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Louis Howard Porter

Assistant Professor of History, Texas State University

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

I first became interested in studying Russia in a serious way when I took a first-year seminar with Tom Newlin at Oberlin College on reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I then signed up to take the Russian language the next semester. Tom made both the literature and language fun and not at all intimidating. Some of my best buds in college were also Russian majors, which did not hurt. On a deeper level, my race and family heritage have always made me interested in history, particularly in questions of race and class. So, I decided to double major in history and Russian language as an undergraduate. After graduation, I put these two things together and went to graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill. My advisor, Don Raleigh, encouraged me to pursue whatever research topic interested me. I did and somehow ended up studying Soviet involvement in UNESCO.

What support have you received throughout your career (from ASEEES/other societies/federal support/etc.) that has allowed you to advance your scholarship?  

I have been the beneficiary of a lot of generous funding over the years. In addition to several smaller grants, UNC awarded me a merit fellowship, a FLAS, and a writing fellowship so that I could complete my dissertation. For research in Russia, I received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Fellowship and an American Councils Title VIII Research Scholar Program Grant (which I did not use). I recently won a Research Enhancement Program (REP) Grant from Texas State University, which will help me to go to the League of Nations archives this summer.

What is your current research or work project? 

My current book project, Reds in Blue: Soviet Encounters with International Organizations, uses Soviet participation in UNESCO to provide a social, cultural, and intellectual history of Soviet engagement with a noncommunist international organization during the Cold War. In particular, I detail how Soviet citizens beyond the diplomatic corps reacted to ideas of world governance, world civic duty, and the international community at the heart of such institutions.

What does your ASEEES membership mean to you? How has your involvement with ASEEES helped to further your career? 

ASEEES has helped my career immensely. In 2017, I won the graduate student essay prize, which was a nice surprise. In 2019, I won the Tucker-Cohen Prize for my dissertation. The latter prize radically changed my experience on the job market. It gave me some hope in a very difficult period. For that, I will always be thankful to ASEEES and Stephen Cohen for their generosity. I think the organization does a great job putting on conferences and its staff has always been very helpful.

How do you envision your current research projects within the broader field of SEEES? 

My current research project seeks to apply new directions in global history to studies of Soviet foreign policy in order to show how international organizations influenced Soviet domestic society. It also seeks to highlight the roles that culture, ideas, and micro-power relations play in diplomacy. Thus, I want to make my work relevant to intellectual, social, and cultural historians in addition to diplomatic historians. I also want to show that diplomacy takes place among real people in real, social spaces. These realities are often invisible in traditional diplomatic histories. I am interested in this behind-the-scenes—the people who bring diplomats their coffee and take out their trash; the ways in which the heat in Washington, D.C. in the summer made it unbearable for the families of Soviet diplomats; and the people who took care of the kids of the diplomats during the workday. In short, I see my work as a history of diplomacy from below and giving diplomacy a human face. I hope that adds something to a field formed in the dehumanizing antagonisms of the Cold War.

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

Most of all, I enjoy hanging out with my spouse and son at home. I also enjoy eating BBQ, running trails, and anything in the wilderness (hiking, camping, canoeing). As a former competitive swimmer, I will swim in any body of water no matter what the temperature or sanitation. This pertains to Russia, where I swam in waterholes cut out of the ice of the Neva and Volga during the winter months.