Behind the Urals by John Scott Term Paper

Pages: 7 (2092 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World

Historiography and Behind the Urals

The study of historiography is the study of the manner in which both methods of studying history and the way history is presented are combined to form a greater understanding of the underlying currents behind historical interpretations. The study includes such elements as the sources of data, who wrote and in what time frame, bias, preconceptions, and audience (Bentley 1999). Of course, within the structure of studying history it is logical to review the elements of what is included as well as what is excluded in making the point-of-view from the author of individual works. There are typically at least three schools of history -- all which have slight differences in both audience and source materials: traditional, revisionist and post-revisionist viewpoints -- and it is the focus that each of these bring that establishes their veracity and point-of-view.

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Traditional history is formed by more of a chronological recounting of the basic happenings of a period or event; the dates, actors, and actions typically told from the viewpoint of scholars or journalists on the side of the party that has at the front of a specific action or era. For example, the traditional history of the American Revolution taught in American classrooms is a retelling of a band of courageous patriots who overthrew the tyranny of the British Crown. Gone were any foibles of the founding fathers, the view from Britain that the rebellion was illegal, and the idea that the colonists resorted to guerilla warfare in order to triumph. Instead, the characters are painted as heroes, the arguments and disagreements are underplayed, and the "history" is more of a recounting of events as the historians want the world to remember -- clearly not false, but not necessarily painting the entire picture (Furay and Salevouris 2000, 42-9).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Behind the Urals by John Scott Assignment

Revisionist history, on the other hand, is more of a reinterpretation of traditional views on history that focus on a reexamination of new evidence, uncovered or omitted evidence, underlying motivations, and materials that take into account more than the standard sources. Typically, the revisionist viewpoint evolves after a period of time giving scholars a greater degree of material and distance with which to make decisions. Additionally, as scientific methods advance (dating of materials, new translation techniques, access to previously denied materials), changes in viewpoint often beg another interpretation of events (McPherson 2003). Using our example of the American Revolution, the revisionists would include materials from the British side, as well as colonial documents from authors not in support of the rebellion, as well as materials that might show the architects of the revolution to be more human than idol.

When vetting documents, one must always keep in mind that history is written by people who often have bias. Since history is an interpretation of events, it is important to know a bit about the authorship of historical materials, combined with the obvious bias of inclusion and exclusion of documents. The post-revisionist approach to history attempts to combine the traditional and revisionist approach, that is the inclusion of a wider set of sources from both sides of the event or era, to form a more balanced approach to the subject at hand. Often this review become controversial, but tends to delve far deeper into the subject matter than simply asking "who, what, and when," and focusing more on the "why and now what" of the event in question, as well as attempting to completely verify the events as depicted by earlier accounts (see, for example, McFee 1999).

Essentially, the gist of the three approaches is a continual examination and reexamination of sources to come to a closer sense of the "truth," although fleeting that truth may be. However, the continual reexamination of data and approach is a healthy pursuit that helps history evolve as a living philosophical discipline that strives for objectivity and attention to the narrative that may change as new and important sources are uncovered.

Behind the Urals - Our discussion about historiography forms the basis of an approach one may take when reading and evaluating sources. Sources for historical discovery may be items as seemingly simple as phonebooks or census lists; they may be laws and trial transcripts, speeches, battle plans, government documents, oral histories, newspapers, or any combination. The key, it seems is to first establish not only the creditability of the source, but the veracity of the evidence. We must also remember that history is fluid, and quite interpretive. For example, two documents that deal with infamous trial or committee hearings; one from the United States, one from the Soviet Union, both sanctioned by the government of the time as being a true and reasonable account of events that took place in their respective times. Reading either one out of context, however, is not only historically dangerous, but does not provide the needed background to properly interpret the events portrayed within the documents. Now, in the case of the Soviet Purge Trials, over 75 years have passed and scholars can see gaping holes in the sources and concocted evidence. Thus, history for one chronological time may be supposition for the next.

John Scott (1912-1976) was an American writer and one of the first Americans to work in the OSS during World War II. He was alleged to be working for the KGB and wrote Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (1989, first published 1941). The plot of the book surrounds Scott's experiences in Magnitogorsk, Russia's so called "City of Industry- or Steel City." Scott presents both the hardships of the time period, and his view of how inspiring collectivism and state socialism were in helping to rebuild the area. Scott is not completely uncritical of the Soviet System; indeed he finds that the price of rapid industrialization was a lack of safety procedures (in their haste to modernize), inefficiency and extensive bureaucracy and the horrific conditions in which the historical peasantry were forced into a new economic system -- willingly or not. The city of Magnitogorsk was important to Soviet Party Leader Josef Stalin because, as part of his 5-year plan to transform the Soviet Union, Stalin needed a project that would emphasize the U.S.S.R.'s ability to modernize. The city was strategically placed away from invasion, and had a tremendous amount of raw materials.

Scott understood that, like any great project, sacrifices must be made in order to achieve greatness. His experiences in hunger and deprivation, however, did not do anything to cause Scott to be anything other than an ardent supporter of Soviet Communism. If we remember the conditions within the United States at the same time (Depression, massive unemployment, virulent racism, etc.) then it is no wonder that Scott stood to promote the ideological policies of Stalin. Scott says that he continued to share a belief with the Soviet people that, "it was worthwhile to shed blood sweat and tears to lay the foundations for a new society father along the road of human progress than anything in the West; a society which would guarantee its people not only personal freedom but absolute income security."

Scott was part of a group of American intellectuals in the early part of the 20th century, many whom were raised by pacifist parents, who looked to the Soviet Union as the new society -- a savior of the human race from the greed and harsh conditions of much of the Developed world. Of course, the excesses of Stalin's regime were unknown at the time, and the harshness of society was not uncommon in the 1920s and 1930s. It was later that the United States, working with the OSS and Great Britain, began to scrutinize its own Project Verona which had far ranging effect in the U.S. Intelligence community. Scott was identified as "Ivanov" in these tapes, and was supposedly supplying the KGB with frequent bits of intelligence about the direction of U.S. policy, troop movements, and nuclear weapon availability. Verona not only outed Scott, but helped convict the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Haynes and Klehr0, 1999, 194-5, 237).

Scott as a Primary Source -- on one level, Scott is a primary source for the events he experienced in Magnitogorsk. Of course, any individual's observations are naturally tainted with their previous experiences as well as what it is they are experiencing. However likely that these experiences were common around Scott does not mean they were consistent in other parts of the country, etc. Much is common sensical -- and could have been written about the building of the Hoover Dam project as well; unsafe conditions, lack of housing, lack of adequate food, temperature discomfort, and more.

The real value of the material, it seems, is his ability to capture what it would actually take to help transform the Tsar's Russia into the Soviet Union. After the revolution, for instance, the Soviet Union was filled with masses of untrained and inexperienced workers who now were tasked with learning how to operate in the iron… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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