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The Hughesovka Research Archive: A Donbass Symphony

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Within the collections of the Glamorgan Archives is housed a peculiar stockpile of personal documents, photographs, and belongings relating to a relatively little-known episode in the history of South Wales: the outmigration of Welsh industrial labour to the mining settlement of Hughesovka in Southern Russia (now Eastern Ukraine) at the end of the nineteenth – beginning of the twentieth century.

This collection, the Hughesovka Research Archive, offers glimpses of British migrant life on the Russian steppe, a destination that many hoped would provide a means of personal enrichment and upward mobility at a time of industrial contraction and depression in South Wales. The letters home and memoirs, written for the most part by women who, as scholars of migrant epistolarity have shown, were often responsible for maintaining transnational “webs of affection and obligation,” are the focus of this paper. These documents reveal the diverse strategies deployed by individuals to negotiate cultural identity in emigration: from ethnographic commentary that draws on the traditions of nineteenth-century travelogue writing to shore up a sense of collective self thrown into flux by the act of crossing national borders; to the narration of everyday mundanities that lend the writings an oral quality, an intimacy and intensity, which, as a form of speech act, help enforce family discipline and sustain social networks at distance.

Alongside her academic research, Dr Donovan will also discuss her public engagement project, ‘Enthusiasm’. This innovative, interdisciplinary one-day arts event brought together musicians, members of the community, archivists and historians to take a radical look at a little-known historical episode that links Merthyr and the South Wales Valleys to the Donbas in Ukraine and asks how the legacy of this past continues to resonate in our social, cultural and political landscape today.

As part of the Enthusiasm project a new soundtrack to Dziga Vertov’s 1931 film Enthusiasm: The Donbass Symphony was commissioned from Welsh composer Simon Gore (film provided courtesy Austrian Film Museum). The full, hour-long performance was premiered at ‘Enthusiasm’ in Merthyr Tydfil on 1st July 2017. An excerpt from the performance can be viewed here. A film screening of Vertov’s Enthusiasm with the original soundtrack will take place on Thursday, October 11, at 6pm in the Raised Faculty Building, Room 142 (MML Faculty, Sidgwick Site).

This talk is the second in a series of events focusing on the entanglements of history, memory and identity in Central and Eastern Europe, sponsored by the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies (CamCREES). The event will be hosted by Tadek Wojtych, a PhD student in the Faculty of History researching politics of history and memory in Central and Eastern Europe.

Dr Victoria Donovan (St Andrews) is a cultural historian of Russia whose research explores local identities, heritage politics, and the cultural memory of the Soviet past in twenty-first century Russia. She has published research articles in Russian and English-language journals, including Antropologicheskii forum, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, Slavonica, and Slavic Review. She is currently finalizing her monograph ‘Chronicles in Stone: Preservation, Patriotism and Identity in the Russian Northwest’. She is leading several impact projects at the University of St Andrews and was selected as one of the BBC /AHRC New Generation Thinkers. In this role, she has been developing topics from her research for radio and television.

This talk is part of the Slavonic Studies series.

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