Southern Arkansas University history professor Dr. Svetlana Paulson recently published her article, “Face to Face with the Tsars’ Capital: American Diplomats and Urban Spectatorship in Imperial St. Petersburg,” in the prestigious Journal of Russian-American Studies.
The article is based on Dr. Paulson’s extensive research in American and Russian archives. A research grant sponsored her travels through the University.
“Working on projects like this is truly exciting, although it requires extensive research in the manuscript collections both in Russia and the U.S,” said Dr. Paulson. “COVID delayed my research trips to manuscript collections held in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. I am looking forward to the re-opening of these libraries, and I am very grateful for the SAU support and research grant that will make trips there possible.”
Her article analyzes what it was like for American citizens to be urban spectators in Imperial Russia, a topic insufficiently examined by historians. “I wanted to explore what was unusual about that and how their observations and recollections differed from those of the locals,” Dr. Paulson said.
Inspired by memoirs and diaries written by diplomats, Dr. Paulson began researching the daily experiences and observations documented by U.S. diplomats living and working in Russia. “Such seemingly trifling details constitute a valuable source that helps reconstruct a full picture representing the places where U.S. diplomats were stationed,” she said.
A famous Arkansas politician, Clifton R. Breckenridge, served as ambassador to St. Petersburg in the 1890s. “The amount of detail about daily life in the Russian capital in the memoirs of the Breckenridge family astounded me, and my research resulted in two publications analyzing their stories,” she said.
Reading more memoirs and diaries led her to realize that some aspects of diplomats’ lives in Russia had never been examined, inspiring her to write an earlier article analyzing the challenges that American parents faced in the capital of the tsars.
Dr. Paulson expressed her appreciation to Donna McCloy, assistant librarian for reference, who helped obtain rare Russian books via interlibrary loan. Her article may be viewed at Vol. 5 No. 1 (2021) | Journal of Russian American Studies (ku.edu).