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Department of History
Tufts University
East Hall, room 002
Medford, MA 02155

Email Prof. Applebaum

Rachel Applebaum
Assistant Professor
Modern Russia and Eastern Europe


I am a historian of the Soviet Union, communist Eastern Europe, and the global Cold War. My first book, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia was published by Cornell University Press in 2019. The book examines how Soviet and Eastern Bloc officials sought to unify their diverse countries during the Cold War by promoting a policy of transnational "friendship" between their citizens in the realm of everyday life. It tells the story of the rise and fall of this friendship project through a social and cultural history of the Soviet Union's relations with Czechoslovakia from the end of World War II until the collapse of communism. I focus on four aspects of Soviet-Czechoslovak friendship: cultural diplomacy, interpersonal relations, the trade of consumer goods, and the legacy of the Soviet Army's liberation of Czechoslovakia at the end of the Second World War. I argue that ordinary citizens in the superpower and its satellite, by engaging in the friendship project, were integral to the construction of the international socialist system—and ultimately, its demise. The book is based on extensive archival research in Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as in Hungary and the United States.

I am currently working on a new book project, tentatively titled, The Language of Superpower: the Rise of Russian in the Cold War. The book tells the hitherto untold story of how Russian became a world language during the Cold War. It examines the export and reception of Russian in the three "worlds" of the Soviet imagination: the socialist countries, the capitalist countries, and the "developing" countries. The spread of the Russian language abroad thus serves as a lens to examine how the USSR's citizens, allies, and enemies participated in the country's transformation into a global cultural power. Even more broadly, the book examines how foreign language learning during the Cold War simultaneously inflamed and tempered tensions between the two superpowers. On the one hand, language teaching became a new frontier of systemic competition, particularly in the newly independent countries in Africa and Asia. At the same time, however, Soviet and western governments, as well as international organizations like UNESCO, promoted language teaching as a means to overcome ideological divides and to advance international understanding.

At Tufts, I regularly teach a two-semester survey of Russian history, from the medieval period to the present. My other areas of teaching interest include Soviet foreign policy, Stalinism, World War II and the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, the Cold War, Europe in the 1960s, and the global history of communism.


  • Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2012
  • M.A., University of Toronto, 2005
  • B.A., McGill University, 2002


Modern Russia and Eastern Europe, the cultural Cold War, global communism, transnational history

Selected Publications

  • "The Rise of Russian in the Cold War: How Three Worlds Made a World Language." Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. Forthcoming, 2020.
  • Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019.
  • "The Friendship Project: Socialist Internationalism in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s." Slavic Review, volume 74, number 3, 484-507 (Fall 2015)
  • "A Test of Friendship: Soviet-Czechoslovak Tourism and the Prague Spring." In The Socialist Sixties: Crossing Borders in the Second World, edited by Anne Gorsuch and Diane Koenker, 213-232. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

Fellowships, Awards, and Postdocs

  • Franklin Research Grant, American Philosophical Society, 2019
  • First Book Subvention Award, The Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, 2018
  • Short-Term Fellowship, Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, New York
    University, October 2017
  • Summer Fellowship, Faculty Research Awards, Tufts University, 2016
  • Neubauer Faculty Fellow, Tufts University, 2015-16
  • Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for the Humanities, Tufts University, 2014-15
  • Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, European University Institute, Italy, 2013-14
  • Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 2010-11
  • Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award, 2008-09

Courses Offered in Spring 2020

  • HIST 86: Eastern Europe: 1848 to the Present
  • HIST 176: World War II and the Holocaust in the Soviet Union

Courses Offered in Previous Semesters

  • HIST 61: Icons and Tsars: Medieval, Early Modern, and Imperial Russia
  • HIST 62: Reform and Revolution: Late Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union
  • HIST 80: World Revolution: Global Communism
  • HIST 96: World War II and the Holocaust in the Soviet Union (Foundation Seminar)
  • HIST 96: Europe in the 1960s (Foundation Seminar)
  • HIST 96: Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Postwar Eastern Europe (Foundation Seminar)
  • HIST 190: The Cold War (Research Seminar)