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Letter from the Chair

Eugene M. Avrutin

Associate Professor of History
Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

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Areas of Specialization

Modern European Jewish History


Ph.D., University of Michigan, 2004


Eugene M. Avrutin is Associate Professor of modern European Jewish history and Tobor family scholar in the Program of Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois. He is the author of Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia (Cornell University Press, 2010). Avrutin has published articles on documentation practices; the concept of race; and religious toleration and neighborly coexistence in the East European borderlands. Together with Harriet Murav (Professor of Slavic Literatures at the University of Illinois) and Petersburg Judaica (a Jewish Studies institute affiliated with the European University in St. Petersburg), he edited Photographing the Jewish Nation: Pictures from S. An-sky’s Ethnographic Expeditions (Brandeis University Press, 2009), which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in the visual arts category. Most recently, he edited with Robert H. Greene (Professor of Russian history at the University of Montana) a critical edition of the memoirs of the educator and feminist Anna Vygodskaia (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012).

Avrutin is currently working on a microhistory of a sensational ritual murder trial that took place in Velizh in the second quarter of the nineteenth century (1823-1835). “The Velizh Affair” was the longest and one of the most comprehensive investigations of ritual murder in the modern world. In its scope and attention to detail, the Velizh case opens a window onto a time, place, and people that seldom appear in studies of either the Russian Empire or East European Jewry. Set in a small borderland town, located in the very heart of the thick white Russian forest, the book project reconstructs the behaviors and everyday lives of a population that has been written out of the historical record, exploring along the way, the interactions between Jews and their Christian neighbors, elite and popular cultures, and the complex motivations that resulted in the ritual murder charge.