Cotsen is delighted to help spread the word about an international conference about Soviet illustrated children’s books!
“The Pedagogy of Images: Depicting Communism for Children”
A Symposium at Princeton University, May 2015.
Friday May 1st, Bobst Hall Room 105, 9:00am – 6:00pm.
Saturday May 2nd, Chancellor Green Room 103, 10:00am – 7:00pm.
Keynote: Dmitry Bykov, “The Golden Key to Blind Beauty: Reading the Russian Revolution Through Soviet Children’s Literature”. Friday May 1st, Aaron Burr Hall 219, 6:30pm.
The symposium will convene an international and interdisciplinary group of 16 scholars who work on Soviet-era Russian illustrated books for young readers.
Socialism always had major pedagogical ambitions: building a new society was also about promoting new forms of social imaginary and a new vocabulary of images. Lenin’s plan of monumental propaganda is well known and well researched. This symposium’s project is collaborative scholarly investigation of a less monumental but no less important and pervasive visual language developed by the socialist state for its children. Specifically, the participants will examine the interplay of text and image in illustrated books for young Soviet readers.
As a part of the general desire to translate state socialism into idioms and images accessible to the illiterate, alternatively literate, and pre-literate, children’s books visualized ideological norms and goals in a way that guaranteed easy legibility and direct appeal, without sacrificing the political identity of the message. Relying on a process of dual-media rendering, illustrated books presented the propagandistic content as a simple narrative or verse, while also casting it in images. A vehicle of ideology, an object of affection, and a product of labor, the illustrated book for the young Soviet reader became an important cultural phenomenon, despite its perceived simplicity and often minimalist techniques. Major Soviet artists and writers contributed to this genre, creating a unique assemblage of sophisticated visual formats for the propaedeutics of state socialism.
In preparation for the symposium a selection of 47 books from the Cotsen Children’s Library underwent digital imaging, and the digital surrogates were mounted as a publicly accessible collection in the Princeton University Digital Library (“Soviet Era Books for Children and Youth 1918-1938”). The 47 books were selected from the Cotsen’s holdings of approximately 1,500 Soviet-era Russian imprints, almost 1,000 of which were published between the 1917 Revolution and the beginning of WWII. All of the selected imprints are very rare; a third of the editions included are held in only one other collection in North America, and more than a third are not held in any other North American collections.
Thomas Keenan, Serguei Oushakine. Katherine Hill Reischl