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Two examples: The 'Thaw' and 'Christian Expansion'

Many examples of colligatory concepts, as seen in the literature in the philosophy of historiography, have already been mentioned: the 'Renaissance', the 'Cold War', the 'Enlightenment', etc. While the 'Cold

War' seems to be the favorite of Ankersmit, I have chosen the 'Thaw' as my first detailed example of a colligatory concept in historiography.

The 'Thaw' as a historiographical concept refers to the period in the Soviet History from the mid-1950s to the early years of the 1960s, when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev initiated the process of de-Staliniza- tion. It is often seen to have 'officially' begun after Khrushchev's 'secret speech' in 1956, in which he denounced the personality cult of Stalin as well as Stalin's policies. The 'Thaw' is seen as a period in which politics on many fronts and especially the cultural atmosphere of the Soviet Union in general changed and warmed from the 'freeze' of Stalin to Khrushchev's 'Thaw'. The 'Thaw' is characterized by various features in historiographical discussions, such as the easing of repression and censorship in publishing, the release of prisoners from the Gulag labor camps, the politics of peaceful co-existence with the West, the improvement of relationships with China and Yugoslavia, the creation of cultural contacts with previously hostile countries and economic reforms. Sometimes, also the symbolically significant event of removing Stalin's body from Lenin's mausoleum is understood as a manifestation of the 'Thaw'.

The term 'thaw' itself derives from Ilya Ehrenburg's novel The Thaw (1966). Given that it gave the name to an entire historical period, it is remarkable that the book itself is a story of private lives in the post-war Soviet Union. It is also noteworthy that Ehrenburg was a Stalin prizewinner and had become famous for his role as a wartime propagandist. The book culminates in the spring thaw that transforms the freeze of the preceding winter. It thus symbolizes transformation and change, although the primary reference is to a change in emotions, from repressed feelings to a new openness and the expression of love. At the end of the book, the factory chief designer Sokolovsky undergoes this kind of change in mood:

Everything was all at once alive and resonant.

Funny thing: now Vera will come in, and I'm not even thinking of what I'll say to her. I won't say anything. Or I'll say: 'Vera, the thaw has come'. (Ehrenburg 1966, 164)

Several pages later two youngsters, Tanechka and Volodya, are shown wondering what has happened:

Anything can change the mood. Any nonsense. I saw Sokolovsky yesterday. Do you remember I used to tell you about him? A gloomier guy I've never met. Well, yesterday I arrive and there he is, laughing, joking, talking. I even asked him what has happened to him. He said: 'Nothing. It's the spring'. He must be close to sixty. How many times has he seen the spring? If that's what you call a miracle, then I believe in miracles.

No, I'm not talking about the weather. It can go much deeper than that. You'll meet somebody, and you really fall in love. Or you'll begin to work and find that you're absorbed in it. (Ehrenburg 1966, 169-170)

Ehrenburg's The Thaw thus operates primarily on the symbolic level. However, it also contains elements that made it daring and tested the limits of censorship under Stalinism, as seen for example in its veiled reference to the 1930s mass deportations and to the anti-Semitic 'doctors' plot' when Jewish doctors had allegedly been planning the assassination of Stalin. The factory manager Zhuravlyov can also be seen as representing Stalin, and his removal in the novel as referring to the start of the historical period of the 'Thaw' - although it is necessary to add that Zhuravlyov is a rather mild version of the Soviet ruler. He is described as a bureaucratic and colorless leader with a mildly suspicious mind rather than a despotic dictator with chronic paranoia. Nevertheless, he is the one, as is Stalin in Soviet culture, who prevents the arrival of the spring thaw in the atmosphere of factory and in the emotional life of Zhuravlyov's wife Lena.

It is useful to look more closely at how the 'Thaw' is used in the discourse of Soviet history. The following is of course only a small sample of all the relevant discussion on the topic. Despite this, it is enough to illustrate how the 'Thaw' has been understood and applied.

The widest application of the term is adopted in general historiographical discourse of the post-Stalin Soviet Union. For example, a Wikipedia entry on 'Khrushchev's Thaw' at the time of writing begins with the words: 'Khrushchev's Thaw . .. r efers to the period from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were reversed and millions of Soviet political prisoners were released from Gulag labor camps, due to Nikita Khrushchev's policies of de-Stalinization and peaceful coexistence with other nations'. While a Wikipedia entry naturally does not amount to professional historiographical writing, it reflects well the general historiographical discourse and understanding of the 'Thaw'.

