The Institute for Advanced Study, where Albert Einstein lived and worked after he fled to the US, recently invited a Bowdoin professor of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies to give a talk about her recent research and latest book, Red Hangover: Legacies of 20th Century Communism.
Kristen Ghodsee, in a talk called “The Left Side of History: World War II and Re-emergent Nationalisms in Contemporary Eastern Europe,” spoke about “contemporary European memory projects” and what they reveal about World War II and the Cold War.
Since the global financial crisis in 2008, countries once locked behind the Iron Curtain have increasingly drifted to the far right, vilifying their state socialist pasts to exonerate nationalist heroes once condemned for their collaboration with Nazi Germany. Politicians and scholars strategically deploy historical knowledge as a tool to quash growing domestic opposition to the economic upheavals and insecurities of the post-socialist era.
Using the individual tales of Frank Thompson, a British Special Operations executive officer who parachuted into Axis-occupied Yugoslavia in January 1944, and Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female partisan fighting in Bulgaria during the Second World War, Ghodsee explored the experience, perception, and remembrance of 20th-century communism and the widespread disillusionment with the dreams of democracy and free markets post 1989.
Ghodsee’s research focuses on the gendered effects of the economic transition from communism to capitalism and the ethnographic study of post-communist nostalgia in Eastern Europe. In her current works, Ghodsee experiments with ethnographic fiction, auto-ethnography and photo-ethnography to produce intimate narratives and images of the disorienting impacts on daily life caused by the collapse of communism. She is the author of seven books and over two dozen articles, including Red Hangover, forthcoming with Duke University Press.