Aaron B. Retish - Associate Professor

Aaron Retish is a specialist in late Imperial and Soviet history with a focus on the social, cultural, and political history of the countryside. He is the author of Russia’s Peasants in Revolution and Civil War: Citizenship, Identity, and the Creation of the Soviet State, 1914-1922, a regional study of how peasants’ conceptions of themselves as citizens evolved in a time of total war, mass revolutionary politics, and civil breakdown. He is also the author of articles on violence and peasant identity in the Revolutionary era and has broader research interests in law and punishment, gender, and ethnicity in the Soviet era.  


Retish’s current book project, “In the Courts of Revolution: Vengeance, Legality, and Citizenship in the Rural Soviet Courtroom, 1917-1939,” examines how rural Soviet citizens engaged local legal organs from the 1917 Communist revolution until the eve of World War II. It explores how the Soviets developed the local court system and used it to shape citizens’ value systems and ways of addressing the state. At the same time, it reveals a vibrant legal culture among Soviet peasants and uncovers how people understood criminality and justice in a time of dynamic political and social violence. It draws on deep archival research of court records and cases before people’s courts in the Russian regions of Kirov, Nizhnii Novgorod, Moscow, and Samara regions, as well as archives in the Udmurt Republic and Kazakhstan.


Retish co-edits Revolutionary Russia, the leading journal in its field. He also serves on the Board of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives and is associate editor of its journal The Volunteer. Retish teaches courses in Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet history and politics, as well as world and modern European history. He lives with his wife and his son and daughter in metropolitan Detroit and in his free time tends to his community garden plot and follows the Green Bay Packers.


Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 2003

M.A., The Ohio State University, 1996

B.A., The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1992


Select Publications



Russia’s Peasants in Revolution and Civil War: Citizenship, Identity, and the Creation of the Soviet State, 1914-1922Cambridge University Press, 2008; Paperback 2012.  Winner of the Wayne State Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award, 2009.


A Kaleidoscope of Revolutions: Russia in Regional Perspective, 1914-1921, with Sarah Badcock and Liudmila Novikova.  Edited volume on Russia’s provinces and peripheries of the Revolution in progress. Forthcoming, 2015.


Articles, Chapters, and Review Essays 

“The Izhevsk Revolt of 1918: The Fateful Clash of Revolutionary Coalitions, Paramilitarism, and Bolshevik Power” in A Kaleidoscope of Revolutions.


“Judicial Reforms and Revolutionary Justice: The Establishment of the Court System in Soviet Russia, 1917-1922,” in Homefronts: Russia’s Great War and Revolution. Accepted for publication and forthcoming, 2015.


“Controlling Revolution: Victims of Social Violence and the Rural Soviet Courts 1917-1923,” Europe-Asia Studies (November 2013).


“Massovaia politika i rol’ prostykh liudei v Grazhdanskoi voine” (Popular Politics and the Role of Ordinary People in the Civil War) Roundtable Discussion, Rossiiskaia istoriia 5 (Sept.-Oct.) 2013.


“Eastward Ho!  Peasant Migratory Networks of Viatka Province During Peace and Revolution, 1850-1921,” The Making of Russian History: Festschrift for Allan K. Wildman (Slavica, 2009).


“Creating Peasant Citizens: Rituals of Power, Rituals of Citizenship in Viatka Province, February-October 1917,” Revolutionary Russia, June 2003.


“Becoming Enlightened: National Backwardness and Revolutionary Ideology,” Proceedings of the Ohio Academy of History 2002, 2003.


“Sotsial’nye konflikty v srede Viatskogo krest’ianstva v khode provedeniia zemel’noi reformy v 1918 g.” (Social Conflicts Among the Viatka Peasantry During the Implementation of the Land Reform in 1918), Nauchnyi vestnik. Kirovskogo filiala Moskovskogo gumanitarno ekonomicheskogo instituta. Nauchno-metodicheskii zhurnal, no. 5. Kirov, Russia, 2000.


Select Awards

Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship, Wayne State University, 2015-2016

Harry Frank Guggenheim Research Fellowship, 2012-13

National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, Short Term Travel  Grant, 2013

American Philosophical Society Franklin Research Grant, 2012

President’s Research Enhancement Award, Wayne State University, 2011-12

Career Development Chair, Wayne State University, 2011-12

Extra Mile Award, Student Disability Services, Wayne State University, 2011

Wayne State Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award, 2009

Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, Wayne State University 2008

Kennan Institute Short-Term Research Fellow, 2008

Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies Residence Research Grant, U. of Michigan, 2007-08

Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship, Wayne State University, 2006-07

Humanities Center Scholar in Residence, Wayne State University, 2006-07

Scholar in Residence, Illinois University Russian Research Laboratory, 2006, 2013

International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) Short Term Grant, 2004

University Research Grant, Wayne State University, 2004

Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Title VIII Fellow, 2003


Courses Taught

Western Civilization, 1500-1945 (HIS 1300)

The World Since 1945 (HIS 1400) 

The First World War (HIS 3995/6000)

Europe in the Interwar Period (HIS 5450/7450)

Russia and Eurasia to 1917 (HIS 3490/5490)

The Russian Revolution (HIS 5495/7495)

The Soviet Union (HIS 5500/7500)

Capstone Seminar for History Majors (HIS 5996)

Graduate Readings Seminar in European History (HIS 8225)

Graduate Seminar in Modern European History (HIS 8240)

Graduate Readings Seminar in World History (HIS 8310)

3107 FAB
Research Area
(313) 577-2525
(313) 577-6987
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