History of the Institute

Founded in June 1973, the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University (commonly known as HURI) serves as a focal point for graduate and undergraduate students, fellows, and associates pursuing research in Ukrainian language, literature, and history as well as in anthropology, archaeology, art history, economics, political science, sociology, theology, and other disciplines.

Its programs and activities support the broader project of Ukrainian studies at Harvard University, which was established five years before the Institute itself.

Establishment of Ukrainian Studies at Harvard

Ukrainian Studies Chair Fund fundraising poster
In this poster from a fundraising campaign, Kyivan Rus’ military imagery and Christian iconography combine to depict the Center of Ukrainian Studies at Harvard (St. George) slaying untruth and lies about Ukraine (the dragon).

The effort to establish Ukrainian studies at an American university originated in 1957, when the Federation of Ukraine Student Organizations of America (SUSTA: Soyuz Ukrayinskykh Studentskykh Tovarystv Ameryky) developed the idea to create a chair of Ukrainian studies at a leading university in the United States. While supporting the students' goal of preserving Ukraine's unique culture and history in a time of aggressive Soviet suppression, Harvard Professor Omeljan Pritsak insisted on a much larger project: establishing an academic center of Ukrainian studies. He proposed not one but three chairs in Ukrainian studies (history, language, and literature) and asserted the need for a broader program that included opportunities for scholarly research, a publications program, support of library collections, and a venue for scholarly presentation and discussion. This broadening of SUSTA's initiative would eventually come to fruition at Harvard through three chairs in Ukrainian studies and the Ukrainian Research Institute.

After the successful fundraising campaign carried out by the Ukrainian Studies Chair Fund (later known as the Ukrainian Studies Fund (USF))—led by Stephan Chemych and largely supported by the Ukrainian diaspora community—met the financial requirements of Harvard to endow a chair, Ukrainian studies were officially established at the University in 1968 with the creation of the Mykhailo S. Hrushevs'ky Chair in Ukrainian History. The remaining two chairs (in literature and language) were endowed by 1973, a year that also saw the foundation of HURI.

Even before HURI was officially established, many of the programs it facilitates today were begun by Pritsak and other scholars involved in the nascent Ukrainian studies project. The weekly Seminar in Ukrainian Studies began in 1970, creating an opportunity for scholarly exchange that continues to this day. The Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute (HUSI) began in 1971, offering students and other individuals to take courses in Ukrainian language, history, literature, and culture as part of the Harvard Summer School. 

HURI's Formal Foundation

Meeting with PuseyIn 1973, the Institute was formally established, creating a central point for scholarly interest in Ukraine and providing the necessary support for the chairs and scholars to conduct research and share their insights. HURI's events programming has expanded over the years to include conferences, symposia, and special seminars for practitioners and policymakers, in addition to lectures, films, art exhibits, and other public programs.

The Institute maintains a reference library and archives. Combined with materials held in the Harvard University Library system, it is one of the largest collections of Ukrainian materials in the West, and an invaluable resource for students, faculty, associates, and fellows. The Institute's in-house library (named the Omeljan Pritsak Memorial Library in 2007), contains reference materials, periodicals, and other basic resources available for use at the Institute. 

Produced by the Institute's publication office, the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies was founded in 1977. Together with a series of book publications, including the Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies and the Harvard Library of Early Ukrainian Literature, the program publishes scholarly work of the highest caliber that is sometimes too niche for larger presses. As evidenced by the monographs series, the initial focus of the publications program was medieval and early modern periods, philology, and comparative analyses of sources &mdash all important for the Institute programmatic focus on preserving the historical and cultural roots of a suppressed Ukraine. Since Ukraine's independence, publications projects have grown to encompass additional disciplines, time periods, and regional comparisons. HURI's publications program distributes its titles through Harvard University Press and co-publishes additional scholarly works with other institutes and publishers, such as Academic Studies Press.

Supporting visiting scholars and fellows is an integral part of HURI's mission to advance research on Ukraine. Initially, this support was restricted to research fellows, associates, or visiting scholars who had obtained outside funding. Nonetheless, early scholars associated with the Institute have become leaders in the field of Ukrainian studies. In the 1970s and 1980s, HURI was able to appoint Soviet dissidents: historian Valentyn Moroz, writer and editor Nadia Svitlychna, and Volodymyr Mezentsev. Restricted by the political situation with the Soviet Union during these decades, HURI's support for fellows and visiting scholars focused on Polish-Ukrainian studies and the experience of Jews in Ukraine.

