Land of Lenin

Biblio-file: Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
January 31, 2009

 

Soviet snapshots: Eichelberger's focus included Manchurian women, top, and Siberian train station, bottom.

Soviet snapshots: Eichelberger's focus included Manchurian women, top, and Siberian train station, bottom.

 

Americans in the Land of Lenin: Documentary Photographs of Early Soviet Russia, 1919-1930, a new digital collection of 750 black-and-white photographs of daily life in the Soviet Union, is drawn from the personal papers of Robert L. Eichelberger and Frank Whitson Fetter. The photographs, taken on separate voyages, record their encounters with ordinary citizens of the world's first socialist nation.

Eichelberger (1886-1961), a career military officer, was stationed in Eastern Siberia during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), alongside other members of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and its allies. Over the course of his two-year tour of duty, Eichelberger collected official AEF photos, along with images he made using a small portable camera.

These striking amateur photographs provide unique visual documentation of America's first, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to use its armed forces for peacekeeping purposes. The photos also create a portrait of life during war-time in an ethnically and religiously diverse region bordering Russia, Mongolia, and China.

Fetter (1889-1992), a professional economist, visited the Soviet Union in 1930, ten years after the defeat of the AEF-led coalition and three years before the U.S. formally recognized the U.S.S.R. Unlike most American visitors, Fetter ventured beyond the Soviet capital, touring the Upper Volga. His photos provide visual documentation of life in the largely Muslim Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and the forced collectivization and rapid industrialization of the Stalin era.

The library's digital collection makes these images of daily life in the Soviet provinces between the world wars available to anyone interested in topics such as Russian visual culture and the history of everyday life, as well as Russian-American cultural relations during the early years of the Soviet Union.