This online archive provides the “voices” not only of the interview subjects, but the interviewers themselves through their marginal notes, introductory comments, and interview questions. Some of this “marginalia” offers revealing examples of the ideas Peri discusses in her lecture. Have students explore this through one or more of the paired viewings and readings below:
1. Watch minutes 1:04:38–1:12:30 of Peri’s lecture on non-textual sources, particularly regarding clothing.
Read an excerpt from Schedule B, Vol. 1, Case 126, beginning with “I have the feeling that I was dealing with one of the more lawless Soviet types.”
Ask students: How is the interviewer “reading” the subject even before the interview begins?
2. Watch minutes 24:25–27:10 in which Peri reflects on the idea, “There is always a disjunction between text and life.”
Read an excerpt from Schedule B, Vol. 2, Case 220, beginning with "He has all his views neatly capsuled and prepared."
Ask students if they agree with Peri’s claim that writing can never purely represent our thoughts and feelings. Do you agree? Do you agree with this interviewer’s assessment that prepared answers might be less reliable or authentic than unprepared interview responses?
3. Watch minutes 49:42–53:41 of Peri’s lecture on the diary of Elena Mukhina. Ask students to respond first to the diary entries of Elena Mukhina. Why might Elena have switched between first person and third person? Do her diary entries sound like something an American student might write? Why or why not?
Peri says that when studying Soviet citizens it is important to avoid either extreme of saying, “They’re nothing like us” or “They’re exactly like us.” Do students agree? What is problematic about both of these perspectives? How can they be avoided?
4. Have students read page 3 of the HPSSS Guide for Interviewing Soviet Escapees, the manual written to guide future research efforts, beginning with “Americans are unaccustomed to the direct and spontaneous expression of emotion to which Russians are likely to give vent easily.”
- What assumptions does the guide seem to have about Americans? About Russians?
- How do the HPSSS researchers imagine these differences might affect the interview process?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of these interviews as sources of information about individual lives and Soviet society?