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210 Pittsboro Street
Campus Box 6210
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-6210

T 919-962-2091
F 919-962-2279

News Release

For immediate use

Aug. 4, 2006 -- No. 362

Photo: To download photos, see end of story.

Russian baby boomers of 'Sputnik Generation'
tell their stories in UNC historian's new book

CHAPEL HILL - Candid interviews with eight Russian baby boomers are the subject of a new book by Dr. Donald J. Raleigh, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The four men and four women featured in "Russia's Sputnik Generation: Soviet Baby Boomers Talk about Their Lives" (Indiana University Press, 2006) were first-graders in 1957, the year the Soviet Union launched its first Sputnik satellite. All are 1967 graduates of School No. 42 in the city of Saratov.

Reaching middle age during the Gorbachev Revolution, they experienced the bumpy transition from communism to a Russian-style market economy.

Their personal stories, translated into English, shed valuable light on Soviet childhood, the reasons and course of perestroika, and the wrenching transition that has taken place since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The book includes black and white photos submitted by the Soviet baby boomers.

"I'm the exact same age as the people interviewed in the book," Raleigh said. "I'm an American baby boomer, born in 1949, and I also graduated from high school in 1967. During my childhood (in Chicago), the threat of nuclear war and the fear instilled in us as children were very real."

Raleigh, the Jay Richard Judson Distinguished Professor of History in the College of Arts and Sciences, teaches modern Russian and Soviet history. He has visited the former Soviet Union and modern-day Russia 31 times.

Raleigh has written, translated or edited more than a dozen books on a variety of issues related to Russia. The last book he wrote, "Experiencing Russia's Civil War: Politics, Society and Revolutionary Culture in Saratov: 1917-1922," was published by Princeton University Press in 2003.

The new book resulted from a project Raleigh undertook to enhance his teaching. In spring 2003, he translated some of the interviews to use in his undergraduate history seminar on "Growing Up in Khrushchev's Russia."

He did the work during a break from the classroom funded by a Chapman Family Faculty Fellowship from the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities. The fellowships are awarded to recognize distinguished teaching.

It was Raleigh's students' reaction that led him to pursue translating all eight interviews for "Russia's Sputnik Generation."

"The undergraduates were so enthusiastic, and they said, 'Why don't you do a whole volume of interviews?'" he said.

Other UNC grants, from the University Research Council and Spray-Randleigh Fellowship program, helped Raleigh defray the costs of travel and transcription needed to finish the book. The fellowships are funded by the Spray Foundation of Atlanta and the Randleigh Foundation Trust of Chapel Hill.

The people interviewed in the book talk about their life stories: their family genealogies, childhood pastimes, favorite books and movies, foreign radio broadcasts, clothing fads, influential teachers, best friends, careers, spouses, children and domestic and foreign travel.

"Every single one of them had a great nostalgia for American music," Raleigh said. "They mentioned the Beatles, and how they would listen to Beatles music on Voice of America or the BBC. Most of them describe a very difficult transition to democracy and a market economy, but all but a few of them thought that the changes were absolutely necessary."

Through the book, Raleigh seeks to answer five questions:

"This baby boomer generation was in many ways the most privileged that Soviet society had produced," Raleigh said. "They grew up in a period of peaceful, organic, evolutionary change, but I'm also able to trace what went wrong and the delegitimization of the system."

Raleigh will use "Russia's Sputnik Generation" in his Russian history survey course this fall. The book is a spin-off of a more in-depth book he is writing, for which he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The book, "Soviet Baby Boomers: A History of the Class of '67," will trace developments in the second half of the 20th century that brought down the Soviet empire. In the book, Raleigh will draw on the life stories of 70 1967 graduates of a Moscow school and the Saratov school.

Raleigh said he hopes the next book will make a distinctive contribution to postwar Soviet and Russian history, contemporary history and Cold War history.

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Photo URLs: For a photo of Raleigh, visit

A.A. Konstantinov and A.O. Darchenko, whose interviews are in the book, submitted photos of the class of 1967 at the following stages:

In the fifth or sixth grade:
On graduation night in 1967:,June22,1967_edited.jpg
In 2004 at a reunion dinner:

Note: Raleigh can be reached at (919) 962-8077 or

College of Arts and Sciences contact: Kim Weaver Spurr, (919) 962-4093,