SovExpo: The Russian Revolution and Its Legacy at Yale University Library

Russion Revolution and Its Legacy at Yale University Library
September 1, 2017

2017 marks the centennial of the Russian Revolution, one of the most consequential events of the 20th century. Not only did the revolution irrevocably alter Russian national identity and cultural life, but its effects would shape global affairs to the present day. With U.S.-Russian relations becoming front-page news once again, it is essential to reexamine and reassess what we think we know about Russia and its history.

To commemorate this monumental occasion, library staff are arranging an exposition called SovExpo: the Russian Revolution and its Legacy at Yale University Library. On September 27, from 4-6 PM, temporary displays of library collection materials will be available for public view at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Sterling Memorial Library, Gilmore Music Library, Haas Arts Library, CSSSI, and the Medical Historical Library.

Each site will feature items from its unique collections that serve to contextualize the events of 1917 and their aftermath. Extraordinary avant-garde publications, archives of émigrés and observers, materials relating to Soviet education and design, and U.S. government documents are just a few examples of collections that will be featured. The exposition will be followed by a reception in the nave of Sterling Memorial Library, where the Yale Russian Chorus will perform songs from the revolutionary period at 6:30 PM.  

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Room 013) will feature classic examples of the Russian avant-garde from the pre-revolutionary period to the early decades of the Soviet Union. The work of artistic icons including El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Vladimir Mayakovsky will be featured alongside unique artifacts pertaining to the deposed Romanov family.

The Center for Science and Social Science Information (CSSSI), 24-hour space and Lower Level) will display U.S. government documents and political commentary, portraying a period of time in which U.S. officials and public intellectuals attempted to understand Soviet life and ideology as it developed. There will also be materials pertaining to two prominent Soviet émigré inventors, Leon Theremin and Igor Sikorsky. Jack Vees, Director of the Center for Studies in Music Technology, will be demonstrating Leon Theremin’s instrument and giving a brief lecture on Theremin and his invention’s significance at 4:30 and 5:30 PM. Guests are encouraged to try playing the theremin between sessions!

Gilmore Music Library (Mezzanine, Room MML 101B) will show selections from print and archival collections, including the papers of Vladimir Horowitz, Thomas de Hartmann, and Leo Ornstein, whose lives and careers were profoundly affected by the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Their stories are featured alongside music created to honor the October Revolution by composers like Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. Selections from the Historical Sound Recordings collection will bring these works to life, and doctoral student Knar Abrahamyan will speak about Shostakovich at 4:30 and 5:30 PM.

Haas Arts Library (Special Collections Classroom) will display collections relating to the scope of applied and performing arts before and after the revolution, including the worlds of dance, theater, architecture, and design, illustrating the role Soviet ideology would come to play in the aesthetics of everyday life. The display also explores the revolution’s impact on the worlds of art collecting and cultural property, issues that are newly relevant today.

Manuscripts and Archives (SML International Room) will feature letters, photographs, and memorabilia belonging to observers who witnessed and experienced the revolution firsthand. The collections also offer insight into reactions from Yale’s students, faculty, and staff as they followed the events of 1917 and their outcomes.

The Medical Historical Library (Reading Room) will show a rare portfolio of posters created by the People’s Commissariat for Health in 1928. Titled Venereal Diseases and the Fight Against Them, this portfolio was designed for exhibition and use in public lectures, and was distributed throughout the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Highlighting the influence of this unique Soviet model for public health education, Maternity Care in Pictures, published in 1939 by the Maternity Care Association in New York, is on view to illustrate shared aspects of the Soviet design.