Monday, July 14, 2008

A historiography of empathy?

At the Guardian, Guy Damman interviews Orlando Figes about the role of empathy in his research for The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia:
With a team of researchers from Memorial, the Russian historical and civil rights organisation, he assembled nearly 500 interviews - many lasting as long as three days - with survivors of Stalin's rule. Far from being files tucked away neatly in dusty archives, these sources were living and breathing witnesses to the whispers and dreams that bore the burden of subjectivity's fragile survival under Stalin.

"There were certain rules of listening and talking that we children had to learn," one of the witnesses, the daughter of a Bolshevik official in the Volga port of Saratov, told Figes. "What we overheard the adults say in a whisper, or what we heard them say behind our backs, we knew we could not repeat ... No one explained to us that what was spoken might be dangerous politically, but somehow we understood."

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