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International Q&A with FSI-Humanities Center 2012 Visitor Catherine Gousseff

By Marie-Pierre Ulloa
Why did you become a historian?

Maybe by chance since I wanted to be a philosopher. I think that my origins played a huge role in my choice. My grandparents came from Russia as refugees after the Revolution and I dedicated my work as historian to the history of refugees and displaced persons in the 20th century, having started with a PhD on the Russian Exile.

What is the focus of your current research?

I am working on the history of population exchange between Ukraine and Poland in order to adjust the new politic borders with the ethnographic ones (1944-1947)

What are the three or four seminal books in a historian's library?

Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen; the modernization of rural France, 1880-1914 
 Marc Bloch, The Medieval Society 
George Ostrogorsky, History of Byzantine State

Who are your models and mentors, if any?

I’m thinking of Daniel Mendelsohn (author of The Lost), not as a mentor, but in a way as a model in dealing with history and memory, with familial story and political history of the 20th century.

Which are the most critical skills in order to become a good historian?

Endless intellectual curiosity, imagination, and less ideological conviction than critical view of the present time.

What is the mission of the Humanities and how do the Humanities and Social Sciences complement each other?

It is a huge question, but I would summarize my answer to one point. My conviction is that the humanities concentrate the knowledge of human expression, of human inventions, and human traces. As such, they act as critical mass in society and give to it the capacity to continue the human story.


Tags: International Q and A