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Edward L. Keenan (1935-2015).

On 6 March 2015, one the most influential, controversial, and unconventional historians of Russia and Eurasia passed away. Edward Louis Keenan enjoyed a distinguished career as historian and skeptic, Harvard professor and administrator, and generous patron to generations of scholars. (1) He was an early supporter of Kritika and welcomed its role in fostering critical dialogue with Russian scholarship. The same traits that exasperated his minders at Leningrad State University in 1959-61 made him an innovative scholar--he avoided official itineraries and boldly veered off on his own.

Ned--as he was fondly called by his friends and students--was a remarkable mentor and engaging raconteur. In the course of one meeting, he might recall his encounter with Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow in 1959, provide a citation from an obscure journal in Ufa, list ten deficiencies in a source publication, and then share his impromptu evaluation of why modern pilgrims to Mecca have contributed to a surge in shark populations in the Red Sea. Stroking his trademark beard as he spoke, he exuded warm erudition and easy wit. Conversations with him often seamlessly turned to anomaly, epistemology, and genre: Do ermines really gallop? Was the scribe ambidextrous? Who is the person behind the curtain in this Oz? Can one express a legal principle in the form of limerick? A sud 'i ktoi

Keenan spent his entire career at Harvard, where he was trained in Russian by Horace Lunt and Roman Jakobson. His B.A. thesis in 1957 was devoted to cynical Russian proverbs about Orthodox priests. In 1959, he traveled to Russia to take part in a two-year exchange program and to conduct research for a planned dissertation devoted to the Baku general strike of 1904-5. Impressed by the lectures of Vladimir Mavrodin, a charismatic speaker and organizator nauki, he decided to become a medievalist. While in Leningrad, he delivered his first lecture in Russian, which was devoted to a community of Old Believers in the United States. If memory serves me correctly, this was the same community in Pennsylvania that provided him with a paleography conundrum that he presented in some of his seminars. Confronting graduate students with what clearly appeared to be a text from early modern Russia, he gleefully revealed that it was in fact penned only decades earlier on American soil.

Breaking the restrictions of his visa, he traveled far and wide in the Soviet Union and mixed freely with Russians of all ages and backgrounds. His feigned residence on Lenin Street and mastery of informal Russian got him out of several scrapes with the law. His ability to pass as a local also made him privy to cynical anecdotes, off-the-cuff remarks, and popular deconstructions of the official fictions that everyone lived by. In 1961, he was finally expelled from the USSR after repeatedly traveling to areas that were off-limits according to the terms of his visa.

Returning to Harvard, he worked under the supervision of the distinguished Turcologist Omeljan Pritsak. His dissertation was devoted to Muscovy's diplomatic interactions with Kazan between 1445 and 1552. Completed in 1965, it doubted sources, dismissed historiography, and took aim at numerous canards. In various places it displayed what he himself called "less than customary caution." (2) Arguing that pragmatism defined Muscovy's relations with the Tatar states of that period, it advanced an ambitious agenda to reconsider the rise of Russia within a system of steppe politics. The study earned him an invitation to remain at Harvard as a junior professor, but he did not publish it because he believed that it still required "massive and meticulous study of Tatar genealogies, of patterns of government (if that is the word) and diplomacy, and most of all of the history of the major sources, the Muscovite chronicles." (3) The most significant publication that emerged from the dissertation was an article challenging the date, manuscript history, and genre of Kazanskaia istoriia, a Russian narrative devoted to the once great kingdom of Kazan. Forensic in approach and technical in execution, it pointed to compelling patterns and nonrandom scatterings of trace particles rather than to any obvious smoking gun.

