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The Gulag: What We Know Now and Why It Matters


The Soviet Gulag system was established in 1918 after the Russian Revolution, expanded under Stalin across the 1930s and into the war years, and did not reach its height until the early 1950s. Some 18 million people passed through this system and an estimated 4.5 million did not survive it. We now understand far better what the Gulag was, how it evolved, what purposes it served, how many people lived and died within it. Yet what do we really remember of the camp system? What do Russians remember? And how does that memory, or the lack of it, affect Russian politics today?

Anne Applebaum is a journalist, prize-winning historian, staff writer for The Atlantic, and senior fellow at the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, where she coleads a project on twenty-first-century disinformation. Her books include Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine; Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944–1956; and Gulag: A History, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. Her most recent book is the New York Times bestseller Twilight of Democracy, an essay on democracy and authoritarianism. She was a Washington Post columnist for fifteen years and a member of the editorial board; she has also been the deputy editor of the Spectator and a columnist for several British newspapers. Her writing has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy, among many other publications.

The Franke Lectures in the Humanities are made possible by the generosity of Richard and Barbara Franke, and are intended to present important topics in the Humanities to a wide and general audience.

The fall 2021 Franke Lectures in the Humanities have been organized in conjunction with the Yale College seminar “Mass Incarceration in the Soviet Union and the United States” taught by Timothy Snyder and Jason Stanley.

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