A Guide to Working with the Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System Online


The Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System Online (HPSSS Online) is a database of 707 interview transcripts conducted with Soviet refugees during the early years of the Cold War. A unique online resource for the study of the USSR from 1917 through the late 1940s, it contains vast amounts of one-of-a-kind data on Soviet political, economic, social, cultural and military history. Compiled in English and organized according to a rigorous social science framework, the HPSSS Online offers unparalleled depth and breadth in its wide- ranging inquiry into Soviet society.

Originally a component of a larger study commissioned by the US Air Force, the 1950- 1951 transcripts of the HPSSS interviews were the focus of intensive research for much of the 1950s. In the years since, access limitations and poor indexing have hampered scholarly use of this material. Age-related degradation of the transcripts themselves has complicated things further. It is for this reason that between 2005 and 2007, the HPSSS Online was created, thanks to funding from Harvard University’s Library Digital Initiative (LDI). In consultation with Professors Terry Martin and David Brandenberger, as well as the staff of the Fung Library and the Slavic Division of Widener Library, specialists at the Preservation and Imaging Department of Widener Library processed and digitized all the HPSSS interview transcripts and manuals and incorporated them into the present web-based resource. In addition to providing digital images of the original transcripts, the HPSSS Online offers full-text versions of the interview transcripts within a fully searchable database, revolutionizing the usefulness of this collection for researchers worldwide.

The HPSSS Online database is designed to be navigated in a variety of intuitive ways. It is possible to locate specific interviews and page sequentially through them; it is also possible to conduct thematic and keyword searches both within specific interviews and throughout the entire database as a whole. This guide provides an introduction to this online resource and supplies important information about its historical origins and methodological limitations.

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© revised edition, 2020. David Brandenberger.

Thanks to funding from Harvard University’s Library Digital Initiative (LDI).