Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
Unit of AssessmentModern Languages and Linguistics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Dr Finnin's research has raised and enriched the profile of Ukraine as a
multi-ethnic and multi-confessional cultural space bound together by
projects of inter- and intra-national solidarity. His scholarly work has
inspired and informed a high-profile public engagement programme, which
has centred on an annual film festival launched in 2008, an annual evening
of literary readings begun in 2010, and two exhibitions in 2009 and 2010.
In Ukraine these outputs have in turn garnered extensive media attention,
contributing to the preservation of a beleaguered cultural tradition and
to the reconciliation of national communities (Ukrainian, Russian, Crimean
Tatar) all with traumatic pasts.
Dr Finnin has been University Lecturer in Ukrainian Studies in the
Department of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge since 2008.
Since then his research has had two central, interrelated objectives: a)
to uncover, in Ukraine's fraught history of internecine violence and
colonial oppression, forgotten or ignored projects of solidarity that
promoted cross-cultural understanding, particularly between Ukrainians,
Crimean Tatars, Poles and Russians; and b) to demonstrate how the literary
aesthetic made these projects of solidarity uniquely effective and
A series of peer-reviewed publications addressed these objectives.
Finnin's research revealed, for instance, the peculiar ways in which the
celebrated nineteenth-century `bard of Ukraine' Taras Shevchenko exploited
the power of lyric address to invite diverse readerships to forge solidary
relationships across borders and to self-identify as `Ukrainian',
irrespective of their ethnic (Polish, Russian) or religious (Muslim,
Jewish) backgrounds. Finnin also deconstructed Shevchenko's image as an
anti-colonial, even nationalist rebel and fundamentally recast him as a
post-colonial artist committed to free exchange and play between Ukrainian
and imperial cultures.
In his scholarship on the twentieth century, meanwhile, Finnin presented
the historical and literary figure of the Crimean Tatar as a central
concern of Ukrainian culture. Indeed, his research into the significance
of Ukraine's Muslim legacy offered a corrective to what might be called
the predominant `Orthodox East Slavic' paradigm in Ukrainian Studies and
foregrounded Ukraine's complex ethnic and religious inheritance as a
critical object of knowledge. Finnin's work on coded and forgotten
Ukrainian and Russian literary responses to Stalin's brutal deportation of
the Crimean Tatars in 1944 also modelled a new solidarity-based approach
to the study of Stalinist violence and historical trauma.
Finnin also showed how and why Soviet dissidents used poetry to combat
what he calls the `discursive cleansing' that accompanied the ethnic
cleansing of Ukraine's Crimean Tatars. Moreover, he has argued that the
legacy of the Stalinist practice of `discursive cleansing', which he
defined as the process of disciplining speech through coordinated
epistemic and physical violence that is both retrospective and prospective
in its application, was uniquely responsible for the vigorous afterlife of
the memory of historical traumas in Eastern Europe. Finnin has therefore
foregrounded various texts, literary and documentary, that speak against
the silence that has shrouded Stalinist terror. He has also brought to
light the stories of Ukrainian dissidents and cultural figures who used
poetry to expose the Katyn tragedy, the Vinnytsia massacres, and the
Holodomor (the 1932-22 Terror-Famine) as interconnected crimes of the
Soviet regime. This work on the legacy of historical traumas like Katyn
and the Holodomor also involved a critique of `monumental' commemorative
practices in Ukraine, which can invite strict national metaphorical
References to the research
a) Finnin, Rory. "Nationalism and the Lyric; or, How Taras Shevchenko
Speaks to Compatriots Dead, Living, and Unborn." Slavonic and East
European Review 89:1 (2011): 29-55.
b) Finnin, Rory. "The Poetics of Home: Crimean Tatars in
Nineteenth-Century Russian and Turkish Literatures." Comparative
Literature Studies 49.1 (2012): 84-118
c) Finnin, Rory. "Forgetting Nothing, Forgetting No One: Boris
Chichibabin, Viktor Nekipelov, and the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars."
Modern Language Review 106.4 (2011): 1091-1124.
d) Finnin, Rory (with Alexander Etkind et al). Remembering Katyn. London
and Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012.
All outputs can be supplied by the University of Cambridge on request.
Details of the impact
Dr Finnin has channelled his scholarly work in and through a
comprehensive public programme of exhibitions, film screenings, and
literary readings, which have reached thousands around the world. As the
Ukrainian daily newspaper Den' (25 May 2012) reported, `Dr
Finnin's fresh approach to the study of Ukrainian culture... has made
Ukraine an accessible cultural and social space for the European public' .
In 2009 his research into the artistry of Taras Shevchenko led him, in
partnership with the University's Department of History of Art, to
organise an exhibition at Cambridge's Michaelhouse Centre of over twenty
prints of the poet's paintings. Entitled `Verse in Vision', the event
explored commonplaces in Shevchenko's poetic and painterly languages and
presented his self-portraits as visualised forms of lyric address. The
exhibition was attended by an estimated 2,000 local residents, students,
and tourists, all of whom received informational pamphlets about
Shevchenko's life and work, written and designed by Dr Finnin. In May
2009, Dr Finnin invited over twenty students from the Cambridge Russian
School to the exhibition, where they recited Shevchenko's verse in Russian
translation to celebrate his penchant for cultural and linguistic
exchange. According to the Director of Studies at the Cambridge Russian
School, `Dr Finnin's exhibition and literary reading allowed our students
and parents to encounter Shevchenko as a complex artist committed to
exchange and dialogue between national groups' . This positive
response led Dr Finnin in 2010 to launch the annual Vsesvit Readings in
Celebration of Literary Translation, which feature student recitations of
literary texts in various languages. In 2013 Dr Finnin built on this
momentum, discussing his research on the significance of Shevchenko's
lyric address in a Ukrainian-language interview with Radio Liberty (14
March 2013) . The interview elicited an enthusiastic response
from the public, with over 9,000 downloads and 272 likes on Facebook in
one week alone.
