Top Young Historians: 119 – David Engerman


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

119: David Engerman, 11-28-10


Teaching Position: Professor of History, Brandeis University
Research Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, 2001-.
Area of Research: Russia in American life, including politics, culture, and foreign policy.
Education: Ph.D. University of California-Berkeley, 1998
Major Publications: Engerman is the author of Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts. Oxford University Press, 2009. Modernization from the Other Shore: American Intellectuals and the Romance of Russian Development. Harvard University Press, 2003. Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations; Akira Iriye International History Book Award; One of best six books of the year in Eurasian Studies, Foreign Affairs; Choice Outstanding Academic Title.
David Engerman JPG Engerman is the co-editor and contributor of Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War. University of Massachusetts Press, 2003, and The God That Failed: Six Studies of Communism. Columbia University Press, 2001. (Wrote foreword).
Engerman is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:
“The Price of Success: Economic Development, Sovietology, and the Costs of Interdisciplinarity,” History of Political Economy 42 (forthcoming 2010); “Social Science in the Cold War,” Isis 101:2 (June 2010), 393-400; “Ideology and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1962,” for Cambridge History of the Cold War. Ed. Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; “The Cold War,” for Companion to Russian and Soviet History. Ed. Abbott Gleason. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009; “Towards a Global History of Modernization,” Diplomatic History 33:3 (June 2009), 375-385; co-author with Corinna Unger. (Also co-editor of Forum in which this article appears.); “American Knowledge and Global Power,” Diplomatic History 31:4 (September 2007), 599-622; “How Harvard Ruled Russia,” Kritika 7:3 (Summer 2006), 689-702; “John Dewey and the Soviet Union: When Pragmatism Meets Revolution,” Modern Intellectual History 3:1 (April 2006), 33-63; “The Ironies of the Iron Curtain: The Cold War and the Development of Russian Studies in the United States,” Cahiers du Monde russe 45:3/4 (July/December 2004), 465-496, reprinted in The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion, 1945-1985. Ed. David Hollinger. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006; “The Romance of Economic Development and New Histories of the Cold War,” Diplomatic History 28:1 (January 2004), 23-54; “Rethinking Cold War Universities,” Journal of Cold War Studies 5:3 (Summer 2003), 80-95. “Modernization from the Other Shore: American Observers and the Costs of Soviet Economic Development,” American Historical Review 105:2 (April 2000), 383-416, reprinted in Not Worthy: Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize. Ed. L. Luciuk. Toronto: Kashtan Press, 2004, translated and reprinted in 200 let rossiisko- amerikanskikh otnoshenii: nauka i obrazovanie. Ed. A.O. Chubar’ian and Blair Ruble. Moscow: OLMA, 2007, slated for reprint in Collective Degradation, ed. John Stauffer (Yale UP, in process)

Awards: Engerman is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies (2010);
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2006);
Named Stuart L. Bernath Lecturer, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (2005);
Outstanding Academic Title for 2004, Choice Magazine (2005);
Akira Iriye International History Book Award (2004);
Scholarly Fellowship, Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, (2004);
Research Grant, Rockefeller Archive Center (2004);
Scholarly Fellowship, Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History (2004);
Short-Term Research Scholarship, Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (2004);
Stuart Bernath Book Prize, Soviety for Historians of American Foreign Relations (2004);
Radcliffe Institute Fellowship (2003 – 2004);
Visiting Scholar, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (declined) (2003 – 2004);
Charles Warren Center Fellowship, Harvard University (2000 – 2001);
Research Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University (2000 – 2007);
Olin Postdoctoral Fellowship (declined) (1999 – 2001);
Dissertation Write-Up Fellowship, Mellon Foundation (1997 – 1998);
John L. Simpson Fellowship in Comparative Studies, Institute for International Studies (1997 – 1998);
Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor, Berkeley Graduate Division (1997);
Winant Fellow, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library (1995);
Packard Fellow, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (1994).
Additional Info:
Formerly: Visiting Scholar, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, 2007-2008; Chair, Graduate Program in History, Brandeis University, 2001-2003, 2009-10; Chair, International and Global Studies Program, Brandeis University, 2005-2007; Assistant Professor of History, Brandeis University, 1999-2005; Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, 2003-2004; Fellow, Charles Warren Center for the Study of American History, Harvard University, 2000-2001; Lecturer in History, University of California-Berkeley, 1998-1999.


