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Skis in the Art of War at AHA

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In anticipation of the American Historical Association Annual Meeting this January 3-6 2020 in New York City, we asked William D. Frank, translator of Skis in the Art of War, three questions about the book.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

Around 2005, John Allen was perusing a 1913 French mountaineering journal when he came across a bibliographic reference to Eimeleus’s book. Because of his on-going research into the cultural significance of skiing as well as his duties building a library at the New England Ski Museum, John was keen to find a copy. After we met in 2009, he asked me to help find one which led to negotiations with on-line rare book dealers in St Petersburg. Our initial collaboration on this purchase led to our subsequent collaboration on my translation and—to our delight—its publication.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now? 

While researching and translating this book, I found few details of the author’s life other than “award-winning sportsman” and “Russian cavalry officer.” From his name’s unusual Cyrillic spelling, I guessed that he was a Baltic German who had perhaps died in WWI. One afternoon, after months of fruitless searching, I uncovered a 1954 memoir published in a Paris ex-pat magazine that provided two game-changing clues: Eimeleus survived the war and served as a military attaché for the government of Finland. Our efforts would have been far less roundabout had we known initially that Eimeleus was Finnish.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of history?

I wouldn’t change the study of history per se, although I would like to see a vigorous return to its essential place in the fundamental education of students. I do despair that society’s increasing reliance on electronic mail, messaging, journals and newspapers—and the ease with which it all can disappear into the ether—foreshadows a dearth of primary sources for historians of the future. Certainly, the serendipitous discovery of a crucial bit of information deep within a musty archive while actually holding the artifact in your hands is one of the greatest joys of historical research.

William D. Frank is a writer, artist, musician and occasional professor of Russian Imperial and Soviet history. His 2013 book, Everyone to Skis! Skiing in Russia and the Rise of Soviet Biathlon, received an Ullr Award from the International Skiing History Association in 2015.

Access the full AHA Program, here; or follow the meeting on social with hashtag #AHA20 or @AHAhistorians

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