In 2008 Dr Finnin's work on the historical and cultural position of the
figure of the Crimean Tatar in Ukrainian culture, which the Crimean Tatar
community has described in the Russian-language media as `breathtaking'
(11 May 2012) , led him to organize the film festival `At the
Crossroads', which premiered documentary and feature films about Ukraine's
Muslim Tatar legacy. Held at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, the event
met with a very enthusiastic response from the public. Over 250 people
attended the sold-out screenings, which were accompanied by pre- and
post-screening discussions with Dr Finnin. An attendee remarked: `Before
attending this event, my partner and I knew almost nothing about Ukraine
and its religious diversity. We discovered an amazing country with a
turbulent past and a multi-ethnic culture' . The event's
success prompted Finnin to establish an annual Cambridge Festival of
Ukrainian Film, which has since become a leading international showcase
for contemporary Ukrainian cinema, winning praise from many Ukrainian
civic organisations and news outlets, including the popular newspaper Komsomol'skaia
pravda (16 November 2011) (circulation: 1 million) . Over
1,100 members of the public attended these screenings between 2008-12. As
celebrated Ukrainian filmmaker Volodymyr Tykhii remarked, `The Cambridge
Film Festival has helped me understand my own work within an international
In 2009 Dr Finnin's scholarship on the public memory of Ukraine's history
inspired him to mount an exhibition at the Wren Library (Trinity College,
Cambridge) of the 1932-33 diaries of Cambridge alumnus Gareth Jones, the
only journalist to stake his name in reporting the Holodomor to the world.
The exhibition's methodology drew on Dr Finnin's scholarship into
effective commemorative practices in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, advancing
a documentary, text-based memorialization rather than a monumental one.
The exhibition was visited by 2,789 guests in a two-month period, and the
Wren Library Sub-Librarian remarked that `there was more international
interest and impact with this extremely powerful exhibition than with any
of our other offerings' . Over 180 world media outlets,
including The Daily Telegraph (13 November 2009) and The
Guardian (13 November 2009), covered the exhibition.
Ukraine's national daily Den' reported that the exhibition exposed
`the entire world to the Holodomor'. The Kyiv Post (4 December
2009) quoted Finnin as saying that Jones's diaries `refocus the attention
from the political fighting [about the famine] to the voices of its
victims' . Finnin also launched an exhibition website and
screened the UK premiere of a Ukrainian documentary (The Living,
2008) about Jones and the Holodomor to a capacity crowd at the Cambridge
Arts Picturehouse. In addition he gave radio and television interviews
with the BBC and leading Ukrainian and Russian media outlets, speaking
live on BBC World News (13 November 2009) (global audience 97 million) ;
on the BBC World Service (13 November 2009) (global audience 145 million)
; on BBC Wales (13 November 2009) (weekly reach 486,000) ;
on BBC Look East (12 November 2009) ; and on Inter (8 December
2009), Ukraine's most watched television channel . He spoke in
Russian on Radio Liberty (26 November 2011) (audience 4 million) 
and in Ukrainian for an interview with the Ukrainian newspaper Den'
(18 November 2009) . In the words of journalist George Carey,
creator of Newsnight, `Finnin's work has done much to widen public
interest in this important but hitherto neglected aspect of twentieth
century history.' According to John Sweeney of BBC's Panorama, `Dr
Finnin's exhibition helped direct national media attention to the
Holodomor and offered the British public a new and better understanding of
Sources to corroborate the impact
- News feature addressing Finnin's research and activity. In
Ukrainian. `The Universe between Ukraine and Israel', Den'
(25 May 2012),
- Testimonial from Person 1 (Director of Studies, Cambridge
- Interview with Radio Svoboda (Radio Liberty) on Shevchenko's
lyric address. In Ukrainian. `Shevchenko is alive today: Professor Finnin'
(14 March 2013):
- Mubbeyin Batu Altan and the Crimean Tatar community describe
the depth and breadth of Finnin's scholarship on Ukrainian-Crimean Tatar
relations as `breathtaking'. In Russian. `Cambridge professor', QHA:
Agentstvo krymskye novosti (11 May 2012),
- Testimonial from Person 2 (film festival attendee, Bristol)
- News feature. `Ukrainian cinema in Cambridge', Komsomol'skaia
Pravda (16 November 2011), http://kp.ua/daily/161111/311200/
- Evidence of 2,789 visitors to Holodomor/Gareth Jones
exhibition: testimonial from Person 3 (Sub-Librarian, Wren Library)
- News feature in The Kyiv Post. In English. `Nation
remembers victims of the 1932-33 Holodomor' (4 December 2009),
- BBC World News live television interview with Jonathan Charles
(13 November 2009). On file.
- BBC World Service interview with James Kumarasamy (13 November
2009). On file.
- BBC Wales radio interview with Oliver Hides (13 November
2009). On file.
- News feature on BBC Look East (12 November 2009),
- News feature including interview. `Declassified diaries of a
British reporter', Podrobnosti programme on Inter Channel, Ukraine
(8 December 2009),
- Interview with Radio Svoboda (Radio Liberty). In Russian.
`Holodomor: Stalin vs. all' (26 November 2011), http://www.svoboda.org/content/article/1888615.html
- Interview with daily newspaper Den'. In Ukrainian. `A
disturbing truth in Cambridge' (18 November 2009), http://www.day.kiev.ua/uk/article/den-planeti/hvilyuyucha-pravda-v-