Philippa Hetherington


I am a historian of imperial Russia and the early Soviet Union in global and transnational context. I teach at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London. As well as the cultural, social and legal history of Russia in the world, my work explores the intersections of international legal history with biopolitics and feminist theory, particularly in the context of empire and under socialism. 

This constellation of interests led me to the topic of my current book manuscript Circulating Subjects: The Traffic in Women and the Russian Construction of an International Crime. Building on research conducted in fourteen archives across Moscow, St Petersburg, Odessa, Geneva and London, it examines the emergence of ‘trafficking in women’ as a specific crime in turn of the century Russia, and links this to the development of international humanitarian law, migratory regimes, and imperial governance. I have also written on ‘obscene materials’ as objects of prohibition in early international criminal law, gender and socialist consumer culture, and the Cold War birth of the 1949 UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons.

My new research follows the channels of this work on law, border-crossing, and the politics of gender in a number of directions. The first is a planned monograph on imperial and international law and the governance of the family, examined through a series of ‘marriage problems’ confronting the Russian and Soviet states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These included so-called bride abduction, a crime that imperial officials linked to customary practices in multiple parts of the empire, but increasingly associated with populations in the Caucasus in the decades before 1917. It is the object of my research for a collaborative, UCL-funded project and Law and Society International Research Collaboration ‘When is Marriage Slavery? Historical and Contemporary Perspectives‘ (with Professors Annie Bunting and Joel Quirk). I am also working on a set of essays about socialist feminist theory and practice in the twentieth century, exploring attempts to mine the Soviet experience for a ‘usable past’ among Anglo-American feminists in the 1960s-1980s. 

In recent years I have been a research fellow at the Laureate Research Centre for International History at the University of Sydney (2014-2015 and 2017), held a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award (2017-2018) and was awarded a Visiting Fellowship at Uppsala University in Sweden in 2019. I am currently co-investigator on the three-year AHRC project ‘Trafficking, Smuggling and Illicit Migration in Gendered and Historical Perspective, c.1870-2000′, alongside Dr Julia Laite (Birkbeck). Over the years, my research has been funded by fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Australian Research Council, and the Edward J. Safra Center for the Study of Ethics. Alongside lecturing and research, I currently sit on the editorial collective of the journal Gender & History, write occasionally for outlets such as the London Review of Books and Prospect Magazine, and have appeared in documentaries for Netflix, UKTV, BBC Radio 4 and Australia’s Radio National.