Benjamin Nathans

Alan Charles Kors Term Associate Professor of History


I am a student of modern Russian, Jewish, and European history.  The book I’m currently writing, To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause: A History of the Soviet Dissident Movement, traces the paths by which Soviet dissidents found their way to the doctrine of inalienable rights—the world's first universal ideology—and employed rights doctrine in an attempt to place limits on the sovereignty of the Soviet state.  Even as rights have become the dominant moral language of our time, this project seeks to de-familiarize and de-naturalize them by studying them in the unlikely setting of “mature socialism.”  It aims, in other words, to give human rights a history.  My earlier book,  Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter With Late Imperial Russia, explored ethnic and religious fault-lines in the rapidly modernizing tsarist empire.  It has been translated into Russian and Hebrew.  In between these two projects I was part of a team of scholars who designed the recently opened Jewish Museum of Moscow.  History interests me as a way of thinking not only about what happened, but what is happening now.


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