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Ian Helfant

Ian Helfant

Associate Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies and Environmental Studies
Russian & Eurasian Studies, 302 Lawrence Hall
p 315-228-7721

I began studying Russian as an undergraduate in the early 1980s, then spent the year after graduation traveling through Eastern Europe on a fellowship as the Soviet Bloc was beginning to disintegrate. After briefly working as a journalist, I returned to grad school to get my PhD in Slavic languages and literatures.  

At Colgate since 1998, I teach courses ranging from first-year Russian through the REST senior seminar, the Nineteenth-Century Russian Novel, Core Russia and Dostoevsky, as well as in Environmental Studies, in which I hold a joint position.  I've recently developed a new humanities course in ENST that explores the dilemmas we face as societies and individually in choosing to eat or avoid meat entitled "Hunting, Eating, Vegetarianism."  I'll be offering it as a Sophomore Residential Seminar in Fall 2014. 

In addition to the many months I've spent on my own in Russia, I've led two semester-long Colgate Study Groups to Moscow.   More recently, in spring 2014, Associate Professor of Geography Jessica Graybill and I co-led a group of twenty students on a three week Extended Study trip to explore the changing capital cities of Russia and Kazakhstan. Here you can see my own collection of photographs of Russia, and here are pictures and videos taken during the 2014 Extended Study.

My book on gambling in 19th-century Russia came out with Northwestern University Press in 2002. After that came publications on the ways that risks taken by men -- including gambling and dueling -- affected the women in their lives. More recently I've been exploring ecocritical approaches to Russian literature and hunting as a theme in 19th-century Russian culture with an article, for example, about the proto-ecological consciousness of the Russian bird-hunter and ornithologist Sergei Aksakov, and a book chapter on pre-revolutionary Russian culture's demonization of wolves.  My current book project focuses on hunters, wolves, rabies, and the rise of conservationist thinking in late Imperial Russia.

Like many Colgate faculty, I've become involved in administrative and other tasks as well as teaching. I was a founding member of Colgate's Sustainability Council and served as its chair from 2005-2010, I chaired the Russian department from 2006-2012, and I served as associate dean of the faculty from 2009-2012. I'm also a past president of the North American Pushkin Society.

In our spare time, my wife, Astrid, and I like to run, bicycle, hike, and climb mountains, although our twin 11-year-old sons, Skye and Aidan, take up a lot of our extra energy. I also bow hunt to provide venison for my family, and have recently taken up beekeeping.  You can see some of my nature photography here.


BA (1986), MA (1992), PhD (1997), Harvard University

Teaching Experience

Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian, Williams College, 1997-98


19th- and 20th-century Russian literature and culture, Russian language, environmental studies


Cultural studies, ecocriticism, autobiographical genres, institutions of risk-taking and their literary representation, animal studies, and gender studies.


  • "That Savage Gaze: The Contested Portrayal of Wolves in Nineteenth-century Russian Culture," in J. Costlow and A. Nelson, Eds., Other Animals: Beyond the Human in Russian Culture and History (Univ. of Pittsburgh P, 2010): 63-76.
  • “Getting Going: Colgate University’s Sustainability Path,” Sustainability: The Journal of Record 2.3 (June 2009): 129-30.
  • "S. T. Aksakov: The Ambivalent Proto-Ecological Consciousness of a Nineteenth-Century Russian Hunter," Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 13.2 (Summer 2006): 57-71.
  • "His to Stake, Hers to Lose: Woman and the Male Gambling Culture of Nineteenth-Century Russia," The Russian Review 62.2 (2003): 223-42.
  • "Complicity and the Canon: Rostopchina's "The Duel"," Slavic and East European Journal 46.2 (2002): 235-51.
  • The High Stakes of Identity: Gambling in the Life and Literature of Nineteenth-Century Russia (Northwestern University Press, 2002).
  • Aleksandr Nikolaevich Veselovskii, “Istoricheskaia poetika (A Historical Poetics): Chapter 1, Section 8,” New Literary History 32 (2001): 409-28 (translation).
  • "Pushkin's Ironic Performances as a Gambler," Slavic Review 58.2 (Summer 1999): 371-92.
  • "Gambling Practices and the (Dis)honorable Acts of Lermontov's Maskarad," Romantic Russia 2 (1998): 125-43.
  • "Sculpting a Persona: The Path from Pushkin's Caucasian Journal to Puteshestvie v Arzrum," The Russian Review 56 (July 1997): 366-82.


  • Mellon Fellow in Humanities, 1989-91 and 1994-95
  • USIA/ACTR Research Scholar affiliated with Pushkinskii Dom in Petersburg Feb.-Sept. 1994
  • Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowships 1990-91 and 1992-93
  • Harvard University Frederick Sheldon Traveling Fellow in Eastern Europe Oct. 1986 - Sept. 1987
  • Harvard University Bowdoin Prize (honorable mention) for Undergraduate Dissertation in English 1985
  • First Annual Colgate Fraternity and Sorority Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Field of Russian