From Russia to America: A Digital Archive at the Oviatt Library

1906 Post Card in the From Russia to America Collection “I wait to hear from any news from you…like a prisoner waits to be free,” writes Aron Bookspan in a letter to his beloved Poline Degtiar on January 15, 1914. He is in Kishinev, Russia, and she in Paris, France. They plan to go to America, marry, and start new lives. But first he must save money and receive proper documentation to leave. Above all, he needs to avoid conscription into the Russian military, which is building up prior to World War I.

This letter is part of the From Russia to America correspondence, which dates from 1906 to 1920. The story reveals not only the plight of a man in love but the oppression and need for escape after a series of pogroms within Russia’s Pale of Settlement area. Russia is anxious on the verge of war. Some of the later correspondence shows the effects of World War I on those who stayed behind in Kishinev. The collection also contains a book of Labor Songs circa 1914. These could have been sung at a proto-Communist or Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party meeting, which was illegal in Russia at the time.

The From Russia to America correspondence is a donation to the CSUN Oviatt Library by CSUN alumna Jane Minogue. The project underway involves a coordinated effort between the Library, the Center for Digital Humanities, and Jane Minogue to capture and catalogue items from the Minogue family collection for the CSUN Digital Archive web site. Preservation of materials forms the first part of the project; making the materials available for analysis forms the second.

The collection provides valuable primary source material for a variety of students and scholars. This includes those studying:

  • Russian, as the language had significant changes in orthography and vocabulary after 1917
  • Jewish life in Russia, France, and America
  • Letter writing when it was an important mode of communication
  • Russian Labor and Pre-Revolution Social Democratic movements
  • World War I
  • The U.S. immigrant experience

Russian translations of the correspondence are by Sergey M. Artemyev, who left Siberia for America.

For further information, please contact Elizabeth Altman in the Oviatt Library.

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