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Student and professor study social transformation in post-Soviet children´s literature

A joint research project of Slavic Studies Professor Andrea Lanoux and Nathaniel Pope ´12 is helping them understand how Russian children´s literature has evolved since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their research took them to St. Petersburg, Russia over the summer where they spent a month analyzing books at the Central Municipal Children´s Library-home to more than 500,000 volumes. See a slide show of the research trip here.

Lanoux and Pope plan to continue the project throughout the year and then co-author and publish an article about their findings. "We hit the ground running," Lanoux said of their trip. "Nate looked at several dozen books each day and collected bibliographic information, while I reviewed sources, gathered statistical information and interviewed a wide range of professionals, including librarians, bibliographers and publishers." Their extensive research led them to surprising conclusions.

"The changes in Russian children´s literature over the past two decades have been astounding," Lanoux explained. "Russian children´s literature in the 1990s was largely derivative of Western models, but that is no longer the case. There now is a new post-Soviet literature for children that reflects many of the social values of the Soviet era, while portraying the experiences of young people living in Russia today."

Pope also discovered that there has been an explosion in the number of genres available to children since 1991. For example, prior to 1991, Russian children read mostly nursery rhymes, fairy tales and adventure tales. Today they are reading children´s detective novels and fantasy literature, and some completely new genres have appeared, including sex education literature, horror novels, "advice" literature for girls and social novels for young adults. Some Russians aren´t pleased about the changes. "There is a large degree of anxiety about the fact that children´s literature is no longer a controlled industry and that no one is ´in charge´ of organizing and producing children literature," Lanoux said.

Like many Connecticut College professors, Lanoux enjoys working closely with her students, and says students add an important element to academic research. "Undergraduates have a unique and valuable perspective. They are able to see things with fresh eyes, and they often come up with creative, insightful ways to look at things. Working with Nate on this project has been a great experience," she said. For Pope, a Slavic studies major, it was a summer well spent--in research and in using his Russian language skills. "There isn´t a better opportunity to get a feel for real, meaningful scholarly research, and just seeing how Professor Lanoux went about the whole process was extremely beneficial," Pope said. "This project also gave me a real sense that what I´m studying is relevant and useful."

August 25, 2010