The 1990s and early 2000s saw the development of the formidable fellowship program HURI continues to this day. The Petro Jacyk Distinguished Research Fellowship in Ukrainian Studies (for senior scholars) and the Mihaychuk Research Fellowship in Ukrainian Studies (for recent postdoctoral scholars) were endowed with generous funds donated by Petro Jacyk and Jaroslaw and Nadia Mihaychuk, respectively. With support from the Ukrainian Studies Fund and the Ukrainian diaspora community, HURI began work on specific projects that included research fellows, which broadened with Perestroika and the independence of Ukraine. The Eugene and Daymel Shklar Research Fellowships in Ukrainian Studies program began in 2001, with the generous annual support of the Eugene and Daymel Shklar Foundation, and ran until the 2017–2018 academic year. Continuing the legacy of this program, the HURI Research Fellowships in Ukrainian Studies are awarded to mid-career scholars and are supported by a combination of endowed funds and annual gifts.

In 2019, a donation from the Temerty Family Foundation enabled the establishment of a program focused on contemporary Ukraine. The Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program (TCUP) further broadens the Institute's disciplinary expertise and serves as a bridge between scholars and practitioners working on Ukraine.

The Institute works closely with the Center for European Studies, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Center for Jewish Studies, and a wide range of other institutes, centers, departments, schools, and faculties with international programs.

Reflections of Omeljan Pritsak, founding director, upon HURI's 20th anniversary

The nineteen-sixties have a special place in the history of Ukraine. They witnessed the sudden explosion of Ukrainian literary talents (the shestnydesiatnyky) on the one hand, and on the other, the imperial Soviet reaction—to suppress any trace of Ukrainian cultural attractiveness. It happened that in 1964 I was invited to join the Harvard faculty. Harvard's unique scholarly potential, and the financial support of the awakened Ukrainian American diaspora under the impact of the shestnydesiatnyky, needed to be combined and utilized. From my knowledge of Ukrainian history I realized that the Ukrainian cultural awakening of the 19th century had been regarded as a threat to the Russian imperial idea of a single high imperial culture. But in the 19th century, not all Ukrainian territories were embraced by Russia. Western Ukraine, especially Galicia with its capital of Lviv, was under Austrian constitutional rule (especially in the second half of the century), and the best talents from all the Ukrainian territories had the opportunity to participate in the development of Ukrainian high culture. In the 1960s, however, Galicia and Lviv were already under Soviet Russian domination. In such a situation, it was imperative to create Ukraine's scholarly and intellectual center at the most attractive university in the West. Since I was at that time part of such an excellent institution, namely, Harvard, I regarded it as my duty to act. First I devoted some time to studying the challenge connected with this tremendous task. After I had obtained my answers, I discussed my project with the administration and colleagues of my university. Fortunately, they approved of my ideas, which were as follows.

Ukrainian identity, which is the basis of cultural and political activity as well as a force for growth for coming generations, cannot normally exist without the help of three ethnic-national disciplines. I mean here language, the common code of national creativity, without which Ukrainianhood would lose its reason for existence; literature, as the artistic shaping of the language and spiritual nourishment for the higher levels of culture; and finally, history, the common memory of the national community, without which it would be like a robot, lacking a vision and will of its own. It was natural that a scholarly center created at Harvard would have to embrace in the first place these three disciplines. They could develop and function properly only when they were pursued simultaneously on two parallel levels: (a) instructional—the chairs of Ukrainian philology, Ukrainian literature and Ukrainian history within the respective departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and (b) research—at the Ukrainian Research Institute, an autonomous institution of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, with library and publication facilities. Both the chairs and the Research Institute must be appropriately endowed in order to conduct scholarly work independently. The University Library should have endowed funds to constantly maintain its Ukrainian holdings.

To attain the required scholarly level, an academic body should be established: the Standing Committee on Ukrainian Studies, and also a Visiting Committee, as part of the University's Board of Overseers, which would include representatives of the broader American community, including the Ukrainian diaspora. A weekly seminar would unite the students and scholars from the three chairs as well as prominent guest scholars from the United States and abroad. An international journal of Ukrainian studies should be created, as well as a monograph series. Leading scholars from the entire world, irrespective of their nationality, should be encouraged to study Ukrainian topics and invited to work as fellows of the Institute.

The basic "ideology" of the Ukrainian center should be to reach the highest scholarly level, and in this way to make Ukrainian studies internationally attractive, as well as to assure the proper development of Ukrainian high culture.

Today, in perspective, one can recognize that the creation of the Ukrainian studies center at Harvard in 1968–1973 was timely (no other period would have assured the realization of the project), and that the center did in fact fulfill our expectations. In the decisive years 1988–1990, it aided the rebirth of Ukrainian national identity and consciousness in Ukraine.

Omeljan Pritsak Published in HURI's 20th anniversary booklet (1993)