Aaron Retish

Aaron Retish

Professor of Russian history


313-577-6987 (fax)


3107 Faculty/Administration Building 



Aaron Retish

Aaron Retish is a specialist in late Imperial and Soviet history with a focus on the social, cultural and political history of the countryside. He is the author of "Russia’s Peasants in Revolution and Civil War: Citizenship, Identity, and the Creation of the Soviet State," 1914-1922, a regional study of how peasants’ conceptions of themselves as citizens evolved in a time of total war, mass revolutionary politics and civil breakdown. He is also the author of articles on violence in the Revolutionary era, local courts and penal reform and has broader research interests in law and punishment, gender and ethnicity in the Soviet era.  Retish co-edits "Revolutionary Russia," the leading journal in its field. He also serves on the Board of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives and is associate editor of its journal The Volunteer. Retish teaches courses in Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history and politics, as well as world and modern European history. He can be reached at aretish@wayne.edu or aretish@gmail.com.

Research interest(s)/area of expertise

  • Russian history

  • Modern European history

  • World history

  • Gender history


My current book project, “In the People’s Court: Legal Culture and Social Control in the Soviet Rural Courtroom, 1917-1939,” examines how rural Soviet citizens engaged local legal organs from the 1917 Communist revolution until the eve of World War II. It explores how the Soviets developed the local court system and used it to shape citizens’ value systems and ways of addressing the state. At the same time, it reveals a vibrant legal culture among Soviet peasants and uncovers how people understood criminality and justice in a time of dynamic political and social violence. With support from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, NCEER and Wayne State I have been able to conduct deep archival research of court records and cases before people’s courts in the Russian regions of Kirov, Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow and Samara, as well as archives in the Udmurt Republic and Kazakhstan.  

I am also working on another monograph, "Russia Behind Bars: A HIstory of Prisoners of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, 1863-1932," which has been funded by the NEH. "Russia Behind Bars" uncovers the histories of prisoners and how they experienced imprisonment as both punishing and reformative, inhumane and redemptive. Using the kresty model prison first built in St. Petersburg and then exported to Samara and other provinces as case studies, I study the importance of concentrated space and time in how prisoners experienced incarceration. Prisoners' experiences were also shaped by penal reformers and criminologists of the tsarist and Soviet state who tried to modernize the penal system, but whose attempts at reform rarely came to fruition. This study, I hope, will bring the history of Russia's prisoners fully into the global story of the development of the modern penitentiary system, social politicis, and the transformative state.


  • Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 2003
  • M.A., The Ohio State University, 1996
  • B.A., The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1992

Awards and grants

  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Summer Research Stipend, 2019
  • Imre Kertész Kolleg Institute of Advanced Studies Fellow, Friedrich-Schiller University, Jena, 2018
  • Humanities Center Scholar in Residence, Wayne State University, 2017-18
  • Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship, Wayne State University, 2015-2016
  • Harry Frank Guggenheim Research Fellowship, 2012-13
  • National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, Short Term Travel Grant, 2013
  • American Philosophical Society Franklin Research Grant, 2012
  • President’s Research Enhancement Award, Wayne State University, 2011-12
  • Career Development Chair, Wayne State University, 2011-12
  • Extra Mile Award, Student Disability Services, Wayne State University, 2011
  • Wayne State Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award, 2009
  • Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, Wayne State University 2008
  • Kennan Institute Short-Term Research Fellow, 2008
  • Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies Residence Research Grant, U. of Michigan, 2007-08
  • Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship, Wayne State University, 2006-07
  • Humanities Center Scholar in Residence, Wayne State University, 2006-07
  • Scholar in Residence, Illinois University Russian Research Laboratory, 2006, 2013
  • International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) Short Term Grant, 2004
  • University Research Grant, Wayne State University, 2004
  • Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Title VIII Fellow, 2003

