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Oral history interview with Alexander J. Motyl, 2017

Creator: Motyl, Alexander J.
Project: Harriman Institute oral history collection.
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :Transcript: 108 pages
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
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Biographical Note

Alexander Moytl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University. He attended Columbia University for his undergraduate degree in political science, and became associated with the then Russian Institute in the late 1970s to early 1980s as a PhD student. After completing his dissertaion, he served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of political science at Columbia, as Director of the Nationalities and Siberian Studies Program at Harriman, and as Associate Director of the Institute from 1992 to the late 1990s. Motyl has written extensively on the Soviet Union, Ukraine, revolutions, nations and nationalism, and empire.

Scope and Contents

In the first session, Alexander Motyl reviews his personal history with the Harriman Institute. A particular focus is given to the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. He praises Harriman's maintenance of stability in in a period of changes for Russian Studies, citing its continuing ability to attract, educate, and place graduate students. Motyl also describes and situates both intellectual and funding challenges faced by Harriman in the following years. He discusses the rise of nationality studies following the collapse of the USSR, which he did not view as inimical to Harriman's existing area studies programs. Motyl then discusses the rise of the human rights field, which he views as inextricably linked with the study of the Soviet Union. In the second session, Motyl details his coursework as an undergraduate and graduate student, its interaction with the political context of its time, and his research interests and work as an academic. He discusses how he came to view Russia/the USSR as an empire and the realizations that led him from from pure theory towards empirics. Motyl talks about the decline of prestige associated with area studies following the collapse of the USSR, but he notes that Harriman has been able to maintain its reputation.


Access Conditions

Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2017.

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