Harold Shukman, 1931-2012

September 6, 2012

A leading authority on Russian history, politics and culture has died.

Harold Shukman was born in London on 23 March 1931 and had a fragmented early education until national service offered him the lifeline of a Russian course at the Joint Services School for Linguists. This proved a gateway into higher education rather than espionage when he decided to study Russian language and literature at the University of Nottingham. He graduated in 1956, joined St Antony's College, Oxford as a senior scholar in 1958 and completed his DPhil in 1960.

Although he then spent a year as an Astor fellow at Harvard and Stanford universities and had further short-term postings in the US, St Antony's remained Dr Shukman's base until he retired in 1998. He also served as university lecturer in modern Russian history (1969-98).

A prolific writer and translator, Dr Shukman never shied away from big issues. His own books included Lenin and the Russian Revolution (1967) and Stalin (1999). He joined forces with William Deakin, warden of St Antony's, and H.T. Willetts to produce A History of World Communism (1975). He also edited The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Russian Revolution (1988) and Agents for Change: Intelligence Services in the 21st Century (2000).

A rather more personal tome, Secret Classrooms: An Untold Story of the Cold War (2006), offers an account of the "spy school" where Dr Shukman and co-author Geoffrey Elliott, along with famous names such as Alan Bennett and Michael Frayn, acquired their linguistic skills. War or Revolution: Russian Jews and Conscription in Britain, 1917 (2006) explored the fate of immigrant Russian Jews such as his father who were forced to fight in the Red Army.

Archie Brown, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Oxford, recalls Dr Shukman as "a superb linguist", an inspiring teacher who "never took himself too seriously" and a man capable of great generosity.

"He produced excellent translations of General Dmitri Volkogonov's books," Professor Brown said, "and became a personal friend of his. When Volkogonov got cancer, Harry arranged for his treatment in Oxford.

"For many years he taught the compulsory Russian history course in the Oxford MPhil in Russian and East European studies, which was taken in graduate students' first term. After his death, I wrote to several former supervisees who had taken that class, and they all had fond memories of Harry and of how enjoyable his classes and tutorials were."

Dr Shukman died of prostate cancer on 11 July and is survived by his wife Barbara, three children of an earlier marriage and three stepchildren.


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