Professor Polly Jones

MA (Oxon) MPhil (Oxon) DPhil (Oxon)
Associate Professor of Russian

Associate Professor in Russian, Schrecker-Barbour Fellow, University College


I teach a wide range of modern Russian literature and Russian language at undergraduate and graduate level for the faculty and college, and have published widely on Soviet culture and politics. My research interests centre on the cultural politics of the post-Stalin period (1953-91), but also include: Soviet literature (1917-91); the Gulag and terror in literature; memory studies and trauma theory; Soviet and socialist bloc propaganda and censorship; samizdat and dissidence; biography in Russian culture; Russian and Soviet historical fiction. I write regularly for the TLS and the Times Higher, and have appeared several times on BBC radio and TV to talk about Russian culture (e.g. ‘Stalin’s Ghost’, BBC Radio 3:; I also acted as consultant to Armando Iannucci’s film ‘The Death of Stalin’ (2017).

My two principal present research interests are 20-century biography and life-writing, and late Soviet literature and culture (mid-1960s to 1991). My second monograph, Revolution Rekindled. The Writers and Readers of Late Soviet Biography (OUP, 2019) brings together these two interests. It is the first book-length study in any language of one of the largest Soviet biographical series, Fiery Revolutionaries (Plamennye revoliutsionery), which ran from 1964 to 1990, produced over 150 texts, and came to include many of the leading writers of the period, including Vladimir Voinovich, Vasilii Aksenov, Iurii Davydov, Natan Eidel’man and Bulat Okudzhava. I draw on the rich archives of its publisher Politizdat and its authors, as well as extensive original interview material, in order to trace the complex practices of late Soviet editing, writing and reading; I am especially interested in the fluidity of the boundaries between Soviet and ‘unofficial’ or ‘underground’ cultural production. In connection with my interests in biography and autobiography, I have also recently published an edited volume, Writing Russian Lives. The Poetics and Politics of Russian Biography (MHRA, 2018). I also serve on the editorial board of the ‘Modern Biographies’ series of Academic Studies Press (, as well as on the board of the ‘Russian Shorts’ series at Bloomsbury.

I welcome research student enquiries on any topic in 20th-century Russian literature and cultural studies, and transnational or interdisciplinary projects on the socialist bloc, memory studies and biography. I currently supervise doctorates on:

Soviet and post-Soviet commemorations of Stalinism (Antony Kalashnikov)

The ‘framing’ of Soviet memories in post-Soviet media (Jade McGlynn)

A Comparison of Vasilii Grossman and Heinrich Boll (Oliver Jones).

I completed my BA, MPhil and DPhil degrees at Oxford (New College and St Antony’s College). I was the Harlech scholar at Harvard, and held junior research fellowships at St Antony’s college (the Max Hayward fellowship) and Worcester College. I was lecturer for seven years at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, and a Davis fellow at  Princeton University’s Davis Center for Historical Studies before taking up the Schrecker-Barbour fellowship and Associate Professorship at University College in 2012. My research has been funded by the British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, CEELBAS and by the John Fell Fund and EHRC at Oxford.



Revolution Rekindled. The Writers and Readers of Late Soviet Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019):

Myth, Memory, Trauma. Rethinking the Stalinist Past in the Soviet Union, 1953-70 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013 (paperback 2016):


Edited volumes and special issues

Writing Russian Lives. The Poetics and Politics of Russian Biography (MHRA, 2018), edited volume:

(originally a special issue of The Slavonic and East European Review, 96:1 (2018):

The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization. Negotiating Social and Political Change in the Khrushchev Era, edited volume (London: Routledge, 2006; paperback edition 2009): 

The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorships. Stalin and the Eastern Bloc (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004). Co-edited volume with B. Apor, J. Behrends, A. Rees.

The Relaunch of the Soviet Project, 1945-64, special issue of Slavonic and East European Review, 2: 2008. Co-edited special issue with J. Fuerst, S. Morrissey.

Policies and Practices of Transition in Soviet Education from Revolution to the End of Stalinism, special issue of History of Education, 2006. Co-edited with A Byford.

Articles and book chapters:

 ‘‘Life as big as the ocean’: Bolshevik Biography and the problem of personality from late Stalinism to Late Socialism’, Slavonic and East European Review, 96:1 (2018), 144-73

‘The Poetics and Politics of Modern Russian Biography’, Slavonic and East European Review, 96:1 (2018), 1-15.

‘The Zones of Late Socialist Literature’, The Cambridge History of Communism, ed. J. Fuerst, S. Pons, M. Sandle (Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 376-98.

‘Diagnosing the Stalinist Sickness. Images of Illness in Aleksandr Bek and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’, MLR, 111. 4 (October 2016), pp. 1062-89.

The Fire Burns On? The Fiery Revolutionaries Biographical Series and the Rethinking of Propaganda in the Early Brezhnev Era’, Slavic Review, 74: 1 (2015): 32-56

‘Worlds of Discontent and Dissent after Stalinism’, Kritika, 15, 3 (Summer 2014): 637-52

‘Iurii Trifonov’s Fireglow and the “Mnemonic Communities” of the Brezhnev Era’, Cahiers du Monde Russe, 54, 1-2 (2014): 1-26

‘The “thaw” goes international. Soviet Literature in Translation and Transit in the 1960s’, in A. Gorsuch, D. Koenker, The Socialist Sixties. Crossing Borders in the Second World (Indiana University Press, 2013)

‘The Personal and the Political: Opposition to the “Thaw” and the Politics of Literary Identity in the 1950s and 1960s’, in D. Kozlov, E. Gilburd, eds, The Thaw. Soviet Society and Culture during the 1950s and 1960s (Toronto University Press, 2013)

Between Post-Stalinist Legitimacy and Stalin’s Authority: Memories of 1941 from Late Socialism to the Post-Soviet Era’, Canadian Slavonic Papers, vol. LIV, nos 3-4 (2012): 61-82

‘Reimagining the Enemy. Soviet Images of the West after the Second World War’, in Drawing the Curtain. The Cold War in Cartoons (London: Fontanka, 2012)

‘Breaking the Silence: Iurii Bondarev’s Quietness between the “sincerity” and “civic emotion” of the Thaw’, in M. Steinberg, V. Sobol, eds, Interpreting Emotion in Russia and Eastern Europe (Northern Illinois University Press, 2011)

‘Memories of Terror or Terrorizing Memories? Terror, Trauma and Survival in Soviet Culture of the Thaw’, Slavonic and East European Review, 82:2, 2008.

“Idols in Stone”, or Empty Pedestals?: Debating Revolutionary Iconoclasm in the Post-Soviet Transition’, in R. Clay, S. Boldrick, eds, Iconoclasm: Contested Objects, Contested Terms (London: Ashgate, 2007)

‘“A Symptom of the Times”: Assigning Responsibility for the Stalin Cult in the Soviet Literary Community, 1953-64’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 42: 2, 2006

‘Du Prix Staline au Prix Lenine: L’Emulation Honorifique dans la Russie Sovietique’, Genèses, 55, June 2004

‘From Stalinism to Post-Stalinism: De-Mythologising Stalin, 1953-56’, in Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, vol. 4, no. 1, 2003; reprinted in H. Shukman, ed., Redefining Stalinism (London: Frank Cass, 2003)

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