On the evening of 5 November 1968, as most Americans were glued to their televisions to find out the results of the election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, Keenan contemplated a finding that would define the rest of his career. He discovered that a text by a Ukrainian monk, Isaiah of Kam'ianets', who was languishing in monastic incarceration in Russia, coincided word for word with a significant portion of Prince Andrei Kurbskii's first letter to Ivan IV. Because the Isaiah text appeared to date to around 1566, this meant that the first letters exchanged between Ivan and Kurbskii could not in fact date to 1564 or that copies of the correspondence circulated more widely in Russia than anyone suspected. In either case, traditional views could no longer explain the state of the sources. Keenan decided "to go all in." Though he was untenured and could not consult key manuscripts in person because he was banned from entering the Soviet Union, he put aside his study of Kazan and began a de novo consideration of all the evidence pertinent to the correspondence.

In less than two years, he completed a brief, but highly audacious, book, The Kurbskii--Groznyi Apocrypha: The Seventeenth-Century Genesis of the "Correspondence" Attributed to Prince A. M. Kurbskii and Tsar Ivan TV (with an appendix by Daniel C. Waugh). (4) It questioned the authenticity of all texts attributed to Ivan IV and Prince Kurbskii. Basing his arguments on textual and stylistic analysis of a limited group of key parallels, Keenan argued that traditional views of the origins of the correspondence were improbable. They are based on the assumption that all early copies of the correspondence were lost, that multiple intellectuals borrowed from Kurbskii but introduced the same kinds of stylistic transformations into borrowed passages while avoiding any passages purloined by others, and that the prince and the tsar both dramatically changed their styles and linguistic registers in a relatively short period of time. Identifying Kurbskii's first letter as the "keystone" of the correspondence, he argued that it was actually written in the late 1620s or early 1630s by Prince Semen Shakhovskoi. This was the opening salvo in a controversy that continued for decades. As late as the 1990s, Keenan was still refining his arguments and rebutting rebuttals. (5) Since the appearance of Apocrypha most of the texts questioned in the book have been published in new editions based upon all accessible manuscripts.

Much of the response to Apocrypha concentrated on the "keystone," since any significant compromise to its load-bearing capacity could potentially cause the entire structure of the correspondence to collapse along with it. Keenan's critics advanced various alternate explanations of the relationship between the Kurbskii letter and other texts, but most of these required creative redating of the Isaiah text and imaginative hypotheses about the circulation of lost copies of the first letter in Russia. Keenan in turn rejected the possibility that various authors could have "independently and at different times over roughly sixty years cannibalized Kurbskii's letter, and that each incredibly avoided taking for his own use any portion borrowed (or to be borrowed) by any other." (6) This mosaic model for evaluating the probability of arguments about textual borrowings may in time come to be recognized as one of the most significant insights about textual scholarship to emerge from the discussion of Apocrypha. In hindsight, however, Keenans hopes that a de novo reexamination of evidence could lead the field to endorse his conclusions were overly optimistic.

Keenan's subsequent investigations devoted to Shakhovskoi succeeded in proving that the prince was a remarkable figure and the first Russian intellectual to traverse the length and breadth of Muscovy, but they uncovered no definitive evidence of his authorship of the first letter. Increasingly Keenan realized that establishing and verifying even basic facts about the "tangled and largely imaginary world of what we take to be Ivan and Kurbskii" could consume a scholarly lifetime. (7) He began to eschew accumulated wisdom in favor of his own analyses of sources and assessments of probabilities. For example, he completed a meticulous, actuarial analysis of possible and plausible patterns in the survival of manuscripts of several Russian texts traditionally dated to the 16th century. Assuming consistent rates of loss through fire, wear/tear, and wanton destruction and applying data about the chronological distribution of extant later copies, he concluded that all early copies could not have systematically perished. Though this study was not published, it informed his subsequent views of the creative fecundity of the 17th century.