A bonus for historians studying the twentieth century is the chance to meet your historical subjects. I was lucky enough to meet George F. Kennan, a man who featured in both of my books.

I met Kennan as he approached his 97th birthday in winter 2001. I had been thinking a lot about him for the previous five years, ever since I had run across a 1932 memorandum by Kennan while reading through State Department microfilms in a desolate corner of the Berkeley library. Kennan’s memo must have arrived at State Department headquarters on a bad day for filing clerks. His astute analysis of the Soviets’ all-out push for industrialization was misfiled among travelers’ reports, an error that explained why this remarkable document had never been cited in the large scholarly output on Kennan.

Kennan’s memo contained a striking phrase: “the romance of economic development,” which, he had written, inspired Soviet youth “to ignore all other questions in favor of economic progress.” In language revealing as much about the writer as his subject, Kennan praised that romance for saving Soviet youth from the “curses of egotism, romanticism, daydreaming, introspection and perplexity” that befell their western counterparts. I loved Kennan’s elegant prose, and also the way his description fit western observers, not just Soviet youth. Some American observers explained away a famine by saying the USSR was “starving itself great”; others were so compelled by Soviet industrialization that they trotted out the old canard about breaking eggs to make an omelet.

As I began revising my dissertation into a book a few years later, I wrote Kennan, attaching a copy of his 1932 memo and asking if he remembered anything about the sources for his ideas. A speedy reply from his secretary implied that Kennan was unavailable to assist other scholars’ work while he had so many pressing projects of his own. The following year, I resent my inquiry through a colleague of Kennan’s who had offered to act as intermediary. Kennan’s urgent letter (and two phone messages) came just as quickly as his earlier rebuff. He wrote me that he had no recollection of the document (then nearly 70 years old), and then requested whatever contextual material I could provide. I worked up the nerve to ask if I might deliver the documents in person – and a week later I rang the doorbell at his stately but slightly run-down Princeton home. His physical frailty limited our time to an hour, but his intellectual acuity was very much present as we spoke about his training in Russian history and his experiences in the USSR. Kennan recounted the lessons he learned at the University of Berlin in 1929-31; his professors stressed study of the Realien of geography, national character, and national interests rather than epiphenomena like governments and ideologies. This helped me understand Kennan’s views of the USSR and of the world, and why he was, in his words, “an expatriate in his own time.” The conversation deepened my fascination with Kennan, a familiar enough infatuation among diplomatic historians. I overcame my awe just long enough to ask his wife to photograph us in our conversation.

I would have a chance to meet some of my other historical subjects, especially as I wrote about Kennan’s heirs, Soviet experts of the Cold War. These interviews were all fascinating. I learned about their scholarly inspirations, their political investigations, and their experiences visiting a country so different and distant from their own. I even learned about a number of romances and the scandals that often ensued – but none matched the opportunity to learn about the “romance of economic development” from the man who coined the phrase.


