Moscow: ca. 1958–1961. Oblong folio (21 × 31 cm). Light blue buckram photo-album, with illustration of Leningrad to front board; twenty unnumbered card leaves with handwritten text to rectos and versos in blue ink, with painted red and blue headings and collaged images, newspaper text, and original photographs. Some browning throughout; bottom left joint starting; else about very good. Item #5898
[“We live in the land of the Sputnik!”].
This Thaw-era ‘friendship album’ scrapbook, handwritten in English by the students of the First Moscow Pedagogical Institute and addressed to “our friends across the sea” (presumably University students at an equivalent British university), is a remarkable memento of the relatively relaxed cultural policy of Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971). Khrushchev came to power after Stalin’s death in 1953, and in his 1956 “secret speech” denounced Stalin’s cult of personality and isolationist policies, setting in motion the period known as the Thaw (1956–1968). Internationalization and cultural exchange were especially encouraged in this period, which saw somewhat loosened censorship and student exchange programs, as well as better foreign language instruction.
“At the Youth Festival in Moscow in 1957 we were the happy hosts” is an opening heading of this scrapbook, illustrated with a mix of personal and press photographs and written in pristine English cursive. The 1957 Youth Festival, which drew 34000 participants from 130 countries, was in fact a landmark moment in unintentionally bringing too much Western influence into the Soviet Union and initiating continued international relationships. The album offers detailed descriptions of new pedagogical methods and technologies available to students of foreign languages in the Soviet Union. Demystifying (and promoting) the Soviet way of life is the clear objective of the album. Other topics treated in the album are the May Day parades, leisure and community service activities in the Summer and Winter, stamp collecting, camping, sports, and drama. The overall tone of the album as well as its attractive and dynamic design is similar to the later Thaw-era official publication “Soviet Life” (printed in English by the US Embassy in Washington DC 1964–1991). Although this album is not dated, its mention of the Sputnik satellite which was launched on October 1957, but not Yuri Gagarin’s April 1961 flight into space (making him the first human to travel into space and to orbit the earth), leads us to believe that the album must have been produced between these two dates.