Nikolai Krementsov

Nikolai Krementsov

Fellow: Awarded 2015

Field of Study: History of Science, Technology and Economics

Competition: US & Canada


I began my academic career in the late 1970s as a bench researcher at the “Mecca” of Soviet neurophysiology—Ivan Pavlov’s famous “capital of conditional reflexes” near Leningrad. But, after three years of nights experimenting in the laboratory and days teaching biology in a secondary school, I felt deeply disappointed with “doing science” and quit neurophysiology. A few years later, by sheer accident, I discovered the history of science and joined a graduate program at the USSR Academy of Sciences Institute for the History of Natural Science and Technology. I began working on a dissertation about the history of the interaction between studies of evolution and studies of animal behavior in twentieth century Russia.

In 1991 the Soviet Union fell apart and a new, post-Communist Russia emerged on its ruins. The Cold War came to an end. The previously closed archives and the country's borders opened up, creating unprecedented opportunities to pursue my interests in the social and cultural history of Soviet science. Over the following decade I led the life of a “Flying Dutchman,” spending a year or two digging in Russian archives and then a few months or a year abroad examining relevant Western archives and writing up my archival finds. I was fortunate to secure support for my research and writing from a number of Canadian, French, UK, and US foundations, universities, and research centers. In 2003, I finally settled in Canada, joining the faculty of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto.

In the course of my career, I have published half a dozen books and several dozen articles on subjects ranging from oncology to genetics and from entomology to eugenics. In all of my works I have struggled against the profound alienation, and the nearly total lack of contact/interchange/dialogue, between the history/historians of Russia and the history/historians of Russian science. Testing various approaches, sources, and modes of analysis, as well as styles of writing, I have sought to bring science back to its rightful place in the mainstream of twentieth century Russian history. For I believe that one cannot fully understand this tortuous history without acknowledging a central role science came to play in post-revolutionary Russian culture and society.