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Associate Professor Heather Dehaan

NEH grant helps history professor study in Russia

by Ari Kramer

With funding from a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant, Heather DeHaan spent two months in Moscow over the summer, conducting preliminary research for her upcoming book on the impact Soviet policies had on communities and urban planning in Baku, Azerbaijan.

DeHaan, an associate professor of history, was one of 75 applicants to receive the grant. More than 950 people applied.

“I was already planning to do this trip, but the grant was something that made it possible to do in full,” she says. “So I was going to go no matter what. The question was, would I be trying to do this in three weeks and scrambling and really trying to do too much or is this something I can do over two months? Now I’ve got the support to do [the latter].”

DeHaan refers to her trip to Moscow as “step one” of her research.

She says conducting research in Moscow provided her an “aerial view” of her topic. Because Moscow was the center of Soviet power, its archives are filled with reports from every region of the former Soviet Union, including Azerbaijan.

“It just enables me to say, ‘OK, this is where I’m finding the interesting material,’” she says. “So this was sort of a preliminary foray to scope out my project.”

For the first six months of 2014, DeHaan will take “step two” of her research by studying intra-community as well as inter-community relations in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

“In general, I want to look at Soviet society horizontally, in terms of intergroup relations as shaped by state policy — avoiding the more vertical statesociety relations that too often define studies of the Soviet past,” DeHaan says.

DeHaan’s first book, Stalinist City Planning: Professionals, Performance and Power, was published in May. She says having one book under her belt has helped her current research in a few ways.

From a methodological standpoint, DeHaan says she is already familiar with the archives. But, perhaps more importantly, she believes the book could allay the Azerbaijan government’s fears that she would focus on the atrocities committed against the Armenians.

“They don’t want me coming in to take sides, and the fact that I’m working around the topic of urban planning should help to alleviate some of those concerns because I’m not there to pick sides,” she says.

Because she won’t return from Azerbaijan until June 2014, DeHaan says the earliest she expects to begin writing her book is next summer.

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Last Updated: 3/1/17