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Creating a “Living Archive” on the Collapse of the Soviet Union

“The collapse of the USSR was one of the most significant events of the last decades of the twentieth century ---especially if you understand the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the end of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe as but part of the “first act” of this “drama.” - Prof. Olcott

The goals of our project, the Living Archive, are to both create a vitally important archive of primary sources that outline the collapse of the USSR as well as to provide students with the chance to get hands on experience with researching, archiving, and writing about this in-depth event. The Living Archive is creating a first of its kind, publicly accessible digital archive that documents the events surrounding the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the severe economic and social challenges that followed.

“This project should allow us to better understand the how and why this system fell apart, and maybe better understand warning signs in other political systems—even those with very different ideologies and political and economic systems, such as our own.” - Prof. Olcott

Support student researchers and help to preserve critical history!

The Living Archive has a profound impact on the student researchers and project team members. It adds value to James Madison College’s living-learning environment, it enriches their relationships with fellow students and professors, and it is a transformational experience during their undergraduate education.

“Growing up in a Ukrainian, Russian-speaking household made me who I am today. However, moving to campus brought the fear of not being able to keep up with my language skills. Joining the Living Archive has been the opportunity of a lifetime. Through this project I have been able to maintain my language and heritage, especially now at a time of critical importance given the Russian war in Ukraine. I have also been able to improve my language skills, from translating documents to helping Russian-speaking presenters, the Living Archive has allowed me to integrate myself back into the Russian-speaking world while allowing me to develop professional research and administrative skills that the project offers.” – David Rabinkov, JMC expected graduation 2026

This archive makes Michigan State University a major source for media on the final years of the U.S.S.R., the 14 independent states which emerged, contested border regions, and the Russian Federation. It also strengthens MSU’s claim to be a leading center and repository for publicly accessible Digital Humanities collections. The ambition of the project speaks to the academic excellence of Madison College, our students, and our professors. The Living Archive adds to the international impact of the College and MSU.

Your donation will support our students work to preserve archival materials.

The Living Archive is a teaching and research tool primarily developed by students in JMC and other parts of MSU. It highlights key events on regional maps containing a map, timelines, and student-written stories highlighting significant events during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Each event is accompanied by a narrative and is identified by category and republic, and offers additional primary source materials from the archive to allow users to see these materials for themselves, as they were being reported on at the time.

Funds support the work of student researchers to develop and curate content in the Living Archive. Students label, scan, create metadata, and map content for the project website. They also research and write stories about events and critical turning points in Soviet and post-Soviet history using materials from the archive with other sources they find online. Students translate this content to make connections that others view on the project website.

“My time with the Living Archive has been an integral experience for me during my undergraduate studies. The work has taught me so much about how archival research is conducted and the importance of what we are doing on this project. Working with various people has given me a much more informed and broader perspective of the various components of academic projects; whether working with Project Managers, Librarians, or Professors. Almost every other research position I have taken on during my studies has been unpaid. Being paid for this work not only helps me pay for groceries, it also makes me feel that what I am doing is important, and not just for the goal of academic studies like any other class. I recently took a more managerial role with the project, which coupled with being able to use Russian professionally has been a valuable, fulfilling experience. Overall, I am ecstatic and grateful for being able to take part in this project, and I hope that my colleagues who are just beginning their studies will be able to enjoy this same privilege in the future.” – Matt LaBounty, IH and Russian 2022

“Being new to GIS software, I was interested in that aspect of the project. Turns out there was a lot of work, and thus I somewhat organically took over the mapping part of the project. I feel that I can make a lasting positive impact on the project and that my work has true value. Additionally, it has helped me more to appreciate and see the things others are good at. Watching the work being done on the stories for the project, the back-end work with the project’s data, and the student managers keeping the whole thing rolling has really impressed me.” - Gage Mosher, IR 2020

Who We Are

We are a group of undergraduate, graduate, and recently graduated student researchers working under the supervision of faculty at JMC to research and document the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Student assistants provide the backbone for The Living Archive lead by JMC Profs. Martha Olcott and Matt Zierler along with MSU Librarians and the Digital Scholarship Lab. Over a dozen students have already graduated and are alumni of the project. Many have strong Russian language or area skills, and several are preparing for graduate education in digital humanities or data science.

“One thing that I love about the Living Archive that I could not (or typically would not) get from coursework is the experience of working on interdepartmental projects. Working directly with experts at the library, in the history department, and even at another university is such a unique opportunity to get during undergrad.” – Bridie McBride, CCP 2020

Make a Gift by Mail:

University Advancement
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535 Chestnut Road, Room 300
East Lansing, MI 48824

*Make check payable to Michigan State University and write “Appeal 23OOPCF1GTLIVAR” in the note section.

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