History Professor Steven E. Harris received a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to complete research on his book project, “Flying Aeroflot: A History of the Soviet Union in the Jet Age.” He will conduct this research in summer 2021.
Like many faculty here at UMW, Professor Harris draws upon his scholarly research to develop innovative courses—in this case, the upper-level seminar, “Empires of the Air: Histories of Aviation and Space in the Modern World.” To be taught again in spring 2021, this course examines the history of flight from ballooning in the 18th century to the privatization of space exploration in the 21st. Along the way, students explore the impact of aeronautics and astronautics on global politics and warfare; gender, class, and race relations; imperial and national identities; and popular culture, travel, and commerce.
Professor Harris’s ‘Flying Aeroflot’ project uses commercial aviation to rethink how Soviet state and society evolved from the end of World War II to the communist system’s collapse in 1991. Aeroflot’s dramatic growth from an undeveloped sector under Stalin to the ‘world’s largest airline’ under Brezhnev tells the broader but still little understood story of the Soviet Union’s postwar transformation from an inward-looking terror state focused on industrial production to a superpower that wagered its legitimacy on fulfilling consumer needs at home and establishing a formidable global presence abroad.
By examining Aeroflot as a microcosm of the Soviet system, Harris’s project explains the country’s broader, sustained growth in the postwar era as the result of the state’s successful attempts to create a consumer-oriented, but not consumer-driven economy, propelled by technological development, global expansion, and the legitimizing discourse of Marxist-Leninist ideology.
Image: “Time is What I Gain: A Day by Train or an Hour by Plane” (Aeroflot poster, 1961) Source: Gleb Kotov, ed., Istoriia v plakatakh Aeroflota: K 85-letiiu grazhdanskoi aviatsii Rossii—dniu Aeroflota (Moscow: Aeroflot, 2008), 87.