Ask students what they would consider if they were selecting interview subjects to represent the society in which they live today. Who would they include in order to give a full and accurate picture of life within a large and diverse nation? Researchers constructing the HPSSS did not have the luxury of selecting whomever they wanted to be part of their study; they had access only to those living outside the USSR who would agree to be interviewed. Pages 1–7 of the “A Schedule Face Sheet Data Book” provide a demographic breakdown of the subjects who make up this group portrait of Soviet life. Students can begin by browsing this summary or the list of subjects in the HPSSS, and then reflecting on the following questions:
- What do you notice about the ages of these subjects? The interviewees range from twenty-two to seventy years of age, but are dominated by working-age people. How might the experiences of younger and older citizens have differed from the population represented here?
- Of the 331 interviewees, 232 (70%) were fugitives who fled the USSR following World War II; the rest were refugees who traveled west during the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. Roughly 265 of the 331 surveyed (80%) had either experienced arrest while in the USSR or had family members who had been arrested. What do these factors tell us about the interviewees’ experience of the USSR and their relationship to the state? How might their perspectives differ from their fellow citizens who remained in the Soviet Union?
The full list of A- and B-Schedule interviews gives the age, gender, ethnicity, and/or occupation of A-Schedule interviewees. Students can begin exploring the archive by selecting interviews based on their own interests and curiosity, or the teacher can provide general prompts such as:
- Find two interview subjects with the same occupations as two adults you know today (examples: mechanic, schoolteacher, dentist, full-time parent, nurse, dancer) and read through their life history interviews. What stands out to you? Are there elements of their lives that are similar to the lives of people you know today? What elements are most different?
- Find three interviewees that share one aspect of their identity in common, but also one difference (example: three interviewees who are all schoolteachers, one Russian, one Byelorussian, and one Ukrainian) and read through their life history interviews. What stands out to you? What elements of their lives are similar? What are different? What conclusions can you draw about sources of diverse experience within the Soviet Union?