Nicholas Hall

Department: Modern Languages
Discipline: History
Research Centre/Unit: N/A

Project Summary

The organising theme of my research is sincerity. Sincerity, and its close relation, authenticity, are concepts that permeate both the history and historiography of foreigner-Soviet engagement. Both this history and its attendant scholarship show much attention paid to the idea of deceptive guided tours, spies and the secret police, Soviet identity and mentalities, dishonest or misguided fellow travellers, and so on. The historiography has focused, generally, on Soviet institutions and their strategic and tactical objectives and methods, Soviet individual responses to particular pressures of Stalinism, and a few, mostly famous, foreigners' gullibility, insight, and ideological biases.

To make a novel contribution to a very complex scene, I consider numerous contemporary sources for their reflections on sincerity and its challenges for travellers and Soviet citizens alike. I use select sources from travellers who visited the Soviet Union, explored its interior, and engaged with its people in particular ways: they show prolonged, reflective engagement with the challenges of sincerity, manifested in their negotiation or evasion of Soviet cultural diplomacy as they sought some kind of 'real Russia'. They questioned Soviet sincerity, and did so 'sincerely'. I hope to bolster this with Russian-language sources in due course.

This focus on sincerity allows me to consider not only how British travellers perceived the Soviet state and its cultural diplomatic apparatus and their roles as seekers of truth, but also how engagement between traveller and citizen was a meeting between two actors intensely concerned with different challenges relating to sincerity. The thesis thus makes the first steps in exploring closely how the Soviet citizen reacted to foreigners: how they evaded or engaged, what they said, intimated, showed, and how this relates to the specific historical contexts and pressures that the travellers were variously curious about: ideological conformity, everyday life (and its 'tactics'), censorship, violent repression, the Soviet 'New Man', collectivisation, new opportunities for the proletariat, youth participation in Soviet life, and so on. 

I hope that this can offer us some insight into numerous historical phenomena: foreign fascination with Russia/the Soviet Union, the power of direct experience in an ideological debate, the discourse of travel/reportage in a highly politicised environment, and Soviet mentalities under early Stalinism.

I have received funding from the University of Exeter for this work.

Supervisory Team

Dr Emily Lygo

Professor David Thackeray

Wider Research Interests

Beyond foreigner-Soviet encounters, I have a more general interest in the Soviet Union, particularly 1917--53, collectivisation, the Second World War, and issues of Soviet identity, self-expression and so forth. I am also more generally interested in the European inter-war scene, particularly British engagement with foreign causes and ideals and events. I enjoy working with material that deals with the meeting of cultures and mentalities, particularly regarding the USSR as it itself was a meeting of cultures, traditions, concepts and ideologies, of Central/Western Europe and Russia.

I also love engaging with the works of various figures who have dealt in some way with the interplay of enlightenment and romanticism, and History and histories: the millenarian and/or the 'progressive' as contrasted to the personal - Anna Akhmatova, Isaiah Berlin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Goya, Vassily Grossman, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, George Orwell, Boris Pasternak, and Ivan Turgenev.

Authored Publications/Reports

Nicholas Hall (11th August 2016) Gareth Jones, the Soviet peasantry, and the "Real" Russia, 1930--33, Russian Journal of Communication, Special edition. DOI:

Hall, Nicholas (1st January 2018) Gareth Jones, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Hall, Nicholas (2nd July 2020) Review: American Girls in Red Russia, Modern Languages Review, 115:3, 759-60