In researching Apocrypha, Keenan discovered that no less than a quarter of the longest text attributed to Kurbskii, Istoriia o kniazia velikogo moskovskogo delekh (History of the Grand Prince of Moscow) coincides nearly verbatim with Andrei Lyzlov's Skifskaia istoriia (History of the Scythians), which was completed in the late 17th century. Concluding that the History was compiled not by Shakovskoi but by a second, pseudo-Kurbskii who also penned the later letters to Ivan IV, Keenan planned to write a monograph devoted to the multiple stages in the development of the History. In 1978, he published his preliminary conclusions in a brief article which proposed that the History represents the final stage of a 17th-century literary process. (8)

By the late 1970s, he decisively rejected the scholarly paradigm of "Ivan the Terrible." Ivan, whose name he always pronounced in the Russian manner, would remain the object of his fascination long after he lost all interest in the lurid, legendary exploits of "Groznyi." Keenan's Ivan IV was a mediocre man enmeshed in a spider web of relationships, responsibilities, and public roles that he could never escape, though not for lack of trying. (9) Attempting to emancipate himself from the constant intrigues of the clans at court, the tsar introduced the oprichnina and manipulated a series of marriages in an unsuccessful effort to destabilize the system from within. His later years were spent trapped in a dysfunctional body and dependent on the alcohol and mercury cures he took to dull his pain. Both the court panegyrics and the bad publicity concealed from posterity a man who was more sick and miserable than either terrible or awe-inspiring.

A productive digression from Keenan's quest for the historical Ivan resulted in one of his most stimulating and programmatic--his critics might say speculative and problematic--writings: "Muscovite Political Folkways," which was written in 1976 but published a decade later. "Folkways" delineated fundamental features of Russian political culture and redefined Muscovite autocracy as a public myth designed to carefully conceal a world of competing clans, kinship alignments, and court politics. Deeply influenced by structuralism, "Folkways" sought to identify deep patterns and taboos, uncover unwritten rules and structural codes, and explain official myths and dissident modes. (10) This memo on ancient and modern Russia pointed to deep patterns that still had an impact on the Soviet Union. It provoked considerable discussion among scholars and policy makers who were trying to understand the twilight of a Soviet empire that had recently been proclaimed evil by another Harvard luminary. The article influenced studies of early modern Russia for decades and was the first of Keenan's wide-ranging articles devoted to myths, beliefs, and "usual schemes." To understand the article's impact on the early modern field, however, it should be read in connection with two 1980 lectures devoted to the grammar of politics in the Kremlin. These circulated samizdat-style as typescripts among Keenan's colleagues and students but were published only in 2010. (11)

I was fortunate to study with Ned during the 1990s. For his students, each of his lectures was a revelation. The traditional narrative shifted shape before our very eyes as he deconstructed the degrees of verifiability of well-known "facts." We pondered whether the warlords of

Kievan Rus' were like the dons of Corleone. We debated the possibility that the Mongols were a creative force in Russian history. We puzzled over the birth of Dmitrii and the implications of Ned's suggestion that if Ivan IV "got by with a little help from his friends," then even the real Dmitrii was a false Dmitrii. We learned to love, and upon confronting paleography to hate, and to love again the prikaz milieu with all of its creativity and ingenuity. We came to view frustrated functionaries and bored scribes as the most underappreciated agents of change in Russian history. Ned's impact on his many students and their career trajectories is as diverse as his own research interests. Several of his students now have students of their own. Others have entered the fields of consulting, law, and government. His works have also found new audiences in Ukraine and Russia. (12)

He devoted over a decade from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s reflecting upon and writing about the Igor' Tale, a text that he had consciously avoided for most of his career. To critics who viewed him as an American Quijote constantly tilting at Russian windmills, it seemed only natural that he should assault one of the most prominent landmarks on the landscape of early East Slavic poetics. As a participant in his first seminar devoted to the text in 1994, I can testify that he was not motivated by errant chivalry but by a sense of duty to contest collective chicanery. In early 1994, the journal Russkaia literatura published selections from Dmitrii Likhachev's correspondence devoted to the discussion of the authenticity of the Igor' Tale in 1964. (13) In Keenans view, Likhachev "organized and orchestrated the public pillorying of [Aleksandr] Zimin, using all the considerable political and administrative clout at his disposal, in a most reprehensible way." (14) Keenan deeply respected Zimin for his numerous studies of the 16th century and found it deplorable that prominent Russian scholars in the West, such as his own teacher Roman Jakobson, eagerly joined the Soviet scholarly establishment and the Ideological Commission of the Central Committee in a coordinated crusade against a lone scholarly dissident. Even more troubling was the fact that what Keenan termed Likhachev's brand of "patriotic nostalgia, now powered by a quiet but fierce sense of grievance" was now becoming mainstream in post-Soviet Russia. (15)

