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Karen Petrone

Research Interests:
Russian and Soviet history; gender history; cultural history; war and memory

Ph.D., Michigan, 1994



Karen Petrone is Professor of History and inaugural Director of the Cooperative for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Kentucky. She served as Chair of the Department of History from 2011-2015 and 2016-2020 and was named College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor in 2017-2018. Her primary research interests are cultural history, gender history, propaganda, war and memory, and the history of subjectivity and everyday life, especially in Russia and the Soviet Union.

Her book The Great War in Russian Memory (Indiana University Press, 2011) challenges the notion that World War I was a forgotten war in the Soviet Union.  She argues that although the war was not officially commemorated by the Soviet state, it was the subject of lively discourse about religion, heroism, violence and patriotism during the interwar period.  The book then traces how this discourse disappeared due to the growing militarization of the Soviet state in the 1930s.  This work broadens Petrone's expertise on the culture of the Soviet interwar period, a subject she first explored in her book on Stalinist celebrations in the 1930s, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin (Indiana University Press, 2000).


Both in the project on World War I memory and in a series of other on-going projects, Petrone explores issues of gender. She has co-edited a volume of essays in comparative history with Jie-Hyun Lim of Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea, entitled Gender Politics in Mass Dictatorship: Global Perspectives (Palgrave, 2011).  She has engaged with several collaborations with Choi Chatterjee on the development of gender history in post-Soviet Russia, as well as on Soviet subjectivities.


Karen Petrone has co-written a textbook with Kenneth Slepyan for Oxford University Press, using primary documents to narrate Soviet history from 1939-2000. She has co-edited a book on Everyday Life in Russia: Past and Present with Choi Chatterjee, Mollie Cavender, and David Ransel. 


Petrone is working on a manuscript entitled Reading War Memory in Putin’s Russia, under contract with Indiana University Press. Reading War Memory in Putin’s Russia provides a detailed analysis of how depictions of war memory in the Russian Federation build contemporary Russian national identity and weave this identity into a mythologized and militarized Russian past. It is a close reading of Russian war memory since the year 2000, a primer on how to study war memory in any time or place, and a manifesto on why studying war memory is crucial to the understanding of history, politics, and society. While this work endeavors to illuminate methods and concepts that come from a wide variety of scholarly disciplines, the study of memory is inherently an examination of the relationship of the present to the past, and so historical methods will figure prominently in the analysis.  


When it is possible to do archival research again, Petrone hopes to conduct research for her next book, tentatively entitled War Memory, National Mobilization, and Gender in the Soviet Union and Russia, 1945-2000, which extends her analysis of war memory back into the Soviet and

immediate post-Soviet periods. Together, these two books demonstrate the trajectory from Soviet post-WWII celebrations of patriotism, heroism, and manliness that upheld Soviet rule to a more democratic war memory during the revolutionary years of 1985-2000. In this more open era, war memory undermined notions that war is patriotic, heroic, and manly, and allowed more sober assessments of war to emerge in the public sphere. Since 2000, Putin’s government has been reconsolidating the power that had been dispersed by this political revolution. Contemporary Russian war memory has reinforced the remilitarization, reheroization, and remasculinization of the Russian nation. This research shows that war memory is an essential tool in upholding both Soviet and post-Soviet authoritarian rule and in making war “thinkable” in the 20th and 21st centuries.