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Estate Gift Establishes Romanoff Center for Russian Studies, Professorship at OU

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Estate Gift Establishes Romanoff Center for Russian Studies, Professorship at OU

September 16, 2022

NORMAN, OKLA. – The University of Oklahoma has received a $2 million gift, along with many items of significant historical value, from the estate of Princess Janet Romanoff, widow of His Highness Prince Nikita Romanoff.

The generous gift will establish the Romanoff Center for Russian Studies in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences on the OU Norman campus and an endowed professorship in contemporary Russian politics. The Romanoff Center will be the only academic entity named after the Romanoffs in the United States.

The Romanoff Center will focus on the interdisciplinary study of the Russian Federation and its historical precursors, the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. It will be dedicated to informing both the OU community and the broader public about the region’s history and culture, including current events involving Russia and Russia’s actions on the world stage.

“This remarkable gift is a treasure in many ways,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “The establishment of the Romanoff Center at OU will elevate our focus on a region that has long been of paramount importance in global affairs, particularly in today’s geopolitical climate. We are deeply honored to be included in Princess Janet Romanoff’s estate, and we are humbled to be entrusted to safeguard and curate her family’s historical artifacts. These valuables – as well as the thought leadership we will see from the Romanoff Center – will enrich our understanding and appreciation of historical and present-day Russia for years to come.”

The daughter of Emanual Schonwald, an OU graduate who led a successful career in the oil industry, Princess Janet Romanoff was born in Oklahoma City in 1933. She died in 2017 in Cairo, Egypt, at the age of 84. She earned a doctorate from Stanford University, where she met Prince Nikita Romanoff, a great-nephew of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II. The two were married in London in 1961. They had a son, Prince Theodore, who died in 2007, leaving no heirs.

Remembering her youth in Oklahoma with affection, and wanting to honor her son, Princess Janet Romanoff selected the university as the recipient of her legacy. Her donation contains items of historical, artistic and political importance that will be preserved in the center for study, including glass negatives of official Romanoff family photos, correspondence relating to the Romanoff family’s emigration from Russia, and a bound volume of Grand Duchess Xenia’s diaries from World War I and the revolutionary period.   

The newly endowed Romanoff Professorship in Contemporary Russian Politics will be housed in the Department of International and Area Studies in OU’s David L. Boren College of International Studies. After a national search, Hannah Chapman has joined OU as the inaugural Romanoff Professor.

“The creation of the Romanoff Center for Russian Studies and the Romanoff Professorship in Contemporary Russian Politics are the tangible first results of the generous bequest from the Romanoff family, and they are also important examples of collaboration across OU’s colleges and departments to support students of Russian history, politics, language and culture, and the faculty who mentor them,” said David Wrobel, dean of the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences.

Wrobel addressed the Romanoff Center’s coincidental opening at a time when Russia has invaded neighboring Ukraine, thus making the Soviet Union’s complex history even more relevant.

“We hope the center will be a resource for students, scholars and the public by providing crucial background and context for better understanding the current events in Russia, Ukraine and the larger region,” Wrobel said.

In addition to the center and endowed professorship, the gift will also establish the Theodore Romanoff Memorial Fund in Russian Studies, which will support academic scholarship and public programming, as well as create a synergy around OU’s current collection of Russian-related materials.

“The goal of the David L. Boren College of International Studies is to promote ‘global fluency,’ which we define as enriching the ways we can interpret the world to foster better understanding and more effective action in it,” said Scott A. Fritzen, dean of the David L. Boren College of International Studies. “This gift greatly expands our ability to teach and conduct research on one of the most important areas of the world today, one certainly in great need of productive interpretation. We look forward to the many ways the Romanoff Center will foster collaborations among scholars and students of Russia at OU and beyond.”

OU has traditionally boasted a strong Russian studies program, and its offerings are still in demand, fueled in part by ROTC students focusing on international security studies and OU’s proximity to Tinker Air Force Base. OU officials believe the Romanoff Center for Russian Studies will bolster student offerings.

“We are very excited about the resources this endowment will provide to help us launch students into their dream careers,” said Emily Johnson, OU professor of Russian and Romanoff Center co-director, along with OU professor of history Melissa Stockdale. “The gift will help us provide students with specialized courses that focus on Russia and Eastern Europe. The Romanoff Center for Russian Studies at OU will offer opportunities for students and the community to interact with notable academic visitors, such as writers, film directors and political figures.”

A series of brown bag talks, public lectures and webinars will begin this fall, and an exhibition of materials from the Romanoff bequest is planned for fall 2023. Planning for future symposia, film screenings and literary readings is also underway. Additionally, Stockdale is teaching a course this fall titled “Russia and Ukraine: Entangled Histories” through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies.

“This is a very special and unique gift, as it is the first from the Romanoff family,” Stockdale said. “It will strengthen our teaching and student programming, satisfy the public’s interest in and desire to know about Russia – both contemporary and past – and serve the scholarly community here at OU and regionally, which is particularly important given the terrible war in Ukraine.”

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