By David Engerman

  • The history of Soviet Studies offers contradictory lessons about the relationship between national security and intellectual life. The field was an intellectual success when government funds flowed because it attracted an Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America's Soviet Experts  JPG especially wide range of scholars and because its founders conceived of their aims very broadly. Scholars-cum- consultants innocently but fervently believed that the various parts of their job fit together seamlessly. They worked with government officials at the same time that they produced their own scholarship and trained their academic progeny. Seams strained and innocence ended in the 1960s, leading some later scholars to denigrate the field solely on the basis of its ties to government. Amid the dual crises of the late 1960s, pioneers … hoped to reinvigorate Soviet Studies by returning to interdisciplinary and applied research that had driven top-notch work in the field’s first decade. Yet the successes of Soviet Studies came thanks to unrepeatable historical circumstances: the intellectual mobilization during World War II, the postwar university boom, and the emergence of new sources of funding. These broad forces permitted Soviet Studies to serve both Mars and Minerva, or at least to try. There [is] no way … to go back to the future. There was no way, after the divisions of the 1960s, to recapture the innocence of the postwar years, the notion that government agencies could only support, not distort, intellectual life. Coming from the small and isolated policy-oriented sector of Soviet Studies, secretaries [Robert] Gates and [Condoleezza] Rice celebrated themselves in claiming that new [government] initiatives incorporated the lessons of Soviet Studies. But new enemies, in new times, require new solutions. — David Engerman in “Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts”
  • The specter of Soviet Communism haunting [the twentieth] century was as much a blueprint for rapid industrialization as an ideology of proletarian revolution, national liberation, or totalitarian control. At the same time, the Soviet specter often bore little resemblance to actually existing circumstances in the Soviet Union itself. In spite of the tremendous costs, including a catastrophic famine in 1932-1933, domestic and foreign commentators widely praised Soviet efforts at economic modernization, especially in the early years of the Five-Year Plans (1928-1937). What American diplomat George F. Kennan termed the “romance of economic development” captivated a wide range of foreign observers of all political persuasions. These interwar observers valued the fruits of rapid industrialization above its costs-even when these costs included not only repression and privation but also starvation. — David Engerman in “Modernization from the Other Shore: American Observers and the Costs of Soviet Economic Development,” AHR (2000).

About David Engerman

  • “The extraordinary range and depth of Engerman’s research and the narrative arc knitting this book together from start to finish make Know Your Enemy a consummate work of scholarship and historical imagination. Engerman’s critical assessment of all the diverse components within academic ‘Sovietology’ shatters one cliche after another. Soviet Studies never fashioned a single Cold War vision of the USSR and never served simply as an ideological arm of U.S. foreign policy-even when scholars were most closely linked with diplomatic and military operatives.” — Howard Brick, University of Michigan
  • “Those in and out of the field of Soviet Studies will find genuine revelations in Know Your Enemy . Engerman combines thorough research with a firm footing in the sociology of knowledge of the post-World War II world in this remarkable story of the U.S.’s most successful area studies enterprise. The author sensibly and dispassionately navigates the reader through the maelstrom of conflicts and controversies that beset the field and is practitioners from the Second World War until the fall of the Soviet Union.” — Norman M. Naimark, Stanford University
  • “Looking at both people and institutions, David Engerman has written the most complete and informative account of the rise and fall of Russian/Soviet studies. Sovietology arose out of world war and Cold War, but Engerman demonstrates that rather than simply ideologically driven, this scholarly field contained a variety of voices that contested with one another to influence colleagues, the government, and the public. The fate of the field, however, was intimately tied to the global conflict with America’s adversary, and when Soviet socialism collapsed, Sovietology disappeared along with it. Yet the contours of understanding a distant and little known rival continue to influence new generations still perplexed by that part of the world.” — Ronald Grigor Suny, author of The Soviet Experiment
  • “In his excellent history of Cold War Sovietology, which is solidly grounded in interviews and more than 100 archival collections, David Engerman has fashioned an important institutional and intellectual history of its academic dimensions. This clearly argued, fair-minded, and very illuminating volume reveals more interesting individuals and a more complicated story (as archives always do) than the oft repeated commonplaces about this history have revealed.”–Thomas Bender, author of A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History
  • “[D]eeply researched new book.” — Evan R. Goldstein, The Chronicle Review
  • “[E]ngrossing.” — Wall Street Journal
  • “[F]ascinating history.” — Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs
  • “Deeply researched, well-written, this is an important chronicle that explains much about how government and academia still interact, and it should be read not just by Russophiles, but by anyone interested in new academic initiatives to focus on ‘Islamic Studies.’” — Paul E. Richardson, Russian Life
  • “Engerman is very passionate and energetic in the classroom, and very respectful of student ideas. His lesson plans are always innovative and intriguing, as well.”…
    “he’s so creative with his use of materials, like using music, video, photos in his lectures to get a deeper understanding of a time period than one can get from books alone. he looks at history as a set of paradoxes, very interesting way to think about it” – — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, November 28, 2010 at 8:46 PM