From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice
Faculty Feature: Dr. Laurie Stoff
The women of Russia might be one of the most forgotten sectors of society without the efforts of Associate Professor of History, Dr. Laurie Stoff. Laurie has studied Russia, lived in Russia, served Russian refugees, and immersed herself in Russian history, language, and culture for two decades. When asked why she is so interested in Russia, Laurie said, ” It is the beautiful, but tragic, history and culture of that country that has always mesmerized me.” Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Laurie attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., majoring in History. She spent her junior year studying in Ireland at University College, Dublin. After completing her B.A., Laurie went to live in Moscow. This was just a year after the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1993, and the country was in a state of chaotic transition. Laurie reflected, “Goods were scarce, inflation was rampant, and people were uncertain about the future. For example, the store on the first floor of the apartment building where I lived often only had 2 or 3 items on its shelves. For much of the summer, all they carried were cans of sardines, large jugs of apple juice, and women’s brassieres!” Laurie entered graduate school at the University of Kansas. She was fascinated by the unusual roles women had undertaken in Russia throughout its history, particularly those who performed violent acts as part of the revolutionary movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, Laurie came across Maria Bochkareva, a peasant woman who fought with the Russian army during World War I and became the commander of the first all-female combat unit in 1917. Laurie noted, “She and the other Russian women who served during the Great War became my MA thesis and PhD dissertation topics, as well as the subject of my first book. I wanted to understand how, in a highly patriarchal and traditional society like Imperial Russia, it was possible for women to become soldiers.” Each summer during graduate school, Laurie traveled to Russia for language study and research, observing the transformation process occurring there. While many things had begun to improve, especially as a result of Russia’s booming oil and gas industries, there were still significant problems. Laurie noted, “Crime, corruption, inflation, unemployment, alcoholism, and homelessness rose considerably, accompanied by xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. I watched the ruble, roughly equivalent to a dollar in 1992, plummet to over 5000 to the dollar over the course of a few years. It was not uncommon to see bloodied figures of bankers or other wealthy individuals on the news, shot execution style by one of the numerous mafias that now controlled much of Russian commerce. The humanities and social sciences were in a sad state of neglect. Archives and libraries were severely underfunded and in need of major repairs. I once arrived at the State Historical Library to find that the roof over the main stairwell had collapsed under the weight of heavy snow. The library remained open to researchers, as snow flakes fell through the ad-hoc roof repair, which consisted of several plywood boards placed haphazardly over the gaping hole. The Military-Historical Archive lacked sufficient heat for much of the winter, and I and the other researchers, along with the horribly underpaid staff, wore our coats, gloves, and hats while we worked. At the main state library (equivalent to the Library of Congress), I could not order books with call letters beginning with the last 3 letters of the alphabet because those were located on a subterranean floor that was collapsing in on itself.” After spending a year in Russia completing her dissertation research, Laurie moved to San Diego, California and began writing. She also worked for a refugee resettlement agency, assisting immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, Somalia, Iran, and Iraq who came to the United States to escape persecution. Laurie completed her PhD in History in 2002, and then secured a position as a lecturer at the University of Vermont in Burlington teaching courses on Russian and East European history, European Civilization, and the history of women in Russia. While at UVM, she edited two books: A History of Spain (Greenhaven, 2004) and The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union (Greenhaven, 2006). In 2006, she moved to Ruston as Assistant Professor of History. Her first book was soon published by the University Press of Kansas: They Fought for the Motherland: Russia’s Women Soldiers in World War I and Revolution. This is the pioneering work on the subject, breaking new scholarly ground as the first to explore this topic in depth and using previously unplumbed archival sources. The book was chosen as a selection of the History Book Club and has been lauded as an important contribution by leading scholars. Laurie’s current research examines the women who served Russia as nurses during World War I. These women were vitally important to the war effort, providing care for millions of soldiers and civilians. Each summer, she has devoted herself to research and writing on this topic, securing a number of grants to fund travel throughout the country and to Russia to collect materials. Based on this research, she has published several significant works. The Louisiana Board of Regents awarded Laurie a prestigious Awards to Scholars and Artists (Atlas) grant. She is the first member of Louisiana Tech’s faculty to receive this award, and it enabled her to take a year-long leave to complete a book manuscript based on this research. Laurie has an intense love for teaching and believes that her passion is readily evident to students. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on Russian, Soviet, and East European history, the history of women and gender, world history, gender studies, and Russian culture and civilization. Laurie views teaching to be facilitated learning, wherein students contribute as much to the process as instructors, and the primary role of the instructor is to equip students with the skills necessary to effectively participate in learning on their own, rather than merely teaching them to regurgitate factual information. Laurie reflected, “I present the study of history as one of interpretation, and as such, one of the most useful tools for understanding the human condition, reflecting the perceptions of those that experienced the past, providing insight for the way societies developed and how they are currently structured, and telling us much about how we perceive the world today. The study of history is also one of the most effective means to teach critical thinking and analytical skills, allowing students to question previous knowledge and assumptions in order to make sense of the world themselves.” The University recognized Laurie’s impact in the classroom by awarding her the F. Jay Taylor Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2011. While at Tech, she has developed a number of new course offerings, including a special course focusing on the cultural developments of Russian civilization and its contributions to the world for the Honors program. She also oversaw the successful implementation of an online MA degree to meet the needs of students who wish to pursue the degree through distance education, which has been one of the program’s most vital areas of growth. Laurie is deeply committed to the idea that professors have an obligation to inspire students to become active and contributing members of society. She reflected, “I believe it is the duty and obligation of those in positions to shape the youth of the future to assist them in becoming compassionate and engaged citizens. As a result, I have spent my entire adult life in public service.” Through her dedication, compassion and service, Laurie is an excellent role model for Tech students. And through her passion for research and teaching, Laurie is bringing history to life. Laurie is married to John Benschoter. John is a writer who currently runs the Ruston Farmers’ Market and also bakes and sells homemade bread (he is known around town as “the bread man”). Laurie and John have a 10-yr old daughter and the three of them frequently travel the globe.