Roman Jakobson and American Slavic Studies: The First Postwar Decade

Keywords: Roman Jakobson, Michael Karpovich, Edward J. Simmons, Slavic studies, Slavistics, Committee for Advanced Slavic Cultural Studies, Columbia University, Harvard University


Scholars who have assessed Roman Jakobson’s legacy have concentrated on his contributions to various scientific disciplines, while those who knew him, who had been his students or his colleagues, have written about his rhetorical virtuosity, his impact as a lecturer. The present article focuses on a little-studied aspect of his professional biography: the ways in which, during the period mid-1940s to mid-1950s, the émigré scholar carried out an ambitious project to develop Slavic studies (Slavistics, slavistika) as a discipline in the United States. Jakobson’s institution-building activities, conceptualized while he was teaching at Columbia University, were implemented following his move in 1949 to the new Slavic Department at Harvard University. A private group, the Committee for Advanced Slavic Cultural Studies, with which he was closely connected, played a significant role in supporting the Harvard program, and, more broadly, helping develop American Slavistics as a discipline.


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