Dr. Pavel Vasilyev

Areas of specialization:

Soviet History; History of Alcohol and Drugs; History of Emotions; History of the Body

Areas of competence:

Modern Russian, Central and Eastern European History; History of Science, Technology, and Medicine; History of Crime and Law; Gender History


Personal website

My research explores the social and cultural history of late Imperial and Soviet Russia with a particular focus on the developments in medicine, crime, and law. Building on the history of emotions and the history of the self, my work integrates contemporary anthropological and historical theories of affect, emotion, and subjectivity. Focusing in particular on the city of St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad, this research asks how new forms of expertise and governance, specifically scientific medicine, public health, criminology and the modern penal system, transformed both the urban space and the lives of ordinary people in a major Russian city between the late nineteenth century and the present.

My doctoral dissertation, defended at the St. Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences in October 2013, dealt with the emergence of drug addiction as a social problem in Russia in the period from the beginning of the Great War to the end of the 1920s. To a large extent, the dissertation was based on previously unknown archival materials, which I discovered during several years of extensive research in numerous St. Petersburg archives. After analyzing how professional definitions coined by medical and legal specialists produced direct social implications, I traced changes in practical narcotic policies and drug trials in revolutionary Russia in order to explain why (and how) the early Soviet authorities eventually decided that regulation of recreational drugs and compulsory treatment of drug addicts were necessary.

Between 2014 and 2016, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the History of Emotions in Berlin. Within the framework of the Law and Emotions research group, I examined the role of emotions in early Soviet legal thought and practice. The project focused in particular on the period of ‘revolutionary justice’ (1917-1922), when there was no Penal Code in Soviet Russia and the judges were officially supposed to be guided by their revolutionary feeling of justice. Drawing on an extensive range of published and unpublished materials, including numerous investigatory reports and trial records from the Central State Archive of St. Petersburg (TSGA SPb), I showed the influence of emotions on the administration of justice as well as substantial discrepancies between the writings of legal scholars and the actual implementation of the new legal model.

My current project at the Polonsky Academy, entitled Red Days on the Calendar: A Cultural History of Soviet Menstruation, examines various types of knowledge about menstruation (medical-scientific, hygienic, traditional), diverse emotions associated with it as well as evolving bodily practices and technologies that the Soviet women used to deal with their menstrual cycles. Taking ‘the personal is political’ principle seriously, I approach menstruation as an important phenomenon that is intrinsically linked to the existing political regimes, hierarchies of knowledge, gender orders and familial structures.  By combining archival and published material with the interviews and methods of oral history, I seek to provide a comprehensive picture of the Soviet menstruation experience and its changing nature in the short twentieth century.

I am also the coordinator of the Soviet and Post-Soviet Movie Club at the Polonsky Academy. For the Spring Semester 2018 schedule, see http://www.vanleer.org.il/sites/files/SovietMovies_2018_7.pdf

Recent Publications:

  • “Flirting With the Market: The Early Soviet Government and the Private Provision of Health Care, 1917-1932.” In Health, Technologies, and Politics in Post-Soviet Settings: Navigating Uncertainties, eds. Olga Zvonareva, Evgeniya Popova and Klasien Horstman, 37-61. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
  • “Beyond Dispassion: Emotions and Judicial Decision-Making in Modern Europe.” Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History 25 (2017): 277-285.
  • “Revolutionary Conscience, Remorse and Resentment: Emotions and Early Soviet Criminal Law, 1917-1922.” Historical Research 90, no. 247 (2017): 117-133.
  • “Medical and Criminological Constructions of Drug Addiction in Late Imperial and Early Soviet Russia.” In Global Anti-Vice Activism, 1890-1950: Fighting Drink, Drugs, and ‘Immorality’, eds. Jessica Pliley, Harald Fischer-Tiné and Robert Kramm-Masaoka, 179-202. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • “War, Revolution, and Drugs: ‘Democratization’ of Drug Abuse and the Evolution of Drug Policy in Russia, 1914-1924.” In Russia’s Home Front in War and Revolution 1914–1922, Book 2: The Experience of War and Revolution, eds. Adele Lindenmeyr, Christopher Read and Peter Waldron, 411-430. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2016.