Professional historians tend to be more limited in their scope of application. In his book Russia: A Complete History, Peter Neville writes that, 'Under Khrushchev, the second phase of the cultural thaw began' (Neville 2003, 220; my emphasis). The first 'thaw' occurred immediately after the death of Stalin. Although John Keep, in his Last of the Empires: A History of the Soviet Union 1945-1991, does not explicitly categorize the period after the death of Stalin as the 'Thaw', he prefers a close relative: 'de-Sta- linization' (Keep 1995, 48), and he also uses familiar 'thaw'-language to characterize the Soviet culture and its transformation at that time. Stalinist political culture is described as 'the post-war cultural freeze' (Keep 1995, 24). Indeed, Keep writes that there were 'several successive "thaws" and "freezes" in the field of literature' (Keep 1995, 122). Further, the attributes given to Khrushchev's post-Stalin era have a familiar ring: 'In some way the period 1953-1964 was an optimistic era, marked by a relaxation of police terror and an improvement in living standards [and] ... educated society was just beginning to recover from the ravages of Stalinism' (Keep 1995, 2; similarly 63). Stalinism is characterized as the period of closed archives. According to Keep, the historians of that period were little more than propagandists (Keep 1995, 30). It was a time when literature and the arts were permitted only to convey the message that Party and People were 'unbreakably united in a mortal struggle against wily foes' (1995, 27) and the culture of fear was common in politics (Keep 1995, 34). Succinctly, Keep calls Stalin's last years 'The Dark Ages'. If one pays attention to the kinds of issues that are mentioned concerning Khrushchev's optimistic era, one finds a very diverse list. To name but a few: the appearance of the controversial poem, 'Stalin's Heirs', by Yevtushenko in Pravda, the publication of Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (mentioning the Gulag) (Keep 1995, 60), the emergence of new styles and genres in literature (Keep 1995, 120), the 'civilizing' of Soviet Government (Keep 1995, 64), the release of prisoners from the Gulag and their rehabilitation (Keep 1995, 76), the birth of a (partially) consumerist economy (Keep 1995, 85), the decentralization of industrial management (Keep 1995, 91) and the devolution of authority in agriculture (Keep 1995, 105).

The primary category of post-Stalinist historical reality that Peter Kenez leans on in his A History of the Soviet Union From the Beginning to the End (1999) is 'The Age of Khrushchev'. In agreement with the two authors discussed above, he uses the terminology of the 'Thaw' to refer to the transformation of Soviet intellectual life after the death of Stalin, while leaving the term 'de-Stalinization' to designate wider societal changes. According to Kenez, during the period of the 'Thaw', 'The Soviet Union ceased to be a totalitarian society' (1999, 191). More generally, 'October 1964 marked the end of a period of relative optimism, a period during which many people inside and outside of the Soviet Union believed that the flaws of the system could be remedied' (1999, 212-213). Beyond this, Kenez associates many customary features and events with 'the Age of Khrushchev,' including the fact that 'millions returned to their homes ... in most cases receiving rehabilitation' (1999, 193), the creation of 'decentralized' economic ministries (1999, 202) and the emergence of a new theoretical underpinning of 'peaceful co-existence' in foreign policy (1999, 203).

There are thus two uses of the term 'Thaw': broad and narrow. While the 'Thaw' has broadly come to signify a period of hopefulness and reforms after Stalin's death in general historical discourse and perhaps also in some professional historiographies, the narrower understanding of the 'Thaw' as a cultural liberation seems more common among professional historians. It is safe to conclude that the 'Thaw' has in any case become part of the standard historiographical language used to describe the period after Stalin's death, or aspects of it. In actuality, its ontological status has solidified so much that it can nowadays even be talked about as a causal factor triggering other developments and changing the minds of people: 'The thaw appears as a catalyst that mobilised and temporally fulfilled the young generation's inner expectations. The warm winds of liberalisation created a sense of purpose in a destabilised world' (Petrov 2008, 184).

I will introduce my other example of a colligatory concept, that of 'Christian expansion',1 more briefly. The concept of the 'Christian expansion' is itself a colligatory concept that refers to the expansion of Christianity in the early decades and centuries of the first millennium, which has given birth to many other interesting colligatory concepts. In the background, as a kind of default option, there is Edward Gibbon's 'demystification' of the Christian expansion. He contradicted his predecessors who had explained the success of the expansion with reference to the superiority of Christian revelation. Gibbon lifted the veil of supernatural mystery by distinguishing five reasons for this success: the 'intolerant zeal' of the Christians, the promise of immortality, (alleged) miracles, Christian morality and the Christians' superior organizations. Many others have continued this historiographical discourse on the same basis and suggested alternative ways of understanding the Christian expansion. One way might be called the 'flashlight conversion' model, which explains the expansion through 'a sudden reversion of character through a completely new understanding of one's role in the universe, achieved as if in a flash of blinding light' (Drake 2005, 5). Another alternative uses the idea of social networking and yet another the metaphor of the marketplace to give an account of why Christianity was so successful as a rival against other religions and pagan groups. The metaphor of the market place compares churches to 'religious firms', which raises new questions and a need for studies on the comparative advantages of Christianity. Further, Drake highlights the nature of Christianity as a mass movement, which in effect emphasizes that Christianity was heterogeneous, had low entrance requirements and was unstable. This brief study shows that one generally accepted colligated historical phenomenon, the Christian expansion, generates a number of alternative further colligations to account for the nature and causes of that phenomenon. Drake concludes that models likes these are meant to be useful for 'their ability to refocus thinking in potentially fruitful ways, and not because they are more "real"'(2005, 7). Indeed, the propensity of colligatory notions to 'refocus' thought is central; they open new avenues for investigation and provide new 'meanings' and ways of understanding the past.

What is remarkable in the historiographical use of colligatory notions is that they manage to colligate seemingly very diverse phenomena under one label. In the case of the 'Thaw', such historical phenomena as the publication of the magazine Amerika in the Soviet Union, the release of prisoners and Khrushchev's visit to China are subsumed under it. Now I move to the question of how a single concept can do this. What justifies colligatory practice?

 
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