Social Sciences

News and events

CRCC Seminar Series: Oksana Sarkisova on "Snapshot Histories: Soviet-time Vernacular Photography Between Remembrance and Oblivion"

1pm Brockington Building U.1.22

Memories of the Soviet era have been subject to multiple inquiries over the past few years. Most of them are preoccupied with the cultural memory of the Soviet terror, as well as with the cultural production that, often under state sponsorship, seeks to package and sell the new patriotic narrative which ties the USSR into a longue durée story of the Russian greatness. Less attention has so far been granted to the practices of remembering that occur in the micro‑social milieu of the family. This talk presents a collaborative project run with my Willams College colleague Prof. Olga Shevchenko that is dedicated to filling in this lacuna by exploring the way the Soviet era is remembered when people in Russia look through their family photo albums. The ethnographic material for this project comes from the 156 semi-structured interviews with members of 54 two‑, three‑ and four‑generational families from five regions of Russia, and the visual archive of the photographs from their albums. We are interested in the criteria people use when sifting through their familial experience to identify the elements that they consider worth remembering. How do the photographs, both as images and as material relics, participate in the ways people reconstruct their family past? The presentation will highlight similarities and differences in the ways different generations within one family construe their family histories. For each of them, photographs provide a rich resource for building and authenticating the different versions of the family past.

Dr Oksana Sarkisova is Research Fellow at Blinken OSA Archivum at Central European University (Budapest), Director of the International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival Verzio ( and co-founder of CEU Visual Studies Platform ( She has published on Soviet and Russian cinema and amateur photography, co-edited Past for the Eyes: East European Representations of Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989 (2008), and authored Screening Soviet Nationalities: Kulturfilms from the Far North to Central Asia (2017). Her fields of research are early Soviet cinema, documentary filmmaking, amateur film and photography, and politics of memory.

Her current project is "Snapshot Histories: Family Photography and Generational Memories of Russia's Socialist Century," in collaboration with Dr. Olga Shevchenko, Williamstown, USA.