Published Date

January 1, 1996

From Why Become a Historian? (1996)

William Paterson College

I was born in Puerto Rico, where I lived until we moved to the mainland in 1960. I attended New York City ghetto schools during the civil rights movement and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.” I became involved in efforts to integrate the public schools and joined in the Puerto Rican student association Aspira. During my undergraduate studies I discovered European history, as taught by a dynamic Russian historian. I also began to take courses in the Russian language and graduated with a double major in Russian and history.

In 1973 I enrolled in graduate school to do a PhD in modern European history with a concentration on Russia and the USSR under Reginald Zelnik and Nicholas Riasanovsky. These years were fruitful: coursework, dissertation research, a young daughter, and community and academic activities kept me busy. Sometime in my doctoral studies it struck me that, though the study of women’s history had begun in earnest, little or nothing was being done on youth as a historical factor. In the Soviet context, this meant that the first generation to grow up in a Communist society remained unexamined. In 1982 I received a Fulbright-Hays grant to conduct dissertation research in the Soviet Union as part of the exchange program IREX. My topic: “A Study of the Communist Youth League in Petrograd, 1917–20.”

In June 1985, with my degree in hand, I took a position at William Paterson College in New Jersey and returned to New York City. Responsible for teaching courses on Russian and Soviet history, Western civilization, and European women’s history, I am a devoted instructor and scholar. I have since published my dissertation, “Young Guard!” and began researching its sequel. Since then, I have written articles that will become chapters in a new book. In the process I have become interested in women’s history as an integral part of my work on Soviet youth during the 1920s.

I have received generous support from the Ford Foundation and the National Council for Soviet and East European Research to continue my work. In 1991 I received another Fulbright-Hays grant to begin archival work on my second book, again as part of the IREX exchange program. I spent the spring of 1990 with my daughter in Moscow, where I gained access to archives opened to Westerners for the first time that year.

I have been blessed in choosing such an exciting field. Since I first visited the USSR in 1982, I have returned at crucial times to witness historic changes: in 1988, when the impact of glasnost was first felt; in 1990, at the height of the democratic movement; and in 1991, just before the coup that brought Yeltsin to power.