Professional and Biographical Information

Michael Kunichika was born in Honolulu, HI and educated at Punahou School and then Reed College (Portland, OR), where a distribution requirement led him to start studying Russian, which  eventually became his major and intellectual home. He received his Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures, with a designated emphasis in Film Studies, from the University of California, Berkeley. His teaching and research interests draws material from all periods of modern Russian and Soviet Literature and culture, with special emphases on the interdisciplinary study of Russian modernism, critical theory, and Russian and Soviet cinema, particularly of the silent era. 


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (2007)
M.A., University of California, Berkeley (2002)
B.A., Reed College (1999)


The most enriching roles of my professional life have been teaching and advising. Alongside teaching an array of courses devoted to literary-historical topics on modern Russian literature, my courses are often constructed with interdisciplinary goals and materials, whether they are courses on the image of “Eurasia” or “primitivism” in Russian cultural studies, to the representation of race and labor throughout the Russian and Soviet periods.  


My research interests and specializations include twentieth century Russian and Soviet literature, in particular modernist tendencies; the cultural history and philosophy of archaeology and anthropology; critical theory; and interdisciplinary approaches to Russian and Soviet literary and visual culture. I am especially interested in exploring what links cultural production to the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, and ethnography. This interest enables me to view literature (and visual art) as a unique form of knowledge about diverse peoples and their cultures 

I am currently at working on two projects, both of which focus on material or periods I am currently teaching or hope to do so in the coming years. The first project, Specters of Empire: Early Soviet Cinema and the Representation of Race, considers how race and ethnicity emerged as a crucial area for all aspects of early Soviet culture and cinema, prompting cultural thinkers and filmmakers to come up with representational forms proper to the values of socialist revolution, while also scrutinizing West-European forms of representing race on screen. I argue that we find a remarkable assessment of the relationship between race, cinematic form, and imperial/anti-imperial politics during the period, spearheaded not only by the luminaries of cinema and cultural criticism, but also by a range of other remarkable directors, film and literary critics, and critical theorists. Focusing on exemplary films, the book shows how the 1920s constitutes an early chapter in the so-called “genealogy of anti-imperial thought” and cultural production and criticism.

My other long-term project seeks to contribute to the interdisciplinary study of late Socialism and the history of archaeology, art history, and the history of science. This project, Archaeology in the Twilight of Utopia: Late Socialism and the Rediscovery the Archaic considers the appeal, both in the Soviet Union and in Europe, of the archaic, especially of prehistory, from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Among the many pasts recuperated in the aftermath of Stalinism, the prehistoric was the oldest. It becomes the subject of a range of works, media, and critical theories, from novels and films to Soviet art-historical and semiotic accounts of prehistory. I’ve begun publishing and lecturing on topics such as the discovery of prehistoric cave painting in the Kapova Cave in the Ural mountains and Soviet art historical debates on the origins of art.

Selected Publications

—“Our Native Antiquity”: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Culture of Russian Modernism. Studies in Russian and Slavic Literatures, Cultures and History. Beacon, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2015.

Selected Awards and Honors

Professor Kunichika’s first book “Our Native Antiquity" (2015) received honorable mention for the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize (2016) sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies and Stanford University's Center for Russian and East European Studies. It was also short-listed for the AATSEEL Best Book in Literary and Cultural Studies (2016).

Willis F. Doney Member, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, 2015-16

Senior Fellow, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, 2013-14

Faculty Fellow, The Humanities Initiative, NYU, 2010-11

Dissertation Fellow, Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley, 2006-07