Shaul Kelner


Shaul Kelner

L 24” x W 18” D 4”

Associate Professor of Sociology and Jewish Studies
Vanderbilt University

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How do literary genres influence the way we experience life in the moment? How
do they shape the way we tell our own stories and the stories of others? During
the last decades of the Cold War, thousands of American tourists visited the
USSR as part of a human rights campaign to help Soviet Jews. When they
reported back to activist groups in the West, they presented detailed accounts of
their journeys. These narratives drew on genre conventions associated with
travelogues, and combined them with genre conventions familiar from spy
novels. The tourists’ work helped pave the way for a mass exodus of over 1.5
million Soviet Jews, but their work and the broader efforts of the human rights
campaign are largely forgotten today. Thousands of travelogues sit in historical
archives, waiting to be unpacked. How might the tourists’ approaches to
narrating their stories in the 1970s and 80s shape the way we tell the stories of
the Soviet Jewry Freedom Movement today?