Joshua First is Croft Associate Professor of History and International Studies and specializes in the history of Russia and Ukraine during the 20th and 21st centuries. Professor First came to Mississippi in 2010 after receiving his Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan. His teaching interests include modern Russia and the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, visual culture, nationalism, the European welfare state and comparative health care systems. Professor First has published articles on Ukrainian cinema, Soviet film sociology, and the politics of melodrama. His book, Ukrainian Cinema: Belonging and Identity during the Soviet Thaw (I.B. Taurus) appeared in December 2014 and a follow-up volume on the Ukrainian film, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Sergei Paradjanov, 1964) will appear in late 2016. Dr. First's next project concerns the origins and development of universal health care in the Soviet Union. In the Fall 2016 semester, he will teach "Contemporary Russia" for Croft, and will likely teach INST 205: Introduction to European Studies in the Spring.
This course examines the various components of the European social model from the end of World War II to the present. Through the lens of history, sociology and public policy, the course addresses such issues as universal health care, labor market regulations, retirement pensions, and education. More broadly, “The European Welfare State” examines how and why European states allocate resources and redistribute wealth. Throughout the course, we will explore similarities and differences among many European states, from Italy to Sweden and from the United Kingdom to the Soviet Union. Part 1 of the course focuses on the consolidation of the European welfare state from 1945 to 1968. Part 2 examines neoliberal critiques of the European social model and related attempts to overhaul the welfare state during the 1980s and 1990s. Part 3 addresses recent mitigating factors such as immigration, the growth of inequality, and attempts to reform aspects of the welfare state in light of demographic changes. In the fourth part of the course, students will work independently on their own research projects.
As historian of visual culture Nicholas Mirzoeff argued, “Modern life takes place on screen.” This statement is particularly apt in describing how cinema (along with television, and now new media) transformed the experience and consumption of revolution during the 20th and 21st centuries. Indeed, revolution truly became cinematic and, later, televisual during the last 100 years. In the cinematic age, revolution entered the peaceful space of everyday life as never before, and each were subsequently transformed in the process of reproducing and distributing motion pictures of conflict and its meanings.
“Cinema and Revolution” addresses how artists and revolutionaries have used the cinema for revolutionary purposes and engaged with the theme of revolution to explore the meanings and effects of modernity. Beginning with the Russian Revolution in 1917, cinema made possible the realistic representation of revolution on the screen, and transformed commemoration of revolution into an aspect of consumer culture and popular entertainment. The events of May 1968 in France represented a further extension of the celebratory nature of consuming revolution on the screen, and new technologies such as the hand-held Steady-Cam introduced the possibility for a more direct relationship between the agents of revolution and its audiences. Today, of course, we are more accustomed to viewing revolution live on our television screens or on YouTube, and the recent examples in Egypt and Ukraine offer new possibilities for understanding revolution as performance. Along with the examination of key cinematic, televisual and new media texts through in-class and home screenings, this course will study problems of spectatorship, collective memory and revolutionary agency.
The format of the course is based primarily around discussion. You will be evaluated through a series of incremental writing assignments along with class participation. There are no exams, but you will take a few quizzes, especially during the first third of the course. You should plan to watch movies, on your own time, almost every week. If you take the class seriously, it will be a challenging, but rewarding experience. However, if you expect to be merely entertained, this will be a very disappointing experience.
This interdisciplinary course introduces Croft students to major themes in the study of European history, politics, economics, society and culture. While Inst 205 will occasionally delve into the continent’s modern history, we will spend the vast majority of the semester investigating Europe’s new position in the world since the fall of communism, the expansion of the European Union, the implications of the 2008 Financial Crisis in Europe, and the current migrant crisis. During this period, Europe emerged from its Cold War divisions to become a continent of increasingly diverse populations, on the one hand, and politically, socially and culturally united, on the other. We will explore what it meant and means to be “European,” core social and cultural values in Europe, and the ideas and ideologies that formed the political nexus of “European Civilization” in the past and in our times. By the end of the semester, you will have the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the complexities of Modern Europe.
History 366: Late Imperial & Revolutionary Russia
This course examines the major developments of Russian history from the late-19th century to the foundation of the Soviet Union in the early 1920s, emphasizing the origins and culmination of the Russian Revolution. During this period, the Russian Empire embarked on a long and difficult process of economic, social and cultural development: During the 1860s, Russia became the last European country to abolish the institution of serfdom. Along with this major reform of social relations came concerted efforts at industrialization and a partial liberalization of the political system. Nonetheless, major resistance to the imperial Russian state also emerged during this time. Students and intellectuals, and later, industrial workers and peasants, protested the maintenance of a repressive state, along with the consequences of the country's rapid movement toward modernity. By the early 20th century, the Russian autocracy proved unable to resist the social forces that its own desperate attempts at modernization had helped create.
In order to understand this era on its own terms as well as in light of the revolution that would bring it to a cataclysmic end, we will study the swirling currents of Russian and Western thought that clashed and combined to form a uniquely Russian cultural mix in the waning years of the Russian Empire and the dawn of the Soviet Union. We will examine the problems of economic development, imperial expansion (and contraction), religious and secular culture, and the successive periods of war, reform and revolution that characterized this fascinating era of Russian history.
Inst 328: Contemporary Russia: Politics and Culture after Communism
This interdisciplinary course on contemporary Russian politics and culture will address approximately the last 20 years of the country's past, from the fall of the Soviet Union, through the difficult years of economic transition during the 1990s, and into the Putin years. We examine how Mikhail Gorbachev liberalized the political system, dismantled the organs of government repression, and allowed for a greater range of free speech and individual autonomy. Through this process of reform, new voices emerged which challenged Gorbachev's power. In this course, we briefly look at how nationalism, along with political opposition from both the Left and Right of the political spectrum helped to being down the Soviet Union in 1991. The dominant focus of this course, however, is an examination of the difficulties of economic and political transition during the 1990s, and the normalization of post-Soviet Russian politics, economics and culture during the last decade or so. We will spend considerable time addressing the recent significance of popular protest against the Putin regime, and examine in depth the issues and questions that have emerged since Putin returned to power last year, after Dmitri Medvedev's brief stint as president.
The course will consist mostly of lecture during the first few weeks, to ground students in the political, social and economic history since the late 1980s. After that, we will focus on more specific issues, and class will be oriented toward discussion. Students should expect a heavy reading load in this course, along with extensive (albeit short) writing assignments. Students are evaluated based on their class participation, quizzes (at the beginning of the course), informal weekly journal entries (during the rest of the course), two book reviews, a short mid-term exam, and a final exam in the form of an interview with the professor.
Ben Judah, Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin
Alena Ledeneva, Can Russia Modernize? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance
This course examines the Holocaust and other European genocides during the 20th century, with a focus on memory politics. In addition to studying the history and context of various genocides from the extermination of Jews during the Second World War to the Bosnian crisis of the 1990s, we examine the role of NGOs, nation states, and other international institutions in making claims and demands upon perpetrators of genocide. We query how genocide claims and acts of commemoration function within contemporary European politics.