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New Histories of Public Spheres and Public Actions

Joint EUI, UvA Online Lecture Series, organised by Profs. Alexander Etkind and Ellen Rutten. | Established in 2020, this lecture series responds to the dramatic events of our time in a historical and humanistic perspective.

Arguably, public action has rarely been more important and public protest more inspired, while the underlying public sphere has never been more fragmented. We will focus on the historical roots, cultural forms and political fruits of this peculiar combination. Exploring the public effects of digital media and the new awareness of Anthropocene, we will address the changing materialities and global roles of the new public. We will also examine local, gendered and other aspects of access, inclusivity, and retribution. Inviting historians, media scholars and other colleagues to this debate, we will create a new transnational community that will be instrumental in changing some inherited truths – and establishing new ones.

Memory, Conflict and Post-Socialist Media: Old Stories, New Questions by Ellen Rutten

Lecture 1: October 30, 3-5pm via Zoom

To attend this lecture: Please register here

Between the early 2000s and today, readers of Russian and Ukrainian social media have found themselves embedded in a world of digital wars, where alternative histories thrive and multifarious memories compete for position. Bloggers quarrel over the roles that Ukraine and Russia played in World War II. Chatters on memory sites debate the role of remembrance in determining how present-day Russia differs from the Soviet Union. And participants of social-network groups discuss Soviet repressions in Ukraine. With its speed, accessibility, and accommodation of anonymity, new media platforms continue to change the way memory travels between generations and communities. In the early 2010s, the interconnection between historical memory and digital media was the topic of investigation of Web Wars, a research project on digital memory based at the University of Bergen. In this lecture, project leader Ellen Rutten both looks back on the project and forward, into the future of digital memory studies. Which new developments have demanded our attention after the mid-2010s, when the Web Wars research was concluded? Which new questions merit scrutiny today when web wars are no longer fought mostly on blogs, social media, and YouTube, but also on such newer platforms as Instagram and TikTok?

Ellen Rutten is professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the University of Amsterdam and editor-in-chief of the journal Russian Literature. She is project leader of the research project Sublime Imperfections: Creative Interventions in Post-1989 Europe (2015-2020) and author of Unattainable Bride Russia (Northwestern UP 2010), Memory, Conflict and New Media (Routledge 2013, ed. together with Julie Fedor and Vera Zvereva) and Sincerity after Communism (Yale UP 2017), among other works. 

Public Spheres: In Theory and in Belarus

Wed 09 Dec 2020 17.00 - 19.00

  Outside EUI premises - Via Zoom

Webinar in the framework of the series New Histories of Public Spheres and Public Actions

This work-in-progress talk proposes a move from linear private/public distinctions to a new three-dimensional model of public spheres. Drawing on the sociology of regimes of engagement, it suggests that we can gain a richer understanding of the public by paying attention to multiple pathways that lead from the personal to the collective, each with its own implicit understanding of what it means to be an individual and what is involved in coordinating actions with others. This approach is then illustrated with observations about the ongoing Belarusian protests, discussing the choreography of demonstrations, the role of Telegram and Viber groups, flag-making practices, and courtyard communities.

Mischa Gabowitsch is a historian and sociologist based at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany. He holds a BA and MA from Oxford and a PhD from the School of Advanced Social Studies (EHESS) in Paris, and is an alumnus fellow of the Princeton University Society of Fellows and past editor-in-chief of the Russian journals NZ and Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research. His most recent book publications in English are Protest in Putin's Russia (2016) and Replicating Atonement: Foreign Models in the Commemoration of Atrocities (2017). He has edited several books in Russian and German on war memory and commemoration in Russia and beyond, the most recent of which came out in November. He is currently working on a history of Soviet war memorials as well as a book on Victory Day celebrations since 1945, and also has various projects related to pragmatic sociology and specifically the sociology of regimes of engagement.

Should you wish to attend the webinar via Zoom, please register by 9 December 2020

Was Soviet television a Public Sphere?

Lecture by Bohdan Shumylovych in the 'New Histories of Public Spheres and Public Actions' Zoom lecture series organized by Alexander Etkind (EUI - Department of History and Civilization) & Ellen Rutten (University of Amsterdam) February 5, 16.00-18.00pm 

click here to register

In the late 1950s, Isaiah Berlin famously distinguished positive (the capacity to act upon one's free will) and negative (freedom from external restraint) liberty. Some scholars observed that this positive freedom was associated with a socialist regime, under which the state acted upon citizens in order not to produce personal liberties but to make a ‘collective individual’ of the imagined future. So, if we employ similar views to analyze Soviet public space or public sphere, we may find such spaces nurturing positive liberties of the new Soviet man, and we can also find multiple restrictions (censorship, violence, and various modes of suppressing a person) that acted against negative liberty. For researchers, therefore, underground publishing in the USSR would signify the existence of public space (negative liberty), while television would have a position within a space of state ideology (positive liberty). When writing about television as a public sphere (in the West) Peter Dahlgren meant the practice of journalism, which was aimed to produce various democratic opinions among the public. Indeed, there was almost no so-called free journalism in the USSR. However retaining binary positions (positive-negative) removes from the focus the potential of the Soviet audience to interpret or resist official messages, and to construct its own meanings. During the presentation, we will try to go beyond such binaries and offer the view of Soviet television as a hybrid public sphere.     

Bohdan Shumylovych obtained a master’s degree in modern history from the Central European University (Budapest, Hungary, 2004-2005), and in 2020 he has received a Ph.D. from the European University Institute in Florence. He has worked with the archive of the Faculty of Visual Arts at George Washington University, Washington (USA) and the archive of Open Society Institute (, in Budapest. At the Center for Urban History (L’viv) he coordinates the Public history program, gives lectures, participates in the development of the Centre’s thematic exhibitions, and carries out research. The main focus of his work is media history in East-Central Europe and the Soviet Union, as well as media arts, visual studies, urban spatial practices, and urban creativity.


Nuclear Secrets: Atomic Accidents and the Information Control from the Castle Bravo to Chernobyl and Fukushima

Serhii Plokhii, 16 april 2021, 4-6pm CEST

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How unique was the Soviet media blackout of Kyshtym and Chernobyl accidents in comparison to the nuclear accidents in the democratic societies? My research suggests that the governments, military and the captains of the nuclear industry all over the world have the same instincts, not to release much of the information, but the Soviets could get away with literally a murder, at least in a short run, given the full control of the media. This conclusion is a working one and I would be really interested in people’s reaction to my approach, as well as suggestions on what can be further done with my research in terms of its conceptualization.

Serhii Plokhii is director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and author of multiple prizewinning monographs about Russian and Ukrainian history, religion, and identity. The lecture is part of the New Histories of Public Spheres and Publication Actions Zoom lecture series, hosted by Alexander Etkind (European University Institute, Florence) and Ellen Rutten (Slavic & Russian Studies, University of Amsterdam). Click here for more information about the series.