Dan Healey

University Professor of History, University of Oxford

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?

I first travelled to the USSR in March 1974, as a high-school student in a History group from small-town Ontario. Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, social democracy was in the air, and Canada was at ease in its relations with Communist countries. I taught myself Cyrillic and a few words of Russian and became fascinated with the language. It led me to a BA in Russian Language and Literature at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1981. I then had an 8-year career in the student travel industry, and I escorted tour groups to the USSR during the Gorbachev years. The changes I saw propelled me back to academic study of Russia.

How have your interests changed since then?

In graduate school (Toronto again!) I was fascinated by the unwritten history of homosexuality in modern Russia and I hoped that fieldwork in the opening archives of the 1990s would enable this unusual project. I was very lucky to have marvellous supervisors (Lynne Viola, Susan Gross Solomon) whose confidence and rigor put wind in my sails. Queer history took me down many pathways: the history of Russian and Soviet medicine, of psychiatry, of police and penal institutions, of masculinity.

What is your current research/work project?

I have a long-delayed book-in-progress on the history of medical care in the Gulag camps. If I mention it here it will force me to get moving and put a smile on my editor’s face! My forthcoming book, however, is titled Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), which examines nine ‘case histories’ that reveal the origins and evolution of homophobic attitudes in modern Russia. I assert that the nation’s contemporary homophobia can be traced back to the particular experience of revolution, political terror and war its people endured after 1917. The book explores the roots of homophobia in the Gulag, the rise of a visible queer presence in Soviet cities after Stalin, and the political battles since 1991 over whether queer Russians can be valued citizens. I also reflect on the problems of ‘memorylessness’ for Russia’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) movement more broadly and the obstacles it faces in trying to write its own history. The book makes use of little-known source material – much of it untranslated archival documentation – to explore how Russians have viewed same-sex love and gender transgression since the mid-20th century.

What do you value about your ASEEES membership?

The friendships I’ve made, and the conversations I’ve had at ASEEES conventions have been some of the most interesting and exciting encounters of my professional career. There’s no doubt that the organisation inspires and energises me year after year. And I met my husband at ASEEES: Mark Cornwall in Boston in 1996. He’s the Eastern European ‘fox’ to my Russian ‘hedgehog’ (with apologies to Isaiah Berlin).

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

I am slowly working my way through the novels of Michel Tremblay in the original Québécois. There are as many characters in them as in Tolstoy’s worlds, so it’s a challenge.