Washington History Seminar: "Defectors: How the Illicit Flight of Soviet Citizens Built the Borders of the Cold War World"

Event Details

End: December 18, 2023
Contact: rwheatley@historians.org

Defectors, the new book by award-winning historian Erik R. Scott, shows how the Cold War treatment of those fleeing the Communist world shaped present-day restrictions on cross-border movement. This far-ranging study charts a global struggle over defectors that unfolded among rival intelligence agencies operating in the shadows of an occupied Europe, in the forbidden border zones of the USSR, in the disputed straits of the South China Sea, on a hijacked plane 10,000 feet in the air, and around the walls of Soviet embassies. Challenging our conventional understanding of Cold War divisions, it reveals that the competition for defectors paved the way for collusion between the superpowers, who found common cause in regulating the spaces through which defectors moved.

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Erik R. Scott is Associate Professor of History at the University of Kansas, the Director of KU’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and the Editor of The Russian Review. A scholar of Russian and Soviet history, the Cold War, comparative empires, and global migration, his publications include Familiar Strangers: The Georgian Diaspora and the Evolution of Soviet Empire (Oxford University Press, 2016), “Bordering Transnationalism: Soviet History Across the Globe” (American Historical Review, March 2023), and “The Hijacking of Aeroflot Flight 244: States and Statelessness in the Late Cold War” (Past & Present, May 2019).

Francine Hirsch is the Alice D. Mortenson/Petrovich Distinguished Chair of Russian History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she teaches courses on Soviet history, Modern European history, and the history of human rights. She received her PhD in History from Princeton University in 1998. Her first book, Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union (2005), received several awards, including the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association and the Wayne S. Vucinich Prize of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her second book, Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal after World War II (2020), won four book prizes including the George Louis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association and the 2021 Certificate of Merit for a Preeminent Contribution to Creative Scholarship from the American Society for International Law. Hirsch has also published op-eds and thought pieces in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, Time, Lawfare, Just Security, and other outlets. Her new book project investigates the history of Russian-American-German entanglement, with a focus on economics, science, culture, and diplomacy.

Amy Knight earned her PhD degree in Russian politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1977. She has taught at the LSE, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and also worked for eighteen years at the U.S. Library of Congress as a Soviet/Russian affairs specialist. Knight has written over 30 scholarly articles and has contributed numerous pieces on Russian politics and history to the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and The Daily Beast. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly. She is the author of six books: The KGB: Police and Politics in the Soviet Union (Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1988); Beria: Stalin’s First Lieutenant (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Spies Without Cloaks: The KGB’s Successors (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); Who Killed Kirov? The Kremlin’s Greatest Mystery (New York: Hill and Wang, June 1999); How the Cold War Began: the Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, (Carroll & Graf, 2006); and Orders To Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder (St. Martin’s Press, 2017).