AHA Member Spotlight: Padraic Kenney

Padraic Kenney AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. The “AHA Member Spotlight” series recognizes our talented and eclectic membership. Would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight? Contact Nike Nivar for more information.

AHA Member Spotlight
Padraic Kenney is a professor of history, director of the Russian and East European Institute, and director of the Polish Studies Center at Indiana University. Kenney first joined the AHA in 2010.

1. Alma mater/s: Harvard University, University of Toronto, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

2. Fields of interest: Eastern Europe, communism, social movements, revolution

3. When did you first develop an interest in history?

In Moscow in 1984. I thought I was interested in Kremlinology, really (I was a Russian studies major, and had taken only a few history courses, including one on the Russian Revolution taught by Jane Burbank). But I had to notice that my Russian friends really cared about history, in ways I could not understand. For example, some were dissidents, yet they spoke with warm emotion about 1917, and made me memorize some of Mayakovsky’s verse. I came back from that four-month study committed to history, and to the study of the experience of revolution.

4. What projects are you working on currently?

I am writing a book on the experience of political incarceration in the modern world, in which I try to explain how prisoners emerge as important figures in modern contentious politics, and to examine what takes place in the prison cell. This work is based on research in about two dozen archives in Poland, South Africa, Ireland, and the UK.

Meanwhile, I continue to think a bit about my earlier focus, the revolutions of 1989, and in particular the ways that East European experiences in the 1980s inform, influence, or help us to understand subsequent revolutions, up to and including the Arab Spring of 2011.

5. What books or articles are you currently reading?

I am afraid I have the habit of reading several things at once, alternating chapters. I never seem to be able to stay immersed for long. At my favorite reading chair now are:

  • Steven Barnes, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society (Princeton, 2011)
  • Andrzej Friszke, Anatomia buntu: KuroĊ„, Modzelewski, i komandosi (Znak, 2010)
  • Tom Lodge, Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and Its Consequences (Oxford, 2011)

6. What do you value most about the history profession?

I am proud of the fact that the work of historians, even at its most specialized, has the potential of speaking to the educated public. I think we underestimate this quality, maybe assuming that those who watch the History Channel or browse the shelves at Barnes & Noble only seek certain types of history. But in fact most of our work has that accessible potential, and the same cannot be said of many other disciplines.

Editor’s Note: Are you an AHA member? Would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member spotlight? Contact Nike Nivar at nnivar@historians.org for more information.

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