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Personal profile


Vera Tolz is Sir William Mather Professor of Russian Studies

  • MA Classics (St Petersburg, 1981)
  • PhD Russian and East European Studies (Birmingham, 1993)

Research interests

With the AHRC funding of £ 885,125, the project 'Reframing Russia for the global mediasphere: from the Cold War to "Information War"?' aims to fill a major gap in our understanding of how Russian state-sponsored media shape, and are shaped by, a radically transformed global communication environment. Led by Professors Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz, the project is the first in-depth study of the role of the international broadcaster RT (Russia Today) in projecting Russia for international audiences. To be carried out in collaboration with audience research and big data specialists at the Open University, Professor Marie Gillespie and Dr Alistair Willis, the project interrogates wide-spread presumptions about RT, which are influenced by outdated Cold War stereotypes. Instead, taking into account today's distinctly different political and ideological context and new global media ecology, the project foregrounds the ways in which leading Russian political and media actors behave within this ecology, and their efforts to deploy identity politics in order to leverage maximum impact on international audiences.

Mediating post-Soviet difference: an analysis of Russian television representation of inter-ethnic cohesion issues (with Professor Stephen Hutchings): This three-year AHRC-funded project studied Russian state television's approach to ethnic tension, combining the complementary expertise of specialists in post-Soviet media studies and ethnicity and Russian nation building. It aimed to contribute both to our grasp of an urgent issue in transition countries, and to the study of the contemporary media's role in fostering community cohesion, explaining how one of the world's most complex societies confronted the dual impact of globalization and post-imperial nation building. See my book with Steve Hutchings, Nation, Ethnicity and Race on Russian Television (2015).

Oriental studies and national identity in Russia: This AHRC-funded project investigated how intellectuals in early-twentieth-century Russia offered a novel critique of the ways in which 'Oriental' cultures were understood at the time.  It demonstrated how a unique set of political, social and cultural factors allowed Russian imperial scholars to engage in a dialogue with representatives of  the empire's non-European minorities and how these two groups together articulated a radically revisionist set of ideas which not only shaped ethnic politics in Russia across the divide of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, but also, in the aftermath of the Second World War, directly influenced the critique of imperialism and colonialism in Western Europe and the Unites States of America. See my book 'Russia's own Orient': The Politics of Identity and Oriental Studies in the Late Imperial and Early Soviet Periods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Nationalism and ethnic politics in modern and contemporary Russia: I have published a book and a number of articles on the construction of different definitions of Russian nationhood by the intellectual and political elites in the course of the last three centuries. One of my key arguments is that perceptions of national identity have had an impact on political choices of the Russian elites both historically and currently. See my book on the Hodder website.

Intellectuals and political power under the communist regime: in 1997 I published a book on the relationship between the Russian/Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Soviet government in the 1920s and the 1930s. I have also written articles on the changing role of the cultural elite in Soviet society in the post-war period. I have been particularly interested in situations where intellectuals could subvert the Party and governmental control and exercise a certain amount of influence on the formation of official policies.


PhD Supervision

I am happy to supervise research projects on a wide range of topics in Russian cultural and intellectual history, on nationalism, ethnic politics and the role of the media in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

Most of my former PhD students have gone to work in academia in the UK and overseas. They have also received post-doctoral fellowships from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust. 

Further information

Research Posts, Grants and Fellowships:

2017-2020: AHRC research grant (with Profs. Hutchings and Gillespie, and Dr Willis), 'Reframing Russia for the Global Mediasphere: From the Cold War to "Information War"?' (£ 885,125)

2010-2013: AHRC research grant (with Prof. Hutchings), 'An Analysis of Russian Television Representations of Inter-Ethnic Cohesion Issues' (£ 426,395)

2004-2007: AHRB research grant, 'Oriental Studies and Russian National Identity: the 1870s – 1920s'

2003-2004: British Academy Senior Research Fellowship

1999-2000: Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton

1994-1995: Fellow, Russian Research Center, Harvard University

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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