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Joshua Sanborn, assistant professor of history at Lafayette, has made a major contribution to the field of modern Russian and military-social history by authoring Drafting the Russian Nation: Military Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics 1905-1925, a 278-page book published this month by Northern Illinois University Press.

“An impressive, important, and thought-provoking book. No one else has brought together the themes of war, mobilization, and ethnicity so clearly and effectively,” says Peter Gatrell, author of A Whole Empire Walking.

Mark von Hagen, author of Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship, calls the book “highly original…. a very important work.”

Drafting the Russian Nation is the first archivally based study of the relationship between military conscription and nation-building in a European country. Stressing the importance of violence to national political consciousness, it shows how national identity was formed and maintained through the organized practice of violence. The cultural dimensions of the “military body” are explored as well, especially in relation to the nationalization of masculinity.

Providing new insight into the development of a modern national identity in Russia, Sanborn examines tsarist and Soviet armies of the early 20th century to show how military conscription helped to bind citizens and soldiers into a modern political community. The experience of total war, he shows, provided the means by which this multiethnic and multi-class community was constructed and tested.

The process of nation-building set in motion by military reformers culminated in World War I, when ethnically diverse conscripts fought together in total war to preserve their national territory. In the ensuing Civil War, the army’s effort was directed mainly toward killing the political opposition within the “nation.” Sanborn demonstrates that while these complex conflicts enabled the Bolsheviks to rise to power, the massive violence of war even more fundamentally constituted national political life.

Not all minorities were easily assimilated, however. Sanborn notes that the attempt to conscript natives of Central Asia for military service in 1916 proved disastrous, for example. Jews, also identified as non-nationals, were conscripted but suffered intense discrimination within the armed forces because they were deemed inherently unreliable and potentially disloyal.

Drafting the Russian Nation is rich with insights into the relation of war to national life. Students of war and society in the 20th century will find much of interest in this provocative study.

Two students helped Sanborn in the latter stages of the book’s production through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend. Marquis Scholar Sarah Glacel, who graduated summa cum laude in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree, majoring in Russian and East European Studies and International Affairs, helped locate sources in the final stage of research. Stephanie Stawicki ’04, a double major in International Affairs and Russian & Eastern European Studies from Voorhees, N.J., proofread the final copy just before it went to the printers.

Sanborn received a fellowship from American Council of Learned Societies to start a new project that examines the interrelationship between civilians and military men in front-line areas of Russia’s Eastern Front in World War I. He was one of just 66 scholars selected from a pool of 721 applicants for ACLS fellowships, which permit scholars to devote a full year to research and writing. Lafayette is among 50 institutions whose faculty members received these fellowships last year.

Sanborn has received fellowships from Lafayette, Princeton University, University of Chicago, the Social Science Research Council, the Council for Advanced Studies in Peace and International Cooperation Fellowship, and the Mellon Foundation.

Before taking a sabbatical leave to conduct research for a new book, Sanborn mentored two Lafayette students from the class of 2001 who received departmental honors for a senior thesis, followed by a major academic grant.

Glacel received a Fulbright grant to study in Russia for ten months. She also earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa; Dobro Slovo, the national Slavic honor society; and Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society.

“Professor Sanborn is amazing,” says Glacel. “He expects you to do a lot of reading, to know a lot, to process a lot, and to express your opinions a lot. But he is willing to put in twice as much work as you do, if not more. He’s available all the time. He’ll take any little thing that you have a question about and talk with you personally to work on it.”

Shannon Tyburczy, also a summa cum laude graduate with a bachelor’s degree, majoring in both Russian and East European studies and history, received a James Madison Fellowship for prospective teachers. She also graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Dobro Slovo, and Phi Alpha Theta.

“I could always go in and talk to Professor Sanborn, who spent a lot of time helping me,” says Tyburczy. “I don’ t know whether another school could have given me the opportunity where I could walk into his office and go over every page of my thesis, then hand it over to the review committee and get it back after the weekend.”

“He cares about all of his students,” adds Glacel. “I can’t say how many hours he spent with Shannon and me and how many times we had doubts about our theses that he talked through with us. He’s brilliant and very enthusiastic about what he’s doing.”

Sanborn has written numerous articles and reviews for academic journals, including Slavic Review, Kritika: Explorations in Eurasian History, Revolutionary Russia, Russian History/Histoire Russe, Canadian Ethnic Studies/Etudes Ethniques au Canada, and Journal of Modern History, as well as for edited volumes in his field, including essays last year in Military and Society in Russia and History in Dispute, Volume 8: World War I, First Series. He has given presentations at a number of conferences, including Conference in Honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize, Great War Society Convention, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies Convention, American Historical Association Convention, Western Social Science Association Conference, Russian and Soviet Studies Workshop, Nations and Nationalism Workshop, Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, and an international colloquium on “Russia in the First World War” held in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Among the classes Sanborn has taught at Lafayette are Introduction to the Modern World; Imperial Russia; 20th Century Russia; Imperialism, Nationalism and Communism in the Balkans; and a seminar on Stalinism.

A member of the Lafayette faculty since 1999, Sanborn holds a Ph.D. in Russian history from University of Chicago, a master’s degree in history from University of Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree with a major in history from Stanford University.

Categorized in: Academic News