Aaron Retish

Aaron Retish

Associate Professor


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


Retish’s current book project, “In the Courts of Revolution: Vengeance, Legality, and Citizenship in the Rural Soviet 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. It draws on deep archival research of court records and cases before people’s courts in the Russian regions of Kirov, Nizhnii Novgorod, Moscow, and Samara regions, as well as archives in the Udmurt Republic and Kazakhstan.


  • 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

  • Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena 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

Selected publications

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. 
“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.

“Social Revolutions: Peasant Aspirations,” in A Companion to the Russian Revolution, edited by Daniel Orlovsky. Forthcoming with John Wiley & Sons.
Gender in Modern Russian History, 1860 to the Present. Book manuscript under contract, Bloomsbury Press.
“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). 
“Breaking Free From the Imperial Prison:  Penal Reforms and Prison Life in Revolutionary Russia,” Historical Research.  February, 2017.
 “The Izhevsk Revolt of 1918: The Fateful Clash of Revolutionary Coalitions, Paramilitarism, and Bolshevik Power” in Russia’s Revolution in Regional Perspective.
“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.
 “Controlling Revolution: Victims of Social Violence and the Rural Soviet Courts 1917-1923,” Europe-Asia Studies 65 (November 2013): 1789-1806.
“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).
 “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).
“Creating Peasant Citizens: Rituals of Power, Rituals of Citizenship in Viatka Province, February-October 1917,” Revolutionary Russia, June 2003.
“Becoming Enlightened: National Backwardness and Revolutionary Ideology,” Proceedings of the Ohio Academy of History 2002, 2003.
“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.


Currently teaching

  • GLS/HIS 2800 Introduction to Global Issues & Institutions, 3 credits, Winter 2019
    HIS 3995/6000 History of Post-Soviet Russia, 3 credits, Winter 2019
    HIS 5450/7450 Europe, 1918-1939: Mass Politics and Culture in the Age of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini 4 credits, Winter 2018
    HIS 1300 Europe and the World, 1500-1945 3 credits, Winter 2018

Courses taught

Europe and the World, 1500-1945 (HIS 1300)
The World Since 1945 (HIS 1400) 
Introduction to Global Issues and Institutions (GLS/HIS 2800)
The First World War (HIS 3995/6000)
Europe in the Interwar Period (HIS 5450/7450)
Russia and Eurasia to 1917 (HIS 3490/5490)
The Russian Revolution (HIS 5495/7495)
The Soviet Union (HIS 5500/7500)
Capstone Course for History Majors (HIS 5996)
Graduate Readings Seminar in European History (HIS 8225)
Graduate Seminar in Modern European History (HIS 8240)
Graduate Readings Seminar in World History (HIS 8310)