Department of History

Alissa Klots

I grew up in Perm, Russia – an industrial city in the Urals. I received my B.A. from Perm State University and then continued my graduate studies there, earning a candidate of science degree – a Russian equivalent of a Ph.D. I enjoyed being a student so much, I decided to write another dissertation – this time in the United States. After receiving a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University, I taught at the European University at Saint Petersburg – a research university that offers only graduate education. Before coming to Pitt, I held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Zvi Yaetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University.

I am currently working on two research projects. The first one is a book manuscript The Kitchen Maid That Will Rule The State: Domestic Service in the Soviet Union. Based on a variety of archival documents, Soviet press publications, works of fiction and film, memoirs and oral interviews, my book analyzes how three groups of actors—domestic workers, their employers, and the state—made sense of paid domestic labor while building socialism. From the early days of Soviet rule, Lenin’s promise that under socialism even an ordinary kitchen maid would be capable of ruling the state served as an important symbol that promised empowerment and self-transformation for citizens of the lower classes, as well as for women whom the Soviet state cast as victims of Tsarist-era oppression. This genuine desire to emancipate women from household drudgery and turn them into conscious Soviet citizens, however, clashed with the Bolsheviks’ gendered vision of society, in which housework was women’s work. Gender and aging under socialism are the focus of my second project, which I am pursuing in collaboration with Maria Romashova of Perm State University. We are examining the world of socially active Soviet pensioners under Khrushchev. Our work will contribute to the growing field of aging studies that so far has paid little attention to the way elderly people in socialist countries experienced old age.

During my first year at Pitt I will be teaching two Soviet history courses. In History of Soviet Union I invite students to examine the meaning of the seventy years of socialism in the world’s biggest country. This unprecedented challenge to capitalism and liberalism defined the twentieth century in many ways, and even though the Soviet experiment failed, its repercussions are still felt today. The second course will focus on the history of Stalinism as a system that inspired fear and awe across the globe. We will study the way different aspects of this system shaped the lives of ordinary citizens. In both courses we will work with a wide variety of sources, ranging from diaries to war songs. Today, when Russia is always in the headlines, it is important to have a historical perspective to grasp the meaning of this country’s actions and international responses to them. I hope that my courses will help students develop this perspective.