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College of Arts and Sciences

Faculty and Staff

Elena Osokina

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


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.


I am currently engaged in a large project "Rembrandts for Tractors" that explores the social, economic and cultural effects of the Soviet mass art exports under Stalin to finance Soviet industrialization. The masterpieces sold by the Soviets became important holdings of many famous world art collections. So far, much of the international research has been slanted toward the sales from the Hermitage. As a result, scholars now know who bought the masterpieces and for how much, and where they are presently located. However, almost nothing is known about the "kitchen" of the Soviet art sales, about what was going on backstage: Who were the officials involved in the art exports? What were the methods of recruiting clients? How were the negotiations carried out? What was going on within the state trade office of "Antikvariat" which was in charge of the art exports? Why the resistance of the intelligentsia to the sales failed?

On the topic of Soviet art sales, I published several articles in the USA, France, and Russia (see my CV), and gave presentations in Russia, USA, and Finland. On March 16, 2012 I gave a radio interview "Stalin's Lost Art" to "The Voice of Russia", a radio station operating out of Washington, D.C. In 2009, I received the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellowship from the National Gallery of Art in Washington to conduct research on the twenty-one Western art masterpieces sold by Stalin's government to the US Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon from the Hermitage, and who later donated them to the National Gallery. This year (2012), I spent two months in Helsinki, Finland as a fellow of the Aleksanteri Institute working on the topic of the Soviet art sales.

I am currently writing a chapter on the international sale of the religious art (icons) from the Soviet Union under Stalin.