Oral history interview with Padma Desai, 2016
Padma Desai was born in India in 1931. She came to the U.S. in 1955 to pursue a PhD in Economics at Harvard. She returned to India for several years before becoming a research scholar at the Russian Research Center at Harvard University from 1968 to 1980. Desai then joined the Harriman Institute and the Department of Economics at Columbia University, where she became a chaired tenured professor in 1992. Desai is currently the Gladys and Roland Harriman Professor Emerita of Comparative Economic Systems and Director of the Center for Transition Economies at Columbia University. She has written widely on the Soviet Union, Russia, and transition economies, and has also written a memoir, which was published in 2012.
Scope and Contents
Desai discusses what influenced her to study the Soviet Union. She narrates her travels in the Soviet Union and, later, Russia. She describes her relationships with several Russian policymakers. Desai also discusses her personal difficulties and tensions with other Harriman Institute faculty and her experience as a woman of color in academia. Finally, Desai stresses the importance of area knowledge for "general" fields like economics and argues for the continuing importance of area training, not just on Russia but on China and Africa as well.
Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2016.