Josef Dobrovsky and the Origins of the Igor' Tale (2003) can therefore be read as a bold defense of a scholar's right to reexamine received opinion and advance any hypothesis that can be supported by a new and comprehensive reading of the existing evidence. As critics have noted, it is a book replete with insights and oversights. Keenan's skeptical deconstruction of the "legendary" account of how the "original" manuscript was found provides a model example of historical detective work and a solid contribution to the intellectual history of Russia's long 18th century. His reading of the text was highly original, regardless of whether his dating of the text to the 1790s and attribution to the Czech scholar Josef Dobrovsky can be supported by extant evidence or collectively conceived models of probability. To take just one example, Keenan decoded a list of rare and mysterious words, which were once explained as Turkic terms or tribal names, as a playful, derisive series of stumblebums and fakers, tatterdemalions and crybabies. (16) Throughout the book he returned to one of his early areas of interest: the problem of East Slavic "folklore."

He vowed that this time he would not succumb to an endless series of answers and rebuttals. He kept his word. He retired to the beautiful setting of Deer Isle in Maine, where he spent his last years. In his final decade, he revisited topics such as the "Tatar Yoke," Ivan IV and Kurbskii, the Novgorod myth in Russian culture, and earlier skeptics of the Igor' Tale. (17) One of his last publications prodded scholars to consider the possibility of a "Godunovian Renaissance." (18)

He left a lasting legacy to the field by raising more questions than he could ever hope to answer. He drew attention to intriguing patterns, entrenched myths, and prudent fictions. He taught that many promising paths in premodern Russian history eventually detour into a labyrinth of treacherous sources. He emphasized that all too frequently the well-worn tracts track back to starting points or follow the footsteps of foundational explorers such as Karamzin, who made up their minds before much of the evidence was either available or critically analyzed. He believed that to break out of circuitous wanderings, scholars must doubt familiar narratives and depart from officially sanctioned routes. But most important, he reminds readers of Kritika that "scholarship recognizes no texts, 'best-known' or obscure, as sacred, and no conclusions as beyond reconsideration." (19)

Dept. of History

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(1) For additional biography, see "An Interview with Edward L. Keenan," Kritika 11,3 (2010): 457-66; and the introductory essays to Nancy Shields Kollmann, Donald Ostrowski, Andrei Pliguzov, and Daniel Rowland, eds., Kamen 'Kraeug"l'n: Rhetoric of the Medieval Slavic World. Essays Presented to Edward L. Keenan on His Sixtieth Birthday by His Colleagues and Students, Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19, 1-4 (1995 [published 1997]). In the interests of space, this article cites only Keenan's most significant studies and those that appeared after the publication of a comprehensive bibliography of his publications. For his bibliography up to 1997, see Kamen'Kraeug"l'n", 1-22.

(2) Edward L. Keenan, "Muscovy and Kazan', 1445-1552: A Study in Steppe Politics" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1965), 393.

(3) Edward L. Keenan, review of Jaroslaw Pelenski, Russia and Kazan: Conquest and Imperial Ideology, in Slavic Review 34, 3 (1975): 585-88, here 585.

(4) Edward L. Keenan, The Kurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha: The Seventeenth-Century Genesis of the "Correspondence" Attributed to Prince A. M. Kurbskii and Tsar Ivan TV (with an appendix by Daniel C. Waugh) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971). Keenan always stressed the contribution of his student Daniel Waugh, who was conducting research in the Soviet Union in 1969-70 and provided him with important manuscript descriptions.

