Historian Faith Hillis has been awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support a methodologically eclectic project on the broad cultural and political impact of 19th century Russian settlements in western Europe.
Hillis, Associate Professor of Russian History and The College, is currently writing Europe's Russian Colonies: Tsarist Émigrés and the Quest for Freedom in the 19th Century. Drawing on a multilingual array of archival sources and material artifacts from the 1860s through World War I, the book paints a comprehensive portrait of the complex diasporic communities that coalesced in cities like London, Paris, and Geneva, along with other European centers of Russian emigration.
"Condensing the diversity of the tsarist empire into districts only a few square miles in area, émigré communities brought together men and women who likely would have never encountered one another had they remained home in Russia," Hillis said in her proposal to the NEH.
Treating communities of Russian émigrés as sites of “intensive intellectual exchange and social experimentation,” her research explores how the experience of exile shaped political movements as divergent as Bolshevism and Zionism. It also reveals how the presence of hundreds of thousands of tsarist subjects on European soil informed continental political ideas and social norms.
The NEH fellowship is among $12.8 million in grants awarded to 253 humanities projects across the nation. Of those, 74 are fellowships awarded to university and independent scholars pursuing advanced research.
In addition to supporting Hillis’ work on the book, the fellowship will help her advance the use of geo-spatial analysis and digital tools like GIS to analyze how the colonies' physical infrastructure and networks shaped their intellectual output. Hillis plans to publish that data in an online supplement in conjunction with the book.
Hillis joined the University of Chicago faculty in 2010. Her research and teaching explore how Russia's political institutions and status as a multiethnic empire shaped public opinion and political cultures, both within Russia and in the broader context of European and global history. Hillis' first book, Children of Rus’: Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation, argues that Russian nationalism first took shape on the extreme periphery of the tsarist empire, in a region that is today the center of Ukraine.