Event calendar

History and Counterfactuals in The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

  • Date: 11/7/2017 at 3:15 PM 5:00 PM
  • Location: Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) Gamla torget 3, 3 vån, IRES
  • Lecturer: Irina Karlsohn is a researcher at IRES.
  • Website
  • Organizer: Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES)
  • Contact person: Jevgenija Gehsbarga
  • Phone: 018 471 1630
  • Seminarium

Viewing his own task as one of restoring the historical experience of the Russian people and trying “to explain the slow course of history and the nature of that history”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn assumed the dual role of writer and historian in his most significant works, among them The Gulag Archipelago. One of the most distinctive features in The Gulag Archipelago is that Solzhenitsyn frequently uses so called counterfactuals or modal claims, challenging estabilished historical facts and presenting alternative scenarios. Over the last few decades the genres of “counterfactual” history and “alternate” (or “alternative”) history have been growing rapidly. Consequently, these genres have also been investigated by literary scholars and historians. According to recent studies, the use of counterfactuals is particularly common in historical texts and modal assertions generally permeate the writing of history.

     My presentation uses insights from recent scholarship and examines how counterfactuals are used in The Gulag Archipelago. The goal is to show why and in what manner Solzhenitsyn uses them and what issues he connects with counterfactual assertions. The examination of a number of the most typical examples reveals that counterfactual claims in Solzhenitsyn’s book have several important functions. They actually shape the whole historiographical narrative of the book. In addition to shedding light on The Gulag Archipelago, the results of my paper are also highly relevant for the study of the border between fiction and fact in Solzhenitsyn’s other historical works, such as the epic-historical cycle The Red Wheel. It thereby contributes significantly to the understanding of Solzhenitsyn’s general view of Russian history.