Edward Ericson: Teaching The Gulag Archipelago to American college students

One thing you said reminded me
of students today. And how do they react to
Solzhenitsyn when they read him. I’ll tell you how they react
when they read the Gulag. We have 100 pages of it in The
Solzhenitsyn Reader, and I have the separate
abridgement. I’ve taught it many times; the hundred pages in the
reader is my abridgement of the
abridgement. That part they left to me to
do. You know, why not? Mahoney didn’t do that,
I did that part. And I have it, let’s say, in an
interim class, when they write journals; instead of any exams, they
just write a journal. And over and over,
that refrain will come: Why didn’t they tell us this? I never heard this from my teachers. I thought I was getting good,
a good high school education! We studied history! We studied the World War,
World War 2! We studied the Cold War! I never heard about the Gulag! I heard about the Holocaust. And I ask students, does
a number come to your mind? Never mind, this isn’t a trick
question. It may be right, the right
number and wrong number. But I think for many of you who
have heard something, a number comes to your mind. Six million? Yeah.
That’s a number. Anybody else here? Oh, and the
hands go up all over! After they have found out
what the Gulag is, I ask, does any number
come to your mind? This is before they’re doing their
reading and preparing them. I say, what would you say if I said sixty-six million?


  • Steven Wiederholt

    Thing is, it's not just kids today. 1st time (and for many many many years after), I know anything about The Gulag was 1963 The Bob Hope Theater, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". That was pretty much it until The Gulag came out.

    The Bob Hope Theater, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

  • mgsfan15

    It's almost as if the idea of abolishing rights is not restricted to Nazism… Who would have thought!

  • black_cat

    JESUS CHRIST! This is why you use actual volumes by historians, not survivor’s accounts like Solzhenitsyn’s. The highest estimates in works with a well-regarded methodology put the number of DEAD around 5-6 million, of course many more people passed through the system over the years and that number may as well be in the tens of millions, however even Solzhenitsyn goes not further than 50. What is this biased material, the evils of communism are well understood as it is without the need for propagandistic pieces like this.

  • Mark H

    Which 100 pages do you teach? I would like to include some of it in my teaching.

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