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Alan Barenberg
The Gulag in Vorkuta: Beyond Space and Time

Alan Barenberg in an assistant professor in the Department of History at Texas Tech University.
Address for correspondence: Box 41013, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409, USA. alan.barenberg@ttu.edu.
Research for this essay was supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources
Mellon Fellowship for Dissertation Research in Original Sources in the Humanities, the Eurasia Program of the Social Science
Research Council with funds provided by the State Department under the Program for Research and Training on
Eastern Europe and the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union (Title VIII), and the University of Chicago.

This essay argues that the Gulag was fixed neither in space nor in time. Following recent trends in historiography, it describes the close connections between the Gulag and Soviet society as a whole, using the example of Vorkuta, an Arctic camp complex that was initially constructed in the 1930s. This camp complex would later become one of the largest prison camp complexes in the Soviet Union and later a Soviet company town. Looking at the twin processes of “zonification” and “dezonification,” the essay shows that the spatial relationships between Gulag camps and their surrounding communities were complex and fluid. Turning to the question of what happened to Vorkuta as it was transformed from a Gulag town into a company town, it demonstrates that people, social networks, and labor practices from the Gulag had a profound influence on the development of the city long after the mass releases of the 1950s. The essay concludes by suggesting ways in which scholars might reexamine the Gulag as a phenomenon embedded in Soviet society.

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