News mentions

Selected publications

  • "Social Control under Stalin and Khrushchev: The Phantom of a Well Ordered State." Edited volume with Immo Rebitschek (University of Jena).  University of Toronto Press, forthcoming
  • "The Global Impact of the Russian Revolution." Edited volume with Matthew Rendle (University of Exeter). Routledge. October 2020
  • "Russia’s Peasants in Revolution and Civil War: Citizenship, Identity, and the Creation of the Soviet State, 1914-1922," Cambridge University Press, August 2008.  Paperback edition in 2012.  Winner of the Wayne State Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award, 2009. 
  • "Russia's Home Front In War And Revolution, 1914-22: Book 1. Russia's Revolution In Regional Perspective." Edited volume with Sarah Badcock (U. of Nottingham) and Liudmila Novikova (Higher School of Economics, Moscow). Slavica Press, 2015. 
  • Gender in Modern Russian History, 1860 to the Present. Book manuscript under contract, Bloomsbury Press
  • “The Birth of Soviet Criminology: Mikhail Gernet’s Vision of the Good State and the Dangers of the People in 1917,” Journal of Modern Russian History and Historiography, vol. 13 (2020): 184-213
  • “Peasant Dreams and Aspirations in the Russian Revolution,” in A Companion to the Russian Revolution, edited by Daniel Orlovsky. John Wiley & Sons, 2020, pp. 125-35
  • Комментария: “Жизнь в катасторофе: Повседневность и стратегии выживания,” in Гражданская война в России: Жизнь в эпоху социальных экспериментов и военных испытаний, 1917-1922. Nestor-Istoriia, 2020, pp. 171-74
  • “Judicial Reforms and Revolutionary Justice: The Establishment of the Court System in Soviet Russia, 1917-1922” in Russia's Home Front in War and Revolution, 1913-22, Book 3, 2018, pp. 369-99
  • “Silences and Noises: Commemorating 1917,” (with Matthew Rendle), Revolutionary Russia, vol. 29 (December 2017), 151-57
  • “Местная судебная система в Вятской губернии в 1917-1922 гг.” (The Local Court System in Viatka Province, 1917-1922), in Эпоха войн и революций, 1914-1922 (Era of Wars and Revolution, 1914-1922), edited by B. Kolonitsii and D. Orlovskii. (St. Petersburg: Nestor-Istoriia, 2017), pp. 100-12
  • “Breaking Free From the Imperial Prison:  Penal Reforms and Prison Life in Revolutionary Russia,” Historical Research (February, 2017): 134-50
  • “The Long Legacy of World War I: Remembering and Forgetting in Russia,” Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, origins.osu.edu/article/long-legacy-world-war-i
  • “A Kaleidoscope of Revolutions,” (with Sarah Badcock and Liudmila Novikova) in Russia’s Revolution in Regional Perspective, 1914-1921, pp. 1-15
  •  “The Izhevsk Revolt of 1918: The Fateful Clash of Revolutionary Coalitions, Paramilitarism, and Bolshevik Power” in Russia’s Revolution in Regional Perspective, pp. 299-322
  • “The Taste of Kumyshka and the Debate over Udmurt Culture,” in Russian History through the Senses From 1700 to the Present, edited by Tricia Starks and Matthew P. Romaniello. Bloomsbury Press, 2016, pp. 141-64
  •  “Controlling Revolution: Victims of Social Violence and the Rural Soviet Courts 1917-1923,” Europe-Asia Studies 65 (November 2013): 1789-806
  • “Массовая политика и роль простых людей в Гражданской войне” (Popular Politics and the Role of Ordinary People in the Civil War,” Roundtable Discussion, Rossiiskaia istoriia 5 (Sept.-Oct. 2013): 19-24
  •  “Eastward Ho!  Russian Migratory Networks of Viatka Province during Peace and Revolution, 1850-1921,” in The Making of Russian History: Society, Culture, and the Politics of Modern Russia. Essays in Honor of Allan Wildman (Slavica Press, 2009), pp. 91-108
  • “Creating Peasant Citizens: Rituals of Power, Rituals of Citizenship in Viatka Province, February-October 1917,” Revolutionary Russia (June 2003): 47-67
  • “Becoming Enlightened: National Backwardness and Revolutionary Ideology,” Proceedings of the Ohio Academy of History 2002, (2003): 79-90
  • “Sotsial’nye konflikty v srede Viatskogo krest’ianstva v khode provedeniia zemel’noi reformy v 1918 g.” (Social Conflicts Among the Viatka Peasantry During the Implementation of the Land Reform in 1918), Nauchnyi vestnik. Kirovskogo filiala Moskovskogo gumanitarno ekonomicheskogo instituta. Nauchno-metodicheskii zhurnal, no. 5. Kirov, Russia, 2000, pp. 81-85

Courses taught by Aaron Retish

Fall Term 2024 (future)

Winter Term 2024

Fall Term 2023

Winter Term 2023

Winter Term 2022