Susan Layton

Research Associate, Centre d’études des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen (CERCEC)

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

My love of Russian literature began with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in a world literature course in high school in Indianapolis. The desire to read works in the original led me to take Russian as an undergraduate at Indiana University. I then completed an interdisciplinary M.A. program in Russian and East European Studies at Yale and went on to obtain a Ph.D. from the Slavic Department in 1972. During the M.A. phase, I participated in a study trip to the Soviet Union. The itinerary included Piatigorsk, Sochi, and other towns in the Caucasus, a region that made a big impression on me, an Indiana native who had never seen a mountain. My teaching career in the US was spent mainly at Tulane University and ended with a stimulating position as a Mellon Fellow at Columbia University’s Heyman Center for the Humanities in 1981-83. Shortly afterwards, I turned down a job offer in the US to move to Paris to marry Jacques Melitz, an economist, and for many years now I have been a research associate of CERCEC.

What is your current research project?

My work has concentrated on 19th-century Russian literature, with special attention to the artistic expression of imperial consciousness, as exemplified in my book Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy (1994; eBook 2011). In September this year, Academic Studies Press published my Contested Russian Tourism: Cosmopolitanism, Nation and Empire in the Nineteenth Century, a literary, cultural history that examines Russian leisure travel, at home and abroad, through the prism of cosmopolitanism, pitted against provinciality and nationalist anxiety about the allure of Western Europe. The study’s central thematic axis sets daunting cultural riches of the West against the compensatory Russian pleasure of playing the “European” colonizer on vacation in “Asia” — the North Caucasus, Georgia, and the Crimea. The treatment of domestic tourism privileges the Russian side of the imperial encounter. I sought, however, to engage the Eurasian component of the ASEEES agenda by opening dialogues with scholars now investigating Russian literary, cultural relations with Georgians, Azeris, and other non-Slavic peoples of the empire during the imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet eras.

What support have you received throughout your career that has allowed you to advance your scholarship?

During my career, I have had the good fortune to receive grants from the American Philosophical Society, the Kennan Institute, and IREX, including a 10-month research sojourn in Leningrad in 1979-80. Most recently, in February 2020, I benefited from participation in the Open Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That award allowed me to supplement research for the tourism book, and it came just in time to permit the transatlantic journey before Covid struck. Since moving to Europe, I have attended few conferences overseas but continue to find my ASEEES membership indispensable not only for Slavic Review but also NewsNet and other postings that keep me in touch with the American scene.

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

I enjoy reading, walking and jogging in the nearby Bois de Boulogne, listening to music, playing the piano, going to art museums, and traveling, especially in France and Italy.