Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.

Photographs from the Papal Visit of 1987

From June 8-14, 1987, Pope John Paul II made his third "pilgrimage" to his homeland (he had already visited in 1979 and 1983). As on the first two occasions, life in Poland seemed to stop during his visit, as nearly the entire country (at least, so it seemed) participated in this historic moment.

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Divorce in the Soviet Union

One of Mikhail Gorbachev's most famous reform movements was 'glasnost' (openness), which allowed partial freedom of the press to address social problems and corruption within the Soviet Union. Among the issues raised during the 'glasnost' era of the Soviet Union were social problems, including previously forbidden subjects such as the high rate of divorce.

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Environmental Activism in the Soviet Union

On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine led to the radioactive contamination of the surrounding countryside and to radioactive fallout throughout Eastern and Western Europe.

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Perestroika and the changing Soviet workforce

One of Mikhail Gorbachev's most famous reform movements was perestroika (reconstruction), an attempt to rebuild the Soviet economy, which had been stagnating for more than a decade. A large part of perestroika emphasized developing individual responsibility among the Soviet workforce, in order to inspire greater productivity.

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Traditional Image of Soviet Women

Soviet propaganda posters presented positive images of healthy, active people engaged in useful service to the state, including women. In this poster from 1974, three women, with their hair covered with a traditional kerchief, are depicted alongside a clear slogan: "Soviet Women!

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The Butcher Shop, Warsaw

In the 1980s average citizens of East European countries faced many challenges, including daily difficulties created from ongoing and severe shortages of consumer goods. Buying such necessities as food, clothing, and hygiene products was a recurring obstacle to average consumers.

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Shopping queue in Wrocław

Upheavals in political, economic, social, and cultural conditions in the 1980s led to many challenges in everyday lives of average citizens of East European countries. Buying such necessities as food, clothing, and hygiene products posed serious difficulties to consumers. Store shelves were frequently empty and lines that took as long as several hours to navigate were common.

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Shame to the loafer and the drunkard

Before the era of the Gorbachev reforms, social and health problems could not be easily discussed in the Soviet Union. The emphasis for public health was on keeping people healthy so that they could work better and more productively. Alcoholism, for example, was not a health problem, but instead a poor excuse for failing to work productively.

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Drug Abuse is Suicide

One of Mikhail Gorbachev's most famous reform movements was glasnost' (openness), which allowed partial freedom of the press to address social problems and corruption within the Soviet Union. Among the issues raised during the glasnost' era of the Soviet Union were public health concerns, which became a prominent issue by the late 1980s.

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Let's Go! Support Perestroika!

Mikhail Gorbachev began a parallel program of reform for the Soviet Union: perestroika (reconstruction) and glasnost' (openness). His intention, however, was for a state-directed movement that would keep the Communist Party in firm control. In this poster from 1989, it is clear that the people of the Soviet Union had adopted the cause of reform for themselves.

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