Richard Stites, Historian of Russian Culture, Dies at 78

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Richard Stites, who opened up new territory for historians with a landmark work on the Russian women’s movement and in numerous articles and books on Russian and Soviet mass culture, died on Sunday in Helsinki, where he was doing research. He was 78 and lived in Washington.

The cause was complications from cancer, his son Andrei said.

Mr. Stites made a practice of seeking out unexplored historical byways. After publishing “The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism and Bolshevism, 1860-1930” (1978), a book that virtually created a subdiscipline, he turned his attention to mass entertainment.

In books like “Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900” (1992), he shed light on cultural forms previously ignored or dismissed, writing about the variety stage, the composers of factory songs and beloved actors like Lyubov Orlova, a star in musical comedy films of the 1930s, who, as he put it, “sang and danced her way through a decade of terror and mass executions.”

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