Nicole Svobodny

Senior Lecturer in Global Studies
Global Studies Study Abroad Advisor (beginning FL23)
Coordinator, Eurasian Studies concentration
PhD, Columbia University
BA, Brown University
research interests:
  • Russian Literature and Culture
  • Life Writing (Confession, Autobiography, Biography, etc.)
  • Performance Studies
  • Mobility Studies
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • MSC 1217-137-255
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    image of book cover

    Dean Svobodny serves as a four-year advisor for Arts & Sciences undergraduates. She also is the coordinator of the Eurasian Studies concentration, an advisor for the major in Global Studies, and a senior lecturer in Russian literature and culture.

    Recent Courses

    Interrogating "Crime and Punishment"

    Whether read as psychological thriller, spiritual journey, or social polemic, Dostoevsky's 1866 novel CRIME AND PUNISHMENT has inspired diverse artistic responses around the world. From the nineteenth century to the present day, writers and filmmakers have revisited (and often subverted) questions that Dostoevsky's novel poses: What internal and external forces cause someone to "step over" into crime? What are the implications of a confession? To what extent can the legal system provide a just punishment? Are forgiveness and redemption possible, or even relevant? What role does grace--or luck--play in the entire process? This course begins with our close reading of Dostoevsky's novel and then moves on to short stories, novels, literary essays, and movies that engage in dialogue with the Russian predecessor. A central concern of our intertextual approach is to explore the interplay between specific socio-historical contexts and universal questions. All readings are in English. No prerequisites.

      Russian Literature at the Borders: Multiculturalism and Ethnic Conflict

      In this course we explore Russian literary works (from the nineteenth century to the present day) that address issues of multiculturalism and ethnic conflict. The course is structured as a virtual tour of culturally significant places. Our readings take us to Ukraine/Belarus, the Caucasus, Siberia, and Central Asia. Some of the topics we discuss include national narratives and metaphor, authority and rebellion, migration and mobility, empire, orientalism, religious identities, gender roles, memory, and the poetics of place. Materials include poetry, drama, novels, short stories, critical articles, and oral history.

        Selected Publications

        Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy, Nicole Svobodny, and Ludmilla Trigos, eds. with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Under the Sky of My Africa: Pushkin and Blackness, Northwestern University Press, May 2006.

        Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness

        Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness

        Roughly in the year 1705, a young African boy, acquired from the seraglio of the Turkish sultan, was transported to Russia as a gift to Peter the Great. This child, later known as Abram Petrovich Gannibal, was to become Peter's godson and to live to a ripe old age, having attained the rank of general and the status of Russian nobility. More important, he was to become the great-grandfather of Russia's greatest national poet, Alexander Pushkin. It is the contention of the editors of this book, borne out by the essays in the collection, that Pushkin's African ancestry has played the role of a "wild card" of sorts as a formative element in Russian cultural mythology; and that the ways in which Gannibal's legacy has been included in or excluded from Pushkin's biography over the last two hundred years can serve as a shifting marker of Russia's self-definition.


        The first single volume in English on this rich topic, Under the Sky of My Africa addresses the wide variety of interests implicated in the question of Pushkin's blackness-race studies, politics, American studies, music, mythopoetic criticism, mainstream Pushkin studies. In essays that are by turns biographical, iconographical, cultural, and sociological in focus, the authors-representing a broad range of disciplines and perspectives-take us from the complex attitudes toward race in Russia during Pushkin's era to the surge of racism in late Soviet and post-Soviet contemporary Russia. In sum, Under the Sky of My Africa provides a wealth of basic material on the subject as well as a series of provocative readings and interpretations that will influence future considerations of Pushkin and race in Russian culture.

        Migration and Mobility in the Modern Age: Refugees, Travelers, and Traffickers in Europe and Eurasia

        Migration and Mobility in the Modern Age: Refugees, Travelers, and Traffickers in Europe and Eurasia

        Combining methodological and theoretical approaches to migration and mobility studies with detailed analyses of historical, cultural, or social phenomena, the works collected here provide an interdisciplinary perspective on how migrations and mobility altered identities and affected images of the "other." From walkways to railroads to airports, the history of travel provides a context for considering the people and events that have shaped Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.