After taking an MA and PhD at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London, I defected to the Midlands to teach Russian History at CREES in 1999. After taking over responsibility for first the Masters programme, and then the PhD programme at CREES, I grew increasingly envious of the students and ex-students (including many of my colleagues) who were able to include the fantastic Russian language programmes in their studies and hence reached a far better level of Russian than I have ever managed.
After eleven of the most rewarding years of my working life, I moved on to the Karelian Institute at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, where I am now Professor of Russian History and Politics and one of the academic leaders of the newly established VERA Centre for Russia and Border Studies. Apart from four months as a visiting professor in the History Department of the University of Michigan, I have spent the whole of my postgraduate training and professional career in area studies institutions, so can appreciate more than most the contribution that dedicated centres such as CREES make to our understanding of the world we live in.
Most of my research to date focused on the non-Russian nationalities of the USSR, and I was fortunate to be at CREES at a time when research was expanding its interests from its east European and Russian core to, in particular, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Most of what I have read in the past twenty years is summed up in my latest book, Red Nations: the Nationalities Experience in and after the USSR, published by Cambridge University Press in 2013. I now find myself at something of a research crossroads and have been keeping my options open by dabbling in Soviet Georgia and contemporary Central Asia, while also developing a research project on the history of political succession in Russia.
I owe my development as a historian and a teacher entirely to CREES. I always felt uncomfortable trying to fill the shoes of my predecessors Bob Davies and Arfon Rees, but from them and the rest of the CREES history community – Melanie Ilic, the late Derek Watson, and numerous excellent postgraduates – I learnt an enormous amount. Around this core flew a number of satellites brought together by the renowned CREES Russian History seminars (formerly SIPS), including such congenial luminaries as Chris Read, Mark Harrison, Geoffrey Swain, John Westwood and John Barber. I learnt almost as much from my colleagues in other disciplines and, perhaps most of all, have taken with me important lessons about how a relatively small and often embattled centre can contribute so much to the field of Russian and East European Studies.