William Nickell

William Nickell
Associate Professor and Chair of the Slavic Department
Foster 405
Office Hours: By Appointment
Ph.D., UC Berkeley, 1998.
Research Interests: Russian literature, history, culture, and media studies.

"William Nickell is a cultural historian specializing in mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century Russia, with particular interest in the 1840s, turn-of-the century, and 1930s-40s."


William Nickell is a cultural historian specializing in mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century Russia, with particular interest in the 1840s, turn-of-the century, and 1930s-40s. Before joining the University of Chicago he was the Gary Licker Research Chair at U.C. Santa Cruz. His research focuses on media studies and cultural production, with close attention to the effects of large-scale social, economic and technical change. He also publishes extensively on Tolstoy, including a forthcoming companion to War and Peace. His first book, The Death of Tolstoy: Russia on the Eve, Astapovo Station, 1910, received honorable mention for the MLA’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures.

He works closely with students to construct digital media and installations, including the Soviet Apartment Project (Kommunalka) and the Soviet House of Rest. In 2013-14 he will be working on a new project relating to Sochi, documenting its transformation from a model Soviet city into an elite resort and Olympic site. The project will include an installation in Chicago and Los Angeles and an accompanying book. It will also actively involve University of Chicago students, who will collect documents and oral histories, assist with the installation and participate in its events (recreating the atmosphere of a Soviet-era resort), and develop a digital map of the city tracing its various stages of development.

He also runs a film series featuring the cinema of Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Open to the campus community, it is organized in cooperation with students, and is intended to introduce new perspectives, hone interpretive skills, and stimulate research.


Articles and Book Chapters

  • Yuri Olesha. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. (2013)
  • “When We Dead Arise: A Living Corpse as a Moving Picture.” Book chapter for Tolstoy Screen Adaptations, ed. Lorna Fitzsimmons. (2012)
  • Mondry, Henrietta. Exemplary Bodies: Constructing the Jew in Russian Culture. Russian Review 71:2 (April 2012).
  • “Tolstoy Wars” (Review essay concerning new biographies and memoirs of Leo Tolstoy’s wife.) Tolstoy Studies Journal XXII (2010).
  • “The Great Writer of All Lands: Russia Reads the International Reception of Tolstoy’s Death.” La Revue des etudes slaves, Res 81 (2010).
  • Croskey, Robert. The Legacy of Tolstoy: Alexandra Tolstoy and the Soviet Regime in the 1920s. Russian Review (Winter 2010).
  • Boris Kagarlitsky, “1960s East and West: The Shestidesiatniki and the New Left.” Boundary 2 36:1 (Spring 2009). Translation and introduction.
  • “New Directions in Tolstoy Studies.” Kritika (Summer 2008).
  • “Transfigurations of Tolstoy’s Final Journey: Tolstoy and the Church in 1910.” Tolstoy Studies Journal XVII (2006).
  • “Tolstoy in the Mirror of the Revolution,” in Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda, David Brandenburger & Kevin Platt, eds. (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).
  • “Nikolai Zlatovratsky. ” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 238: Russian Novelists in the Age of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (Brucolli Clark Layman, 2001).
  • “The Death of Tolstoy and the Genre of the Public Funeral in Russia.” Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 44 (Winter 2000).
  • “Itineraries of the Afterlife: Handling the Relics of Lenin and Nicolas II.” Center for Slavic and East European Studies Newsletter, Fall 1998.
  • Costlow, Sandler & Vowles, Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture. (Review) SEEJ, Fall 1995.
  • Helena Goscilo, “New Members and Organs: The Politics of Porn.” (Review). Slavic Review, Fall 1994.
  • “Tolstoy in ‘Leag’ with Henry Parkhurst and Eliza Burnz.” Tolstoy Studies Journal, No. 6, 1993.


  • The Soviet Apartment. Live-in dormitory installation, 2007-08.
  • The Soviet House of Rest. Installation, 2010.
  • Sochi in Six Dimensions. Rich cartography project to appear in fall 2013.
  • The Soviet Cure. Exhibit and accompanying book, 2013-14.

Previously Taught Courses

  • Tolstoy & the Epic Voice (Seminar on War and Peace)
  • 19th Century Russian Cultural Production (Graduate Seminar)
  • Soviet Everyday Life” (Seminar)
  • The Transnational Subject: Jewish Writers in Russian Literature
  • Russian & African American Soul and the Legacies of Slavery and Serfdom
  • Media Aesthetics – Text (Humanities Core)
  • Media Aesthetics – Image (Humanities Core)
  • Realism in Russia
  • Women in Russian Literature
  • The Classic Russian Novel
  • Forbidden Literature in the Russian Tradition
  • Russian Modernism and the Avant-Garde
  • Russian Literature In Revolution

Current Courses

REES 26011 Introduction to Russian Civilization I

(HIST 13900 / SOSC 24000)

The first quarter covers the ninth century to the 1870s; the second quarter continues on through the post-Soviet period. Working closely with a variety of primary sources—from oral legends to film and music, from political treatises to literary masterpieces—we will track the evolution of Russian civilization over the centuries and through radically different political regimes. Topics to be discussed include the influence of Byzantine, Mongol-Tataric, and Western culture in Russian civilization; forces of change and continuity in political, intellectual, and cultural life; the relationship between center and periphery; systems of social and political legitimization; and symbols and practices of collective identity.

Taking these courses in sequence is recommended but not required.

2020-2021 Autumn
Literature and Linguistics

REES 25603 /35603 Media and Power in the Age of Putin and Trump

(SIGN 26029)

Over the past 200 years, various political and cultural regimes of Russia have systematically exploited the gap between experience and representation to create their own mediated worlds--from the tight censorship of the imperial and Soviet periods to the propaganda of the Soviet period and the recent use of media simulacra for strategic geopolitical advantage. During this same period state control of media has been used to seclude Russia from the advancement of liberalism, market economics, individual rights, modernist art, Freud, Existentialism, and, more recently, Western discourses of inclusion, sustainability, and identity. Examining this history, it is sometimes difficult to discern whether the architects of Russian culture have been hopelessly backward or shrewd phenomenologists, keenly aware of the relativity of experience and of their ability to shape it. This course will explore the worlds that these practices produce, with an emphasis on Russia's recent confrontations with Western culture and power, and including various practices of subversion of media control, such as illegal printing and circulation. Texts for the course will draw from print, sound, and visual media, and fields of analysis will include aesthetics, cultural history, and media theory.

2020-2021 Autumn
Literature and Linguistics