(5) Edward L. Keenan, "Response to Halperin, 'Edward Keenan and the Kurbskii-Groznyi Correspondence in Hindsight Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 46, 3 (1998): 404-15.

(6) Edward L. Keenan, "Reply," Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 22, 4 (1974): 604.

(7) Edward L. Keenan, review of R. G. Skrynnikov, Perepiska Groznogo i Kurbskogo: Paradoksy Edvarda Kinana, Kritika: A Review of Current Soviet Books on Russian History 10, 1 (1974): 1-36, here 5.

(8) Edward L. Keenan, "Putting Kurbskii in His Place, or: Observations and Suggestions concerning the Place of the 'History of the Grand Prince of Moscow' in the History of Muscovite Literary Culture," Forschungen zur osteuropaischen Geschichte 24 (1978): 131-61.

(9) For an overview, consult Edward L. Keenan, "Vita: Ivan Vasil'evich. Terrible Czar: 1530-1584," Harvard Magazine 90, 3 (1978): 48-49.

(10) Edward L. Keenan, "Muscovite Political Folkways," Russian Review 45, 2 (1986): 115-81.

(11) Published together as Edward L. Keenan, "Ivan the Terrible and His Women," Russian History 37, 4 (2010): 322-59.

(12) Edward L. Keenan, Rosiis 'ki istorychni mify, trans. Viktor Shovkun (Kyiv: Kritika, 2001); Evgeniia Kurenkova, "Russkoe srednevekov'e v trudakh Edvarda Kinana" (Candidate of History diss., Moscow State Regional University, 2007).

(13) L. V. Sokolova, "K istorii spora o podlinnosti 'Slova o polku Igoreve' [Iz perepiski akademika D. S. Likhacheva]," Russkaia literatura, no. 2 (1994): 232-68; Russkaia literatura, no. 3 (1994): 213-45.

(14) Edward L. Keenan, "D. S. Likhachev and the Slovo o polku Igoreve," paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Denver, November 2000, unpublished typescript in the author's personal archive, 4.

(15) Ibid., 2.

(16) Edward L. Keenan, Josef Dobrovsky and the Origins of the Igor' Tale (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 2003), 306-7.

(17) Edward L. Keenan, "Ivan III, Nikolai Karamzin, and the Legend of the 'Casting off of the Tatar Yoke' (1480)," in The New Muscovite Cultural History: A Collection in Honor of Daniel B. Rowland, ed. Valerie Kivelson, Karen Petrone, Nancy Kollmann, and Michael S. Flier (Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2009), 237-52; Keenan, "Ivan the Terrible and Book Culture: Fact, Fancy, and Fog: Remarks on Early Muscovite Printing," Solanus: International Journal for Russian and East European Bibliographic, Library, and Publishing Studies, n.s., 18 (2004): 28-50; Keenan, "Was Andrei Kurbskii a Renaissance Intellectual? Some Marginal Notes on a Central Issue," Harvard Ukrainian Studies 27, 1-4 (2004): 25-31; Keenan, "The Trading Town on the Volkhov," in Sacred Arts and City Life: The Glory of Medieval Novgorod, ed. Y. Petrova and G. Griffith Mann (Baltimore: Palace Editions, 2005), 15-23; Keenan, "The Long-Awaited Book and the Bykovskii Hypothesis," Kritika 8, 4 (2007): 817-30; Keenan, "Remembering Andre Mazon," Revue des etudes slaves 82, 1 (2011): 115-21.

(18) Edward L. Keenan, "The Stepennaia kniga and the Godunovian Renaissance," in The Book of Royal Degrees and the Genesis of Russian Historical Consciousness, ed. Gail Lenhoff and Ann Kleimola (Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2011), 69-79.

(19) Edward L. Keenan, review of Skrynnikov, Perepiska Groznogo i Kurbskogo, 36.
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Author:Boeck, Brian J.
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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