Professor Polly Jones

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

Professor of Russian, Schrecker-Barbour Fellow, University College


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


My two monographs explore the memory politics of post-Stalinism, particularly the role of literature in reimagining the Soviet past. My first monograph, Myth, Memory, Trauma. Rethinking the Stalinist Past in the Soviet Union, 1953-70 (Yale UP, 2013) argues that de-Stalinization of the 1950s and 1960s was not a primarily dissident memory project: cautiously encouraged by the Soviet authorities, Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’ became a legitimate, albeit highly controlled and often controversial, theme in Soviet literary and historical writing and in public discussion. My second monograph, Revolution Rekindled. The Writers and Readers of Late Soviet Biography (OUP, 2019) 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 about an astonishingly wide range of ‘revolutionaries’, and came to include many of the leading writers of the period. The book traces the complex practices of late Soviet editing, writing and reading, and the fluidity of the boundaries between Soviet and ‘unofficial’ or ‘underground’ cultural production. In connection with these interests in biography and autobiography, I also published an edited volume, Writing Russian Lives. The Poetics and Politics of Russian Biography (MHRA, 2018).


I am now working on two, interlinked projects connected to Gulag history. Firstly, I am writing a short book, Gulag Fiction from Stalin to Putin (under contract with Bloomsbury). Secondly, I am embarking on a new collaborative project, ‘The 101st kilometre. Provincial Marginality from Stalin to Gorbachev’ ( This project extends my long-standing interest in the boundaries between Soviet and unofficial culture, in exploring the spaces and communities produced by Soviet penal policy and practice restricting residency in major cities for Gulag returnees and other ‘marginals’. I am particularly interested in the literary and artistic communities formed in small towns such as Tarusa and other areas on the margins of Moscow oblast’


I welcome research student enquiries on any topic in 20th or 21st-century Russian literature and cultural studies, and transnational or interdisciplinary projects on the socialist bloc, memory studies and biography. Current and recent research supervision includes:

  • Professional Theatres of the Soviet Gulag (Jake Robertson)

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

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

  • A Comparison of the post-totalitarian fiction 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) 


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 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


Introduction to Vasilii Grossman, Life and Fate (Everyman Classics, Penguin, 2022)


‘The Thaw’s Provincial Margins: Place, Community and Canon in Pages from Tarusa’, Slavic Review, forthcoming 2021


‘‘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)


Media appearances

Subscribe to Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages