I am a historian of the United States and the Soviet Union.
My dissertation is a comparative history of the death penalty in the United States and the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1991. It is the first archive-based history of the Soviet and American death penalties after 1945. My project prioritizes the voices of ordinary people – of the accused and their defense counsel, the victim and their friends and families, local communities and the prosecutors charged with protecting them, death penalty abolitionists and death penalty advocates – whose stories have yet to be told. My goal is to place their experiences front and center, to take a story oftentimes told from the top down and reconstruct how it unfolded on the ground in two seemingly distinct ideological contexts. Recovering human agency within the death penalty’s peculiar history in these two self-proclaimed “model societies” reveals the tangible effects that it had on the lives of American and Soviet citizens. It also shows how those effects lent legitimacy to but ultimately discredited the death penalty as an institution, and the states that upheld it, over the second half of the twentieth century.
When I'm not researching or writing my dissertation, I enjoy freelance writing, running marathons, swimming outdoors, and brainstorming ideas for an article-length piece about my life as a first generation Russian-American. You can find me on Twitter at @yanareads.