Making the New Man: Scientific and Artistic Experiments in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, 1900–1939

Nikolai Krementsov's picture
Call for Papers
May 16, 2019 to May 18, 2019
Russian Federation
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Intellectual History, Literature, Russian or Soviet History / Studies






Making the New Man:

Scientific and Artistic Experiments in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, 1900–1939


International Conference

St. Petersburg State University

St. Petersburg, Russia

May 16–18, 2019


“Man ought to be renewed”

Maxim Gorky, 1906


In 1901 H. G. Wells published a series of essays titled Anticipations, in which he envisioned profound influences that rapidly developing science and technology were about to exert “upon human life and thought” in the course of the unfolding century. In the follow-up Mankind in the Making, he expanded this vision by focusing specifically on the effects of anticipated scientific, technological, and social advances “upon the evolution of man.” Both Anticipations and its sequel exemplified the recent resurgence of interest in the old idea – dating as far back as Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia – of the “new man”. Indeed, in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century scores of writers, scientists, and artists in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, and elsewhere produced their own visions of the “coming man”. US writer Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward (1888), French immunologist and physiologist Charles Richet’s essay Dans cent ans (1891–92), Italian psychiatrist Paolo Mantegazza’s novella L’Anno 3000 (1897), German journalist Arthur Brehmer and artist Ernst Lübbert’s compilation Die Welt in hundert Jahren (1910), and many other cultural productions considered the future development of humanity. They debated its tempos: a slow evolution, stretching over millennia, as in H. G. Wells’s story “The Man of the Year Million” (1893), or a rapid revolution, taking no longer than a single century as in Richet’s essay. They thought about its modes as primarily spiritual, anatomical, physiological, moral, intellectual, technological, or social. They discussed its possible units: an individual, a family, a community, a nation, a race, or entire humankind. They speculated on its ultimate directions and results: the divergence, degeneration, and eventual extinction of the human species or human biological perfection and the emergence of a “God-man,” a “communal mind,” an “Übermensch,” and a symbiotic “super-organism.” They contemplated its various agents and agencies: the will of God(s) and the wishes of men, the laws of Nature and the laws of History, communal mores and societal conventions, the state’s bureaucracies and the world’s leading scientists and engineers. And many of them reflected upon a variety of possibilities offered by the contemporary advances in biomedical science and technology to direct human future evolution to a desired end.

The goal of our conference is to explore the fantastic visions of, and the actual experiments in, “making the new man” in one particular setting – the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The revolutionary transformations of 1917 boosted scientific fantasies of engineering human evolution, and the young Soviet republic of the 1920s and 1930s became a stage for astounding experiments in medicine, biology, psychology, pedagogy, literature, art, and cinema, all aimed at exploring the possibilities of making the “new man”. By focusing on the first forty years of the twentieth century, we hope to uncover continuities and discontinuities in elaborating the concept of the “new man” across the customary divide of the Great War and 1917 revolutions, as well as to explore similarities and differences between the concurrent Russian/Soviet and other/Western visions of the “new man”. By combining the perspectives of different disciplines, we want to examine the continuous interaction and cross-fertilization among major cultural domains (natural and social sciences, theater, education, literature, medicine, religion, cinema, and the fine arts) in the construction of the new man. Of primary interest are the mechanics and dynamics of interconnections between the biomedical visions, and actual experiments, of perfecting human beings, on one hand, and the expression and transformation of these visions and experiments in literature, cinema and the arts, on the other.


Topics relevant to the conference include (but are not limited to):

Western visions of the new man as reflected and/or transformed in Russian/Soviet science and literature

The mechanisms of human evolution in Russian/Soviet thought

The construction units of making the new man

The dualities of the new man: biology and sociology, nature and nurture, inborn and learned, body and mind, normal and pathological in various cultural forms and practices (from clinics to novels and from movies to laboratories)

The dreams and realities of proletarian culture and proletarian science

Eugenics, bourgeois and proletarian

Pro-creation of the new man: sex, love, marriage, family, and children

The new biological man on canvas, stage, and screen

“Biomechanics” and “psychotechnics” of the new man


Guidelines for Submission

If you are interested in presenting a paper at this conference, please send a 300-500 word-long abstract and a brief biographical statement to the following address:

The deadline for proposals is October 20th, 2018. Decisions will be announced on November 1st, 2018.

The working languages of the conference are Russian and English



Dr. Lyubov Bugaeva (St. Petersburg State University, Russia)

Prof. Nikolai Krementsov (University of Toronto, Canada)

Program committee:

Dr. Konstantin Bogdanov (Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Science, Russia)

Dr. Ilya Kalinin (Saint-Petersburg State University, Russia)

Prof. Dr. Riccardo Nicolosi (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany)

Dr. Nikolai Poselyagin (New Literary Observer, Moscow, Russia)

Dr. Patricia Simpson (University of Hertfordshire, UK)

Dr. Matthias Schwartz (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Berlin)

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Organizing Committee

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