The Hoover Institution Library & Archives has received a $5 million donation that will be transformative for the study of the global Russian diaspora via the creation of a vast, searchable digital corpus of newspapers, covering a broad geographical and chronological range, many of which are held exclusively at Hoover. The Russian Diaspora Initiative (RDI) project will be overseen by Anatol Shmelev, research fellow at the Hoover Institution and Robert Conquest Curator of the Russia and Eurasia Collection at the Library & Archives and is modeled on our Japanese Diaspora Initiative (JDI), which has brought access to digitized Japanese-language newspapers to all corners of the globe. 

The support for both the RDI and the JDI comes from John Stephan, professor emeritus of Russian and Japanese history at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and a specialist on the Russian Far East and the émigré Russian community. Professor Stephan has long mined newspaper collections in multiple languages for his own research and had a vision for making them broadly accessible and easy for scholars using technology now possible. Professor Stephan’s work includes The Russian Far East: A History (Stanford); Hawaii under the Rising Sun: Japan’s Plans for Conquest after Pearl Harbor (University of Hawaiʻi Press); The Russian Fascists: Tragedy and Farce in Exile, 1925–1945 (Harper & Row); The Kuril Islands: Russo-Japanese Frontier in the Pacific (Oxford); and Sakhalin: A History (Oxford).

“By digitizing Russian vernacular newspapers serving Russian communities in Eurasia, the Americas, and Oceania,” Professor Stephan said, “the Hoover Institution Library & Archives will offer readily accessible, searchable, comprehensive coverage of diverse and at times discordant voices of millions of former Tsarist subjects and Soviet citizens and their descendants in a global ‘Russian abroad’ (Rossiiskoe zarubezh’e) during seventy-four years of Soviet rule (1917–91).”

The Japanese Diaspora Initiative (JDI) is a collecting and digitization project that has produced the largest single source for open-access digitized global Japanese newspapers—hoji shinbun. The JDI is overseen by Kaoru (Kay) Ueda, Curator for the Japanese Diaspora Initiative and research fellow. It has also brought many significant collections, including the Sakata Yasuo, Ashizawa Hirozumi, and Mitsuo Fuchida papers to Hoover. Newspapers offer a unique vantage point for both specific events and long-term trends. In the case of émigré newspapers, local communities used them to keep records of their members, as well as to discuss interactions with global phenomena. 

Digital access to a broad corpus of material related to multiple Russian communities will benefit scholars in many fields. One could examine political alignments; diplomatic and military history; the struggle against communism; the development of language in diaspora; previously unknown works of prominent authors; genealogical and biographical details of once-prominent and long-forgotten figures, and the like. All users will find a vast, new resource of information suddenly open to them, searchable by keyword, date, and geographical area. Instead of visiting dozens of institutions for holdings, users will find one website that will allow access to a broad array of titles. 

As anyone who has ever handled old newsprint knows, it is one of the most brittle formats for print media: the paper used in the production of newspapers was once extremely acidic, as the medium was not intended to last a long time. This is particularly true of émigré titles, which usually operated on small budgets and used less costly, more fragile paper. Consequently, Russian émigré newspapers are particularly ephemeral, and most of what has survived is in an extremely fragile state. Fortunately, digitization can make these sensitive materials widely available without further risk of damage to the originals—and the holdings of the Library & Archives are among the best in the world.

The Russian émigré newspaper digitization project is already underway, with the compilation of preliminary lists of titles to be digitized, including major interwar dailies such as Posliedniia Novosti [Latest news] (Paris, 1920–40); San Francisco–based Russkaia zhizn [Russian life] (1921–2022); a number of titles from the large émigré colonies in China, including Gun-bao (Harbin, 1929–32), Shankhaiskaia zaria [Shanghai sunrise] (Shanghai, 1929–33), and Vozrozhdenie Azii [Rebirth of Asia] (Tianjin, 1933–42); and many others covering the continents of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Australia. 

“This is an extremely important and timely project: the post-revolutionary Russian emigration and its legacy have served as a political football for Putin and now for his opponents, finding themselves retreading the paths of earlier emigres,” said Shmelev. “Making the Hoover Institution's unique holdings available to the broad public without damaging the originals will enable interested researchers to correct or debunk the official state propaganda line, while also serving to offer lessons from the past to newly minted political emigres.”

For more information, contact Anatol Shmelev, research fellow at the Hoover Institution and Robert Conquest Curator of the Russia and Eurasia Collection at the Library & Archives.

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