He was born in 1972, but the 1980s are the decade Stephen M. Norris remembers best.
Like many adults who reminisce over their past, Norris did not fail to mention some of his favorite cultural experiences. He recalls his enthusiasm for Rocky Balboa and Stars Wars.
He had a happy childhood. He talks about his family, and his parents support of his education. He reminisces over memories playing soccer as a central midfielder, transitioning to the essential striker position when necessary. He remembers the skills he learned as a boy scout, and how he earned his Eagle Scout.
But there’s one topic he focuses on, a pervasive issue that dominated much of American life during this time period: The Cold War.
“It was just another part of being a child of the eighties,” Norris said.
He could have succumbed to the commanding fear of Red that blinded many Americans. He could have focused on soccer, not allowing the mounting political tensions to have an impact on his life.
But, for Norris, his childhood is where his passion for Russian history began.
“It is just what I found interesting,” he said.
His curiosity about Russian history carried into his college experience. When Norris was a sophomore at Millikin University in Illinois, he took his first class on the Cold War. This class is why he — unlike many Americans — remembers the collapse of the Soviet Union more personally.
That winter, he took his final exam in the class, and a few weeks later, he went to Russia.
“It was about a week or so after the fall of the Soviet Union. I was only nineteen.”
He talks about his visit to St. Petersburg and Moscow. He speaks of his discussions with Russians about life in the Soviet Union. He remembers them saying how they were now able to express the truth of their country with their western counterparts, where before they had been forced to watch what they said .
“I remember them speaking of a life of freedom and a life without being watched.”
After his visit, he graduated from Millikin University with a Bachelor of Art in History. In 2002, he earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia and, shortly after, he received an unique position at Miami University. Filling the second-ever faculty position created, he became a professor of history and was offered a role at The Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies.
“It means…I also got to help create and take part in the activities and events sponsored by the Center.”
Norris is still a professor of history at Miami, teaching classes about Eastern Europe and the Cold War, and has written articles and books analyzing the events that fall under the broad topic of Russian history.
There is no denying he is accomplished.
Yet, he still roots for Rocky Balboa in his battle against Apollo Creed. His love for soccer has transformed into a devotion for Arsenal Football Club. He has two boys, and is their boy scout troop leader. And — like his own parents — he emphasizes the importance of education to his kids.
Norris has carefully built a bridge between the sense of wonder from his childhood and his passion for Russian history that would eventually become his career.