Publication Date

June 24, 2015

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily



AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Todayfeatures a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

MayaLisa Holzman is a Mellon-CES Dissertation Completion Fellow and a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has been a member since 2014.Holzman_photo

Alma maters: BA, Brown University, 2006; PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, expected 2015

Fields of interest: Russian and Soviet history, youth, gender and women, Second World War

When did you first develop an interest in history?

I cannot remember when I was not interested in history. Growing up, I loved reading historical fiction and nonfiction, looking at maps, and imagining what it was like to grow up in some past era. I became interested in Russia, especially WWII, in high school, although I also had a fascination with medieval history. However, once I took a Russian history course with Tom Gleason at Brown University, I was hooked and never looked back.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am currently finishing my dissertation on the social and political dynamics of Soviet guerrilla resistance against German occupation in the western borderlands during the Second World War. In particular, I am looking at the role of youth in the partisan movement and the Communist Party’s propaganda war against the German army’s mobilization of young men and women for labor and into nationalist movements. I argue that political work was essential for preserving Soviet authority in the borderlands among potentially disloyal Soviet civilians and partisans by maintaining their connection to Soviet ideology and political institutions.

Have your interests changed since graduation? If so, how?

My interests have definitely expanded during grad school, and the questions I am exploring in my dissertation evolved after I visited the archives in Russia. I started graduate school intending to study the Siege of Leningrad and ended up writing my master’s thesis and dissertation on the Soviet partisan movement, but I would say my core interest in how people and the Soviet Union survived the war on the Eastern Front is still essentially the same.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941–1945, compiled from Vasily Grossman’s notebooks from his time as a war correspondent on the front lines, is a fascinating read and great teaching tool. It brings to life the reality of war on the Eastern Front, and Grossman’s descriptive writing is so effective for provoking discussion with students.

What do you value most about the history profession?

For me, history has always been about understanding people and imagining myself in a different place and time. It teaches empathy and encourages students to consider multiple perspectives before arriving at a conclusion. Even if they choose a different major or career path, I hope that studying history enables students to engage in critical thinking, to challenge accepted paradigms, and to understand different viewpoints and historical processes.

Why did you join the AHA?

Honestly, I cannot imagine being in the history profession and not being a member of the AHA.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

I am passionate about nature and the outdoors, especially cycling. I find that I am much more productive when I am able to get outside and go for a bike ride; lately I’ve been thinking through my current dissertation chapter while riding out in the countryside. Cycling has also introduced me to a whole new community and it is always interesting (and usually refreshing) to hear how those outside academia view the history profession.

Any final thoughts?

Many other historians have pointed to the current crises facing our profession. Despite the challenges, however, it’s also an exciting time given new modes of thinking and technological innovations. I’m looking forward to being part of these future discussions and shifting popular conceptions of history.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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