V. V. Abaturov’s book 1941: The West Direction analyzes the battles in the central sector of the Eastern Front in 1941 and, to a lesser degree, in 1942.

D. B. Khazanov’s The Struggle for Supremacy in the Air deals with the air force during the summer and autumn of 1941. The author describes the air battles in the first weeks of the war, during the Kiev Defense Operation and the repulsion of the German offensive on Leningrad, the Luftwaffe raids on Moscow; shows the causes for the failure of the Soviet pilots.

Geoffrey P. Megargee’s (USA) book War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941 deals with the crimes of the invaders on Soviet territory, showing the influence of attitudes that prevailed in the Nazi leadership, and of the situation prevailing at the front on the attitude of the Germans to the Soviet POWs and the local population.

Similar problems were discussed by a German historian Christian Hartmann in his book The Wehrmacht in the War in the East: The Front and Rear, 1941–1942. In this case study of five German divisions, he shows how the everyday life of German soldiers and officers, as well as the institutional features of the German army and the situation at the front and in the occupied areas, influenced the content, nature and extent of the war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht soldiers in the Soviet Union. The book addressed also the problem of German soldiers’ responsibility for these crimes.

Finally, the work of British researcher Rodric Braithwaite Moscow 1941: A City and its People at War deals with the daily lives of Muscovites in the first months of the Soviet–German confrontation.