Robert Johnson studies Imperial Russian and Soviet History, and has taught a wide range of courses on related historical topics—in particular, the Cold War. His research concentrates on social and economic questions. From 1989 to 2001 he served as Director of the then-Centre for Russian and East European Studies. During most of that period he was also Principal Investigator of the Stalin Era Research and Archives Project, which received major funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. His own focus within that collaborative project was on population of the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. He has written on labour and labour unrest, peasant family life, urbanization and other social and economic issues, as well as quantitative research methods.
He is the author of Peasant and Proletarian: Moscow’s Working Class at the End of the Nineteenth Century (1979), and co-author (with Laura C. Johnson) of The Seam Allowance: Industrial Homework in Canada’s Garment Industry (1982), and Regent Park Redux: Reinventing Public Housing in Toronto (2017). He also edited A Half-Century of Silence: The 1937 Census of USSR (1992). Other publications include: “Quagmire of Convenience; The Chechen War and Putin’s Presidency “ (2005) “I Lost It At the Market: Thoughts on the Political Economy of Post-Soviet Russia” (2008); “’The Greatest Tragedy of the Twentieth Century’: An Interview with V. P. Danilov (2008); “But Can You Hit: What Can Universities Learn from Baseball?” (2009); “Paradigms, Categories or Fuzzy Algorithms: Making Sense of Class and Soslovie in Russia” (2011); translation of Boris Mironov, “The Modernization of Russia and the Well-Being of the Population” (2012); and [in Russian] Martin Luther King and Nonviolence in the American Civil Rights Movement” (2000) and “Making Space: The Malleability and Rigidity of Soviet Urban and Post-Soviet Environments,” (2015).
He has produced a series of radio documentaries for the program “Ideas” (Canadian Broadcasting System): “In the Stalin Archives,” (2002); “The Cold War Declassified” (2007) and “Revising History” (2013) He has been a frequent commentator in the news media on current developments in post-Soviet Russia and neighbouring states.
Since 2013 he has been Senior Journalism Fellow [Faculty Advisor] in the William Southam Journalism Fellowship Program at Massey College.