Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System

In the early years of the Cold War, American researchers from Harvard’s Russian Research Center embarked on a project to explore large-scale questions about the nature of Soviet society. These social scientists gathered data through documentation of the life histories, experiences, and worldviews of Soviet refugees who managed to avoid repatriation to the USSR at the end of the Second World War. Project participants were recruited from among ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, and other former Soviet citizens—mostly former prisoners of war, migrant laborers, and even Nazi collaborators—resulting in an extensive set of primary sources. These materials offer a glimpse into the lives of hundreds of individuals as well as data through which to analyze and better understand the workings of Soviet society on a broad scale. Including the stories of former schoolteachers, soldiers, dancers, farmers, and more, it remains one of the largest collections of English-language, primary source material documenting Soviet life from 1917 to the 1940s.    

Through the digital HPSSS collection students can read and search scanned transcripts of over eight hundred interviews. Half of these (“A-schedule” interviews) focus generally on the subject’s life history; in the other (“B-schedule” interviews), subjects are asked more specific questions about topics like economics and ethnicity. To get a sense of how social scientists structured this massive task, students can browse through the complete set of the A-schedule interview questions in Appendix C of the Manual for Use with A-Schedule Materials. (A complete record of the B-schedule interview questions was not preserved.)

When exploring the interviews themselves, students and teachers can search the interviews by keywords and phrases, as well as browse the list of interviews, which includes information about each interviewee’s age, gender, and occupation. For easier reading when viewing a page from the archive, students can choose the “view text” option to see the page in plain text, rather than as a scan of the original.