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Engel, Barbara Alpern (1943–) - Russian History

women university school studies

Barbara Alpern Engel was born on June 28, 1943, in New York City, of eastern European ancestry. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a full-time homemaker. She attended public elementary school in Brooklyn and graduated from Valley Stream Central High School, on Long Island, in 1961. Among her early influences she counts her parents’, especially her father’s, love of reading, and their “wonderfully diverse, if small, family library.” Her high school social studies teacher, Harry Feigenbaum, sparked her interest in the Russian language. Engel then enrolled in his Russian language course, the first of its kind at the school. She was “not a brilliant high school student,” she reports, “but I read voraciously.”

Engel attended the City University of New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian area studies in 1965. As an undergraduate, from 1963 to 1964, she was one of five women students accepted into Princeton University’s Cooperative Program in Critical Languages. They were the first female undergraduates at Princeton. Although Engel returned to her home institution to graduate, the Princeton experience, as she puts it, “really stimulated me and gave me a push to go on.” Engel then attended Harvard University, receiving a master’s degree in Russian area studies in 1967.

After completing her Harvard degree, Engel worked for two years as a bilingual secretary and part-time translator for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She enjoyed her work but found that it did not offer her opportunities for advancement, even though men with the same training were moving ahead. Engel felt she should pursue the Ph.D., and she gravitated toward history more than other fields. In 1975 she completed her Ph.D., in Russian history, from Columbia University.

Barbara Alpern Engel’s first full-time academic position was as assistant professor at Sarah Lawrence College, where she taught from 1974 to 1976. She then accepted a position at the University of Colorado, where she has worked since, as assistant professor from 1976 to 1982, associate professor from 1982 to 1992, and professor since 1992. From 1993 to 1995 Engel was the director of the Central and Eastern European Studies Program, and she currently serves as chair of the department of history.

Engel has written two single-authored works, the most recent of which is Between the Fields and the City: Women, Work and Family in Russia, 1861–1914 . In this work she examines the effects of industrialization and urbanization on Russian peasant women. “Her perceptive and sensitive use of disparate sources,” writes a reviewer, “including comparative works on women in Europe and fascinating archival evidence for the experiences of individual female peasants, is particularly noteworthy.” Engel also co-edited, with Clifford Rosenthal, Five Sisters: Women Against the Tsar , and with Barbara Clements and Christine Worobec, Russia’s Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation . Engel has also written nearly twenty-five scholarly pieces and numerous book reviews.

A fellow of the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the A. Harriman Institute, Engel also served several times on an International Research and Exchange Board, (IREX) with the Soviet Union. She has provided professional service to the American Historical Association, the Western Association of Women Historians, and the International Federation of Societies for Research in Women’s History. She has been on the editorial board of Frontiers , a consulting editor for Feminist Studies , and a manuscript reader for several publishers, including W. W. Norton, Harvard University Press, and Cambridge University Press.

Engel has been honored for her work in a number of ways. She is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Writing Award from the University of Colorado, a winner of the Elizabeth Gee Award for Excellence, a Boulder Faculty Assembly Award Winner for Excellence in Research and Creative Work, and the recipient of a Mortar Board Senior Honor Society Excellence in Teaching Award.

Divorced, Barbara Alpern Engel lives with her partner of thirteen years, a political activist, who has a thirteen-year-old son. Her hobbies include gardening, hiking, cross-country skiing, reading novels, yoga, and, most recently, mushroom hunting.

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