Brandon Schechter

Undergraduate Discipline


BA, Vassar College. PhD, University of California at Berkeley. Schechter is a cultural historian, whose scholarship focuses on the Soviet Union. His research interests include material culture, comparative history, gender, violence, and imperial diversity. Schechter's first book, The Stuff of Soldiers: A History of the Red Army in the Second World War Through Objects (Cornell, 2019), received the Paul Birdsall prize from the American Historical Association in 2020. The book tells the story of how the Red Army defeated fascism through objects from spoons to tanks. He serves as academic advisor to the Blavatnik Archive and is writing a comparative history of chaplains in the US Army and Communist Party political workers in the Red Army during World War II. SLC, 2024–

Undergraduate Courses 2024-2025


Socialist Stuff: Material Culture of the USSR and Post-Soviet Space, 1917-Present

Open, Seminar—Fall

HIST 3076

This course examines the experience of people living in the Soviet Union and other socialist states via things. Objects under socialist regimes were supposed to be transformative, turning yesterday’s backward peasants into new socialist men and women. Communism promised unheard-of abundance, but those who lived under the system often suffered from severe shortages. Things from outside of the communist world often took on an aura of forbidden fruit. People learned a variety of tricks to survive and, today, are even nostalgic for many of its trappings. Beginning with a reading of theoretical texts to get us thinking about how to think through stuff, we will proceed to look at a number of cases in Soviet history where objects are key to the story. Each week, students will be responsible for a short written response, 250-500 words, and providing two questions to feed our discussion. At the end of the semester, each student will design a display for a virtual museum of the Soviet Union, in which they will use one or more objects to tell a story about Soviet history. At the center of this course is the idea that all objects are the products and markers of social, political, and economic change that are filled with meaning—even if those meanings are not obvious or can be highly variable.


“Friendship of the Peoples”: The Soviet Empire From Indigenization to “Russkii Mir”

Open, Seminar—Spring

HIST 3124

This seminar looks at the history of the Soviet Union through the lens of ethnonational diversity. To be a Soviet person, one had to be identified by “nationality” (closer to our understanding of ethnicity), a category that outlasted class. Soviet policy toward different nationalities varied widely from 1917 to 1991, ranging from the aggressive promotion of indigenous cadres and cultures to the deportation of whole nationalities. The USSR was the largest country in modern history and the first attempt to build a communist state, yet it ended up as a union of federal republics organized along national lines. The nation was supposed to be the vehicle that ushered people through Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist phases of historical development, yet the nations that constituted the Soviet Union outlasted it. We will look at the ways in which Soviet conceptions of nationalities shaped the Soviet project and how being a member of one or another nationality impacted people’s fates. Our readings begin with a brief overview of the diversity of the Russian Empire on the eve of revolution and continue to address the major events of Soviet history through to the continued relevance of the history of Soviet nationalities policies today.