Voices from the USSR: Working with Oral Histories from the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System Online

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) lasted for more than seventy years and in its final days boasted a population of nearly three hundred million citizens. The people of the Soviet Union, their lives, and their experiences, both public and private, were not monolithic. The goals of the “Voices from the USSR” module are to explore a selection of individual experiences of daily life in the Soviet Union and to invite students to critically examine how primary sources can be used to build knowledge on this topic. Using lectures and archival material students are asked to consider: 

  • How did Soviet ideology uniquely shape the relationship between the state and Soviet individuals? How did the Soviet state attempt to realize its ideological vision?

  • How can we learn about the private lives of individuals in history, particularly when they lived under an authoritarian political system? What value does this knowledge provide in better understanding the nation’s history?

  • How does social context influence individual identity? How and why do individuals have different experiences within the same social, political, and historical context? 

The activities in this module pair video lectures with digitized oral histories from the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System (HPSSS). This large, searchable, online archive of primary source material makes available hundreds of interviews with Soviet refugees conducted during the Second World War and immediate postwar era.

Access and Materials

This module makes use of an online archive of English-language primary source material available through the Harvard library system. This archive can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. As several activities ask students to browse primary sources individually or in small groups, access to multiple computers is ideal.     

For a print version of this module, please download the PDF version of Voices from the USSR.