Russian Major Wins Lankford Award for Thesis on Soviet Myths

By Rain Surname ’99 | August 30, 2018

Russian major Brandon Marrow ’18 has won the prestigious William T. Lankford III Humanities Award for his thesis on mythic and historical narratives in Soviet Russia.

The award honors Prof. Bill Lankford [English and humanities 1977–83], who believed that devoted teaching can transform the lives of young people and prepare them to become better citizens of the world. In keeping with that tradition, Brandon worked with Russian students at the Kelly Elementary school during his time at Reed, and will be going to Russia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.

Brandon wrote his thesis, “Life as on the First Day of Creation: Historical and Poetic Myths about the First Soviet Agricultural Commune in Siberia” with Prof. Evgenii Bershtein [Russian 1999-] who said, “by its scholarly sophistication, scope, and depth of research, his project resembles a Ph.D. dissertation draft rather than a B.A. thesis.” He went on to say “it is clear to me that Brandon Marrow has the potential to become a leading scholar in the field of Russian cultural and literary history.”

Brandon analyzed historical and literary narratives about the first Soviet agricultural commune in Siberia. He traced how official Soviet histories first produced a hackneyed Socialist Realist “optimistic tragedy,” portraying the fallen and defeated communards as revolutionary heroes, only to have this narrative revised by poet Olga Berggolts and  film director Evgenii Shiffers, who reimagined the story of the commune as a national religious mystery play rooted in Russian utopian and eschatological folklore.

“I am grateful for the relationships I formed with my thesis advisor, Prof. Zhenya Bershtein, and Prof. Leah Goldman [history 2016-18], both of whom supported me in my efforts to tell the long and convoluted story of the first Soviet agricultural commune,” Brandon told us. “Most of all, I would like to thank my girlfriend, Erin McConnell ’16, who edited and helped revise my thesis all the while putting up with my stress. Without her unconditional love, I would have forgotten to leave the library and spend time with loved ones.”

The Lankford Award is given to students of history and literature who have outstanding academic records and great potential for further achievement. Upon his return from Russia, Brandon plans to continue to work with Russian-speaking émigrés in the United States, using chess as a tool by which to explore the intersection of Russian and American cultures.

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