Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes


Associate Professor

History of modern Russia, Kazakhstan, and the Soviet Union, history of Gulag, history of concentration camps, history of totalitarianism

Professor Barnes is a specialist in the history of the former Soviet Union. His first book, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society, published by Princeton University Press in 2011, was awarded the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize from the American Historical Association and the Baker-Burton Award from the European Section of the Southern Historical Association for best first book in European history. It was also short-listed for the Central Eurasian Studies Society book prize. Death and Redemption offers a fundamental reinterpretation of the role of the Gulag—the Soviet Union’s vast system of forced-labor camps, internal exile, and prisons—in Soviet society. Soviet authorities undoubtedly had the will to exterminate all the prisoners who passed through the Gulag, but unlike the Nazis they did not conceive of their concentration camps as instruments of genocide. In this provocative book, Barnes argues that the Gulag must be understood primarily as a penal institution where prisoners were given one final chance to reintegrate into Soviet society. Millions whom authorities deemed “reeducated” through brutal forced labor were allowed to leave. Millions more who “failed” never got out alive.

Drawing on newly opened archives in Russia and Kazakhstan as well as memoirs by actual prisoners, Barnes shows how the Gulag was integral to the Soviet goal of building a utopian socialist society. He takes readers into the Gulag itself, focusing on one outpost of the Gulag system in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan, a location that featured the full panoply of Soviet detention institutions. Barnes traces the Gulag experience from its beginnings after the 1917 Russian Revolution to its decline following the 1953 death of Stalin.

Death and Redemption reveals how the Gulag defined the border between those who would reenter Soviet society and those who would be excluded through death.

Interviews about the book have appeared on C-SPAN2, on New Books in Russian and Eurasian Studies, and at East Central Europe Past and Present.

Additionally, with the National Parks Service and the Gulag Museum in Perm, Russia, Dr. Barnes was historical consultant for a traveling museum exhibit on the history of the Gulag. Working with the Center for History and New Media, Dr. Barnes built a website on the history of the Gulag. Information on both these projects can be found at Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives.

Dr. Barnes is the founder and a co-blogger at the Russian History Blog.

Current Research

Dr. Barnes has completed extensive research in Russia and Kazakhstan for his new book titled Gulag Wives: Women, Family, and Survival in Stalin's Terror. The book will trace women’s lives in a camp for elite women during the height of Stalin’s Great Terror.

Selected Publications

"Remembering the Gulag in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan," in Museums of Communism: New Memory Sites in Central and Eastern Europe, Stephen M. Norris (ed.), Indiana University Press, 2020.

"Принудительный труд в советском тылу: ГУЛАГ военного времени,” [“Forced Labor on the Soviet Home Front: The War Time Gulag,”], in Beate Fieseler and Roger Markwick (eds.), Советский тыл 1941–1945: повседневная жизнь в годы войны, [The Soviet Home Front 1941-1945: Everyday Life in Years of War], Rosspen, 2019.

Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society, Princeton University Press, 2011.

“Open Access: An Argument in Favor,” Newsnet: News of the Assocation for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, June 2013, pp. 10-11.

“Russian History Blog and Digital Dissemination of Russian Historical Research,” Newsnet: News of the Assocation for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, May/June 2011, pp. 1-5.

“The Gulag’s Foundation in Kazakhstan,” Global Studies Review, Summer 2008, pp. 5-7.

 “In a Manner Befitting Soviet Citizens: An Uprising in the Post-Stalin Gulag,” Slavic Review, Winter 2005, pp. 823-850.

“Hits and Misses in the Archives of Kazakhstan,” in Samuel Baron and Cathy Frierson (eds.),Adventures in Russian Historical Research:  Reminiscences of American Scholars from the Cold War to the Present, M.E. Sharpe, 2003.

All for the Front, All for Victory!:  The Mobilization of Forced Labor in the Soviet Union during World War Two,” International Labor and Working Class History, Fall 2000, pp. 239-60.

“Researching Daily Life in the Gulag,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, Spring 2000, pp. 377-90.

Courses Taught

History 326 - Stalinism

History 327 – The Soviet Union and the Post-Soviet World, 1945-present

History 387 – Coping with the Aftermath of Violence (co-taught via videoconference with a companion class at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia)

History 635 – The Soviet Union

History 635 – Modernity, Revolution and Totalitarianism

History 635 – Stalinism


Recent Presentations

“Remembering the Gulag in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan,” Paper presented at Conference: Legacies of the Gulag and the Memory of Stalinism, NIOD Instituut voor Oorlogs-, Holocaust- en Genocidestudies, Amsterdam, November 8, 2013.


“The Gulag as Stalinist Penal System,” Invited lecture at Nazarbayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan, March 4, 2013.


 “Survivors and Perpetrators Retell the Gulag through the Visual Arts,” Paper presented at Conference: Geschichte(n) des Gulag: Realitaet und Fiktion, Heidelberger Akadamie der  Wissenschaften, March 21, 2012.

“World War II Deportees in Kazakhstan,” Paper presented at Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies National Convention, November 20, 2011.


Keynote Lecture delivered at 10th Annual International Young Researchers Conference: The Gulag in History and Memory, Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, Miami University (Ohio), to be delivered October 29, 2010.

“Thinking a Global History of 1968 in the Soviet Union,” Paper presented at Southern Conference on Slavic Studies, March 28, 2009.

“Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society,” Wiswell Endowment Lecture, University of Hawaii, March 19, 2009.

In the Media

Interview and book discussion of Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Modern Society. Part of C-Span's Book TV’s college series; recorded on the campus of George Mason University.

Dissertations Supervised

Alexandru Lesanu, A Sweet History in Bitter Times: Refining Sugar in the Transnistrian Borderlands (1898-2015) (2015)