Yacov Zohn

PhD student, History

Faculty advisors: David McDonald and Francine Hirsch

Yacov ZohnYacov Zohn is a PhD candidate in History at UW–Madison specializing in sports history. His dissertation follows the story of the national Soviet soccer team from its first competitive international competition at the 1952 Olympics to its disintegration in the early 1990s.

Zohn is fluent in nine languages, allowing him to compare primary sources, scholarship, and oral histories from across languages to show the larger context around the Soviet soccer team. By examining the national and international allegiances within the Soviet team, Zohn aims to show how the politics of representation played out with the team, while also offering useful lessons from sports history for the present time.

“Sporting events of various kinds enabled some of the most successful avenues for soft diplomacy during the Cold War. What we can learn is eminently relevant to contemporary times, when tensions simmering between Russia and the USA are eerily reminiscent of the Cold War years,” Zohn said. “Sport can easily communicate ideals, offer an international stage to showcase power and competence, as well as stoke national unification. I hope that my project will help advocate for increased US attention to the importance of sport in public affairs and policy.”

Zohn held a WARF-funded University Fellowship in 2019-20, after which he secured multiple sources of outside funding to support his research. He won a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education in 2020-21. In summer 2022, he was a research scholar at the Kennan Institute in Washington, D.C., part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

He has also received multiple research travel awards including funding through the UW–Madison Student Research Grants Competition to travel to California. There, he conducted research at three libraries that gave him access to unique sources for his dissertation.

“I am extremely grateful for the assistance and the opportunities that the fellowship provided,” Zohn said of the support from WARF. “With the funds I managed to carry out a research trip that I had not counted on, but which proved immense for my work.”

Most recently, Zohn won a 2022 Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship for Russian Historical Studies from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, which will help him to complete his dissertation.