Russian History Professor Tenured

‘Rising star’ Terry D. Martin ’85 hopes to expand Russian history program

He may be Canadian, but newly-tenured professor Terry D. Martin ’85 claims intellectual allegiance to Russia.

Currently the Loeb associate professor of the social sciences, Martin was approved for tenure Friday and will assume his new title as professor of history on July 1.

Martin, who is also affiliated with the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, cut a swath into Russian scholarship when he analyzed the Soviet regime in his 2001 book, “The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939.”

“We have offered tenure to the rising star in the field,” said Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies Timothy J. Colton, who is director of the Davis Center.

At Harvard, Martin has helped revive a once-“distinguished” field of historical study that has ebbed since the retirement of Russian historian Richard E. Pipes, according to History Department Chair Andrew D. Gordon ’74.

“Martin came in from the point of view of an associate professor to relaunch our teaching in Russian and Soviet history,” Gordon said. “We are poised to become once again a leading center for the study of Russian and Soviet history.”

This spring, Martin is teaching History 1531, “History of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991,” History 2531, “The Soviet Union: Seminar,” and History 1958, “Islam and Ethnicity: Conference Course.”

Martin’s students praised his lecture style.

“I think he’s wonderful,” said David A. Kronig ’06, who is taking History 1531. “So far, he’s a very engaging lecturer.”

While he may be teaching Russian history, Martin did not start out in the field.

The resident of Pforzheimer House, known as North House when he was here, concentrated in History and Literature.

While he was pursuing his graduate degree, Martin said he decided he didn’t want to devote his life to English literature and returned to his interest in history.

It was a family connection that finally propelled Martin into his current field of study.

“My grandmother grew up in the Russian empire...lived through the revolution in 1917-19, and had quite a dramatic and adventurous story,” Martin said. “My mom wanted someone to take down her memories.”

Martin did so, learning German and Russian along the way to conduct background research. Martin was intrigued enough to continue pursuing Soviet history.

“So you can still change your career in your 20s,” Martin said.

But right now, Martin seems comfortable with his field.

The Russian specialist said he is looking forward to expanding both the undergraduate and graduate programs in Russian history and generating more student interest in Russia.

“The Davis Center would love to have more people go abroad and experience life there,” Martin said. “I think that’s always key in getting undergraduates interested in an area.”

And if students do not physically immerse themselves within Russia, Martin’s distinctive teaching style will mentally transport them there.

“He encourages students to use original material, including archival files,” Colton said. Through this method, Colton said Martin’s students are able to obtain the “experience of living in this kind of society, learning about it firsthand rather than just through textbooks.”

—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at