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Department of History


Elena Osokina

Title: Professor
Department: History
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-777-4578
Office: Gambrell Hall, Room 218
Resources: Curriculum Vitae [pdf]


B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Moscow State University


I was born and raised in the Soviet Union, and received my Ph.D. from the Department of History at Moscow University just a few years before the collapse of the USSR. The Gorbachev perestroika drastically changed the course of my professional and personal life. Leaving behind the studies of Imperial Russia, which was the subject of my first dissertation (defended in Moscow in 1987), I began, with the opening of the Soviet archives, an exciting scholarly journey into the social and economic history of the Stalin era. My research of the Soviet trade and the black market under Stalin resulted in a successful defense of a second dissertation (Moscow, 1998), and the production of several books and articles published in Russia, USA, Canada, Germany, France, and Italy (for the titles see my curriculum vitae). I am a recipient of many fellowships from the Kennan Institute-Woodrow Wilson Center (USA, Washington, DC), National Endowment for the Humanities (USA), Fulbright (USA), the National Gallery of Art (USA, Washington, D.C.), Hoover Institution (Stanford, USA), Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (Paris, France), Davis Center for Russian Studies (Harvard University, USA), Aleksanteri Institute (Helsinki, Finland), and others. I have been interviewed about my research on radio and TV shows in Russia, the USA, and Canada. I taught internationally at the Donaueschingen Academy, Germany (on the invitation of the Council of Europe), the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Oberlin College, and Missouri State University. Currently I am a Professor of Russian History at the University of South Carolina (Columbia, USA). I teach Russian history from the genesis of the East Slavs and the creation of the Russian State to the present. In 2011, I was granted the USC Russell Award for Excellence in Research.

Gold for Industrialization: Torgsin. Moscow: Rosspen, 2009. The study explores state stores called Torgsin which sold food and goods to the Soviet people during the lean years of the first five-year plans (1931-1936) in exchange for gold and other valuables. Torgsin became an economically successful means for Stalin to raise an extraordinary amount of revenue to finance industrialization. It not only outdid the activity of the political police that confiscated people’s valuables by force, but also outperformed the results of the major Soviet exports of oil, lumber, and grain. Torgsin became the major strategy for survival for people during those harsh times. The study of Torgsin enriches scholarly understanding of Stalinism, the workings of the Soviet economy, the nature of Soviet everyday life and consumerism. To work on this book, in 2005, I received a National Endowment for the Humanities’ grant. The book came out in Russian. It is now being translated for publication in English. In 2009, a major Russian TV channel RTR made a film “The Empire Torgsin” based on my book.

Our Daily Bread: Socialist Distribution and the Art of Survival in Stalin’s Russia, 1927-1941. Armonk, New York & London, England: M.E. Sharpe, 2001. This book is an abridged and edited version of a work published in Russian in Moscow in 1998 by ROSSPEN under the title Za fasadom
“Stalinskogo izobilia”: Raspredelenie i rynok v snabzhenii naselenia v gody industrializatsii, 1927-1941.

Hierarchy of Consumption. Life under the Stalinist Rationing System. 1928-1935. (In Russian)

About 50 articles published in the USA, Russia, Canada, France, Italy, and Germany.


Two of my new books came out in Russia in 2018:

The Heavenly Blue of Angels’ Vestments: A Fate of Masterpieces of Ancient Russian Religious Art, 1920s-1930s (Moscow:  The New Literary Observer);  

The Alchemy of Soviet Industrialization (Moscow: The New Literary Observer)

The Heavenly Blue of Angels’ Vestments: The Fate of Masterpieces of Ancient Russian Religious Art, 1920s-1930s (Moscow:  The New Literary Observer, 2018) is the first monograph to examine thoroughly the odyssey of religious art from the man-made chaos of 1917 to the creation of Soviet museums of early Russian art and then to the sale of this national heritage abroad.  It is not, however, merely a study of one more Machiavellian dimension of Stalinism that placed the objects of a repressed church at the service of the godless state. By exploring the marketing strategies employed by Stalin’s merchants to promote a new art commodity in the world market, this study challenges the stereotypical view of Stalinism as “marketless.” Paradoxically, Stalin’s government, the founder of the state centralized economy,  must be credited for creating a new world commodity, previously almost unknown to the West – Russian Orthodox art. Stalin’s mass sales laid the foundations for the world market in Russian icons.  As a result of the unprecedented exchange between the communist and capitalist worlds, ancient Orthodox art found its way to private collections and world museums, such as, in the USA: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, the Brooklyn Museum, the Hillwood Museum in Washington, the Timken Museum in San Diego, the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison-Wisconsin, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover (NH), the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the Menil Collection in Houston, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.  In Europe, the largest collections of Russian religious art that found their genesis in Stalin’s sales are in the National Museum of Art in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Ikonen-Museum in Recklinghausen, Germany. The book draws on a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including economics, social, cultural, and art history, as well as museum studies, and the history of state policy toward religion. In is based on author’s tremendous archival work in Russia, Europe, and the USA.

The Alchemy of Soviet Industrialization (Moscow: The New Literary Observer) explores extraordinary financial sources of Soviet industrial leap forward. More specifically it discusses a role of the state stores called Torgsin (1930- February, 1936) that in the years of famine in the Soviet Union exchanged food and goods for people’s heirlooms. This book is a story of people’s survival but also a story of survival of the Soviet state that started an ambitious industrial program without sufficient gold and currency reserves.       



Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.