Reading first person accounts from witnesses to the Chernobyl disaster humanizes the event, as many of you pointed out in class. This is surely one of the reasons Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster is such a powerful book.
In the context of our course, they also add an important dimension to the broader history of the relationship between Soviet power and technological advance that we've been considering in past weeks. They paint vivid pictures of how individuals experienced, felt about, and concluded from a failure of technology, expertise, and governance. What do the voices tell us about this broader story? About what it meant to be a "hero" in the late Soviet Union? About Soviet identity and patriotism?
Here are some of the resources that we discussed in class.
Among the Soviet engineering projects that Loren Graham discusses in his book, The Ghost of the Executed Engineer, the White Sea Canal was one of the biggest. As to whether it was "successful" or not, the answer depends on what criteria are used to measure success. It's generally considered to be one of the quintessential Stalinist projects in that it was a colossal achievement, fraught with technological inefficiencies, that cost an enormous number of human lives.
Here's a documentary film Stalin commissioned after the project was complete that shows some of the scale of the project.
Below is "Symphony of Baku Oil" (1933), which we watched and discussed in class today.
Relevant to our conversation, some scholars consider films on the Baku oil-boom to be early examples of the eco-disaster genre of film that we still love to this day. So now you know what Stalinism has in common with Wall-E.
If you're interested in the history of film, you might check out the chapter in Robin Murray and Joseph Heumann's book, Ecology and Popular Film: Cinema on the Edge called "Ecology and Specatacle in Oil Wells of Baku: Close View: The first Eco-Disaster Film?" You can read parts of it here on Google Books. We're going to revisit the theme of eco-disaster and film when we talk about Chernobyl in a few weeks, which could be an interesting basis for a final project.
Here is the Baku oil-field footage we saw the other day, which includes some from before the 1917 Revolution. We looked at a clip from minute 16:40-18:35.
And, of course, James Bond goes to Baku in "The World is Not Enough."