Woman Fitzpatrick, Sheila Mary (1941 - )

4 June 1941
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Sheila Fitzpatrick is a leader in the history profession, who has made a major contribution to the history of modern Russia, especially the social and cultural history of the Soviet Union and Stalinism.

Sheila Mary Fitzpatrick was born in Melbourne on 4 June 1941. She was the eldest child of journalist, radical historian, socialist and civil liberties activist Brian Charles Fitzpatrick (1905-1965) and secondary and tertiary teacher Dorothy Mary Fitzpatrick (née Davis) (1913-2001). Her parents were both University of Melbourne graduates who met at the meetings of the Book Censorship Abolition League. Her brother David Fitzpatrick, a scholar of modern Irish history, is Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin.

Fitzpatrick grew up in Melbourne and was educated at Lauriston Girls' School in Armadale. In her youth, she had shown talent as a violinist and was accepted into the Australian Youth Orchestra when it was founded in 1957. Fitzpatrick aspired to a career as a professional musician. However, at the tender age of sixteen, she passed the university matriculation exam and, following in her parents' footsteps, attended the University of Melbourne completing a BA (Hons) degree, graduating with First-Class Honours in History and Music in 1961. Fitzpatrick recalls, 'I remember that it was doing the research for my 4th-year Honours thesis on Soviet music at the University of Melbourne in about 1960 that it really hooked me'. She 'discovered the joys of doing history, as opposed to just learning it' (My Father's Daughter, p. 167). This was the start of her long and distinguished career working on Soviet history.

Fitzpatrick tutored in the History Department for two years after her graduation. Taking the usual path of a University of Melbourne graduate with a First, Fitzpatrick applied for a Commonwealth Scholarship. To her father's disappointment, women were not eligible for a Rhodes Scholarship. Fitzpatrick was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship and commenced her doctoral studies at St Antony's College, Oxford, aged twenty-one in 1964. In 1966 Fitzpatrick gained her much awaited opportunity to start research in the Soviet Union and three years later was awarded her Dphil for her thesis The Commissariat of Education under Lunacharsky (1917-1921).

After completing her Dphil, Fitzpatrick took up an appointment as a Research Fellow at the London School of Slavonic and East European Studies (1969-1972). From 1971 to 1972 she was Visiting Lecturer in Soviet history at the University of Birmingham. She then spent a year at the University of Texas at Austin, as lecturer in Slavic languages and literature. In 1974 she was appointed Associate Professor of history at St. John's University New York, and in 1975 moved to Columbia University, where she remained until her appointment in 1980 as Professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1987 Fitzpatrick was named Oliver H. Radkey Regents' Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1990 she took up an appointment as the Bernadotte E. Schmitt Professor of History at the University of Chicago in 1994. Since 2000 Fitzpatrick has been an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. After fifty years living as an expatriate in the UK and the United States, in the middle of 2012 Fitzpatrick gave up her American job and moved to Sydney where she is an Honorary Professor in the Department of History at the University of Sydney, as well as Professor Emerita at the University of Chicago.

Fitzpatrick is the author of many publications. Her first book, The Commissariat of Enlightenment: Soviet Organization of Education and the Arts under Lunacharsky, 1917-1921, published by Cambridge University Press in 1970, was based on her doctoral work. Fitzpatrick was a trend-setter of revisionist social history 'from below' and her critique of the 'totalitarian school' catapulted her to fame and controversy, particularly with her much debated edited volume, Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-1931 (1978) and second monograph, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union, 1921-1932 (1979). Her textbook The Russian Revolution is in its third edition. Other publications include: Culture et revolution, with Marc Ferro (1989); The Cultural Front. Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (1992); Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization (1994); Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (1999); Tear off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (2005); In 2010 Fitzpatrick published her memoir My Father's Daughter: Memories of an Australian Childhood, for which she received the Australian Historical Association's Magarey Medal in 2012. A second volume of memoirs, A Spy in the Archives, based on her experiences as a young historian researching her dissertation in Moscow in the 1960s, will be published in September 2013. She is currently working on a book on Stalin and his closest political associates, Playing on Stalin's Team, and a study of 'displaced persons' from the Soviet Union who came to Australia after the Second World War.

Fitzpatrick has also edited a number of works, in addition to Cultural Revolution in Russia (see above): Russia in the Era of NEP: Explorations in Soviet Society and Culture, with Alexander Rabinowitch and Richard Stites (1991); Accusatory Practices: Denunciation in Modern European History, 1789-1989, with Robert Gellately (1997); Stalinism: New Directions (2000); In the Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women from 1917 to the Second World War, with Yuri Slezkine (2000); Against the Grain. Brian Fitzpatrick and Manning Clark in Australian History and Politics, with Stuart Macintyre (2007); Beyond Totalitarianism: Nazism and Stalinism Compared, with Michael Geyer (2008); Political Tourists. Travellers from Australia to the Soviet Union in 1920s-1940s, with Carolyn Rasmussen (2008); Sedition: Everyday Resistance in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, with Vladimir A Kozlov and Sergei V Mitronenko (2011). Her books and articles have been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish. Russian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech, and other languages. She is a regular contributor on Russian and other subjects to The London Review of Books.

Fitzpatrick is the recipient of many awards and fellowships. She was appointed Woodrow Wilson Fellow (1981-1982) and a Guggenheim Fellow (1987-1988, 1996), and in 1996 an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities. In 1995 she received a Graduate Teaching Award from the University of Chicago. She served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in 1997. In 2002, she received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. In 2005 she was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In that year she was also awarded a Federation Fellowship by the Australian Research Council (ARC), an honour Fitzpatrick declined. She is also a past President of the American Association for Slavic and East European Studies. Fitzpatrick was a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin (2008-2009). She has twice been awarded Discovery Grants by the Australian Research Council joint projects: in 2010, with Stephen Wheatcroft, for Rethinking the History of Soviet Stalinism (2011-2013), and in 2013, with Mark Edele, for War and Displacement: from the Soviet Union to Australia in the Wake of the Second World War (2013-2016). In 2012, Fitzpatrick received both the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies and the American Historical Association's award for Scholarly Distinction-America's the highest honour awarded in historical studies.

In 1966 Fitzpatrick married fellow University of Melbourne Alex Bruce; however, the two separated a couple of years later. A second marriage in the 1980s to American political scientist Jerry F. Hough ended in divorce. Fitzpatrick is the widow of theoretical physicist Michael Danos (1922-1999).

Published Resources


  • Alexopoulos, G with Hessler, J and Tomoff, K, Writing the Stalin Era. Sheila Fitzpatrick and Soviet Histography, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, United States of America, 2011. Details
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila, My Father's Daughter: Memories of an Australian Childhood, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, Victoria, 2010. Details
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila, A Spy in the Archives, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, Victoria, 2013. Details

Online Resources

See also