This chapter first sets out the book's purpose, namely to explore the role played by the Gulag in the Soviet polity. It provides a close study of the camps and exiles in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan along with a general reconsideration of the scope, meaning, and function of the Gulag in Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. Focusing on Karaganda offers a number of benefits to an examination of the history of the Gulag. First, a concentrated look at a single locality allows for a study of the massive phenomenon of the Gulag without giving up the chronological breadth that is important to understanding shifts in its operations through the period (approximately 1930–57) when it was at its height. Second, exploring the Gulag at the local level reveals the operation of the system at the very point of contact between Soviet authority and its detained subjects. The chapter then describes the sources upon which the book is based, followed by an overview of the subsequent chapters.
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