Former editorial director of Yale University Press and general editor of its celebrated Annals of Communism series is now in charge of one of the world’s most important archives of Jewish life
Source: Chronicle of Higher Ed (7-15-09)
One of the world’s most important archives of Jewish life, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, in New York, has a new executive director. Jonathan Brent, 59, lately the editorial director of Yale University Press and general editor of its celebrated Annals of Communism series, assumed the post on July 1.
Unlike his work on the Annals series, his new job will not require that he be ready to drink and smoke heavily.
He laughs heartily when that subject comes up. He secured his reputation as one of America’s leading academic editors by venturing to Russia, beginning in the early 1990s, to explore the vast archives of Soviet-era power. He says he encountered many lazy, venal, and anti-Semitic archivists who had become chiefs of small fiefdoms in a tattering system, and he found that nothing opened their doors as effectively as cartons of Winstons, Western-style food, and plenty of Jack Daniel’s.
“Let me put it this way,” Mr. Brent says in a husky voice that seems to bear out his point. “A Russian general once quipped to a Polish diplomat: Once you Poles learn how to drink with Russians, then you can negotiate with Russians.”
Experts in Soviet history and politics have hailed the Annals series as one of the most ambitious archival publishing projects of all time. It has breathed new life into Soviet studies with 20 volumes, most of them edited collections of documents on such key events as the Great Terror, collectivization, and the gulag. The series’ first publication was Harvey Klehr, John E. Haynes, and Fridrikh I. Firsov’s The Secret World of American Communism (1995), which shocked even true believers by detailing how much the American branch of the party had been at Moscow’s beck and call….