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Eidel’man, Natan Iakovlevich

(1930–1989), historian, writer, and publicist. From 1947 to 1952, Natan Eidel’man studied history at Moscow State University. Despite his academic brilliance, he was unable to pursue graduate studies (aspirantura) after his father, the journalist Iakov Eidel’man, was arrested in 1950 on charges of “bourgeois nationalism.” Natan Eidel’man instead found a position teaching history at a night school near Moscow, where he worked from 1952 to 1955.

From 1955 to 1958, Eidel’man taught history at a secondary school in Moscow, but was forced to resign when he came under investigation for “having known about and not informing on” the activity of the underground circle headed by Lev Krasnopevtsev, a graduate student at the Marxism-Leninism Department of Moscow State University. This small group included mainly undergraduate and graduate students of history; they sought “to revive Leninism” and supported democratization of the USSR. Active in 1957, the members of the group were arrested and in early 1958 sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.

After the investigation, Eidel’man could no longer work as a teacher. With great effort he obtained a position, which he held for six years, at the Moscow Region’s Local Museum. In the museum’s depository he discovered unpublished documents related to Kolokol (The Bell), the nineteenth-century radical newspaper published by Aleksandr Herzen (Gertsen), prompting the beginning of Eidel’man’s study of Herzen and his milieu.

In the early 1960s, Eidel’man wrote commentaries for annotated editions of the Vol’naia russkaia pechat’ (Russian Free Press), which were being prepared by the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences. With this assignment, Eidel’man commenced research on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century documents, a labor that lasted many years.

Eidel’man’s first published work appeared in 1960. In 1964, still at the Institute of History, he defended his dissertation, “Correspondents of Herzen’s and Ogarev’s Free Press in the Period of the First Revolutionary Situation’s Development in Russia.” He then wrote about the Decembrists, Pushkin’s personality and work, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century political, social, and cultural history. His writings were based on archival materials that Eidel’man, to a large degree, brought to the attention of historians for the first time. His books were vividly written, in a literary style uncharacteristic of traditional historical publications. The writings brought him popularity and the possibility of engaging in professional work without belonging formally to an academic institute or university; they also contributed to the development of historical biography and historical prose as a genre.

Eidel’man was a brilliant lecturer who lectured across the Soviet Union. In 1986, at a time when antisemitism was on the rise, he wrote an open letter condemning nationalism and antisemitism to the writer Viktor Astaf’ev, who belonged to the nationalist wing of the Russian intelligentsia. In the atmosphere of glasnost’ the correspondence between Astaf’ev and Eidel’man was perceived as a significant public event. In 1988 and 1989, Eidel’man’s Revoliutsiia sverkhu v Rossii (Revolution from above in Russia) was published in a popular journal. It was devoted to the history of reform and evoked great interest in a society experiencing the process of political change.

Suggested Reading

Iuliia Eidel’man, ed., Dnevniki Natana Eidel’mana (Moscow, 2003); Aleksandr Vladimirovich Ratner, ed., Natan Iakovlevich Eidel’man: Bibliograficheskie materialy k portretu istorika (Viatka, 1991); Andrei Grigir’evich Tartakovskii, “Istoriia prodolzhaetsia. . . ,” in Natan Iakovlevich Eidel’man, Iz potaennoi istorii Rossii XVIII–XIX vekov, pp. 5–47 (Moscow, 1993).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson