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A Body of Work: Building Self and Society at Stalin's White Sea-Baltic Canal

Draskoczy, Julie Suzanne (2010) A Body of Work: Building Self and Society at Stalin's White Sea-Baltic Canal. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The dissertation concerns the construction of Stalin's White Sea-Baltic Canal (Belomorsko-Baltiskii Kanal imeni Stalina), one of the most significant and infamous forced-labor projects of Soviet Russia. In just twenty months from 1931-1933, political and criminal prisoners built a 227-kilometer-long canal in extreme environmental conditions, without the help of any modern equipment. This early Gulag project differed greatly from others in its broad use of art and creativity as a motivational and propagandistic tool. Prisoners performed in agitbrigady (agitational brigades), participated in camp-wide competitions of poetry and prose, worked as journalists at the camp newspaper Perekovka, and attended theatrical performances completely produced by fellow prisoners. Art, in turn, not only served as entertainment but also had the capacity to transform human beings through the ideological process of perekvovka (re-forging), which supposedly re-fashioned wayward criminals into productive members of Soviet society. Through extensive use of archival documents, the dissertation aims to highlight the experience of criminal prisoners in the Gulag, a long understudied demographic of the Soviet prison camp system. Self and society were both re-created at the Belomorkanal with the help of aesthetic products, and what was begun as a laboratory for Soviet culture becomes a utopian vision. This dystopian utopia was riddled by the paradoxes surrounding it—in an environment of supposed re-birth and creation there was ubiquitous death and destruction. This explains the important roles that collage, montage, and assemblage play as artistic styles and metaphorical concepts. Collage exemplifies the shredding of the world in order to create a new, unified whole; montage in film and photography promises the creation of non-existent—and idealized—worlds; assemblage, in its three-dimensionality, is used in contemporary artworks about the Canal and can be understood metaphorically, with the Canal's various bits of lock, dam, and dike pieced together and subsequently stitched with other waterways. From the outset, the significance of the Belomorkanal was seen within the larger industrial context of Stalin's first Five-Year Plan, and the project has important cultural significance not only for the history of the Gulag but also for the study of Stalinism and the Soviet Union as a whole.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Draskoczy, Julie
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCondee, Nancycondee@pitt.eduCONDEE
Committee MemberRuder,
Committee MemberBirnbaum, Daviddjbpitt@pitt.eduDJBPITT
Committee MemberHarris, Jane Garyjgharris@pitt.eduJGHARRIS
Date: 30 September 2010
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 12 May 2010
Approval Date: 30 September 2010
Submission Date: 9 June 2010
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Slavic Languages and Literatures
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: alymov; criminology; five year plan; gorky; gulag; life writing; memory; performance; subjectivity; utopia; pogodin; prison; stalinism; criminal
Other ID:, etd-06092010-160043
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:46
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:44


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