|African Studies in the Soviet Union|
|After the end of the Cold War and against the background of the growing interest for a new world and global history – both profoundly challenging the conventional mapping and methods of the history of world regions – the development of area studies has received considerable attention. The history of area studies in the former Eastern bloc remains a marginalized field in this context, with the history of African Studies in the former Soviet Union being no exception. This is all the more remarkable since the Africa-Institute of the Russian Academy of Science represents the world’s largest research centre for that area until today. Investigating the history of African Studies in the Soviet Union is a promising endeavour in several respects: It can firstly contribute to a more precise understanding of the history of the Cold War and worldwide efforts to describe, anaylse and shape world order in the bipolar constellation. It can secondly help to investigate more thoroughly the relation between the social sciences and the political elites in the Estern bloc, differentiating the superficial interpretation of the first being a servant for the latter. And by following the transformation of that area study in the Soviet Union across the divide of 1989 it is thirdly an indispensable element of a truly global history of area studies.
Rooted in a longer tradition of Oriental studies in the pre-revolutionary period and focussing very much on linguistic and historical research during the 1920s and 1930s African Studies in the Soviet Union have gained considerable momentum in the1950s and 1960s, with the process of decolonization in Africa triggering intensive public and political interest all over the world. In the search for scientific and political answers to the new international situation, African studies in the Soviet Union were fulfilling important functions such as providing information, legitimizing and theorizing alternative development paths and helping to establish Soviet-African relations. In the 1970s and 1980s these functions changed as the impact and prominence of African studies in the Soviet Union declined.
After the end of the East-West-conflict African studies in the Soviet Union again had to find a new position at home and internationally. Confronted with serious domestic and global political as well as institutional transformations new fields of research, new methods and theories were developed and tested. The history of African Studies in post-1989 Russia thus is part of area studies scholars’ worldwide efforts to find a new position in a profoundly changed world order.