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  • HSE History Professor Feels at Home in Moscow’s Multicultural Environment

HSE History Professor Feels at Home in Moscow’s Multicultural Environment

Martin Beisswenger has been a professor in HSE’s School of History since 2013. Recently, HSE News Service sat down with him to learn about his impressions of Moscow, his research projects, the course he is currently teaching and more.

Martin Beisswenger, Assistant Professor at the School of History 
Photo courtesy of Martin Beisswenger

On Coming to Moscow

Since I first visited Moscow in the summer of 1993 to practice my Russian, I have always been fascinated by this unique city. As a historian of Russian and European history, I felt quite comfortable about moving to Moscow after earning my Ph.D. I believe for my research interests this city with its wealth of libraries and archival collections is the perfect place to be. Therefore, I was happy to accept the job offer for a tenure-track position at HSE in 2013, where I have been working since.

On Working in a Multicultural Environment

Already as an undergraduate student in the 1990s and as a graduate student in the 2000s I spent long periods of time outside my home country and got used to living and studying in a foreign cultural environment. When I was a graduate student at a major US research university in northern Indiana, my family and I lived among other graduate students and their families coming from all over the world. 

For me living and working in a multicultural environment has always been the norm rather than the exception

To be honest, I cannot really think of any particular challenges that I have encountered thus far in Moscow in that respect. Of course, fluency in several languages, including Russian, makes working with people from different cultural backgrounds considerably easier.

On Teaching

My course on ‘Political Projects’ is intended to provide students with a general introduction to major problems of twentieth-century history on a global scale. We discuss key events, such as the two world wars, the process of decolonization or the cold war, that shaped the twentieth century. We study these issues within the examples of several key states, such as Italy, Germany, Turkey, China, Iran, and the United States and the political systems they represented, such as democracy, fascism, national socialism, and communism. To a certain degree, this course reflects my research interest in intellectual history. Thus, one particular focus of this course is on how political ideas and concepts shaped political decisions and realities. We also discuss how, in turn, the challenges of reality influenced political ideas. Of course, we do pay a lot of attention to traditional politics, but also to how politics were shaped by cultural and social factors and developments.

On Current Research

My research is mostly devoted to twentieth-century Russian intellectual history in a European context. In particular, I am interested in the intellectual history of Russian post-revolutionary emigration with a special focus on the so-called Eurasianist movement in inter-war Europe. I have published several journal articles and book chapters on these topics. Two more book chapters, one on the Russian historian and religious philosopher Lev Karsavin, the other on the legal scholar Nikolai Alekseev, are forthcoming. These two studies reflect my interest in intellectual biographies. I am also working on a book manuscript about the intellectual biography of the economist and geographer Petr Savitskii, one of the founders of Eurasianism, who was also the subject of my doctoral dissertation.

On the Welt und Wissenschaft Conference

This year’s Welt und Wissenschaft student conference was very successful, just as it had been in the previous years. At this conference, I moderated the historical panel where we had a total of eight presentations. They covered such diverse topics as early nineteenth-century Romantic patriotism in Russian literature or the post-industrial cultural transformation of the German Ruhr region in the early twenty-first century.

I was impressed by the presenters’ very good command of German language as well as their enthusiasm about the topics of their research


All presentations were followed by lively discussions that broadened not only our historical and linguistic knowledge but were also a lot of fun.

On Living in Moscow

Moscow is a fascinating city that has undergone an enormous transformation since my first stay here back in 1993. Although the speed of life is still well above that of your average European city, life has become much more pleasant within the last couple of years. Any part of the city can now be reached quite conveniently by public transport. My family and I particularly like the reconstruction and development of the city’s numerous parks, where we often spend our Sunday afternoons, going for extended walks that can take up to several hours. Sometimes we also take weekend trips to nearby cities such as Kolomna or Vladimir. We also enjoy going to concerts and visiting museums. If we have guests that have never been to Moscow, we, of course, take them to the Kremlin and Red Square first!

See also:

‘The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past’

This summer, the HSE Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences was reorganized to become the HSE Institute for Advanced Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Oleg Budnitskii, Doctor of Historical Sciences, head of the Centre and director of the Institute, talked to the HSE News Service about the new division.

Exploring the History of Places and Environment in Russia

The collective volume Place and Nature: Essays in Russian Environmental History, co-edited by David Moon, Nicholas B. Breyfogle, and HSE researcher Alexandra Bekasova, was recently presented at a seminar of the Laboratory for the Environmental and Technological History of the Centre for Historical Research at HSE – St. Petersburg. The book is one of the fruits of a networking project carried out in 2013-2016 with active participation of HSE researchers.

Conference Brings Together New Perspectives on the Russian Far East

On March 28-31, 2021, the HSE International Laboratory ‘Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective’ held an international conference ‘The Russian Far East: Regional and Transnational Perspectives (19th -21st cent.)’. The event was jointly organized by the Laboratory with the German Historical Institute Moscow, Indiana University Bloomington (USA), and the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East FEB RAS (Vladivostok).

Studying the Middle Ages Is Fascinating

The recently launched Master's Programme in Medieval Studies is the only Master’s degree in Russia fully dedicated to medieval studies. HSE News Service spoke with Juan Sota, a second-year student of the programme, about its unique features, interacting with professors, and his research interests and aspirations.

British Scholar on Exploring Russian History

On February 9, the HSE International Laboratory 'Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective' hosted Janet Hartley (London School of Economics), who presented her recent monograph The Volga: A History of Russia’s Greatest River. The presentation was part of a joint lecture series between the Laboratory and The Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. HSE news service spoke with Janet Hartley about her interest in Russia, her experience travelling and doing research in Russia, and the books she has written on Russia.

Financial Front: The USSR State Budget during World War II

After June 1941, the Soviet budget was no longer the same. Marking the end of peaceful life, budget revenues dwindled, and the Treasury was drained of billions of rubles. But because the war required money, the government had to find it from somewhere. Oleg Khlevnyuk, Professor at the HSE University’s School of History, examines the Soviet Union’s wartime and post-war financial policies in his paper.

Slut-Shaming by Lend-Lease

Russian women who associated with Soviet allies during World War II were subjected to unusually harsh persecution. This was especially true in the north of the country that saw the arrival of thousands of U.S. and British sailors. For having contact with these foreigners, Soviet women received the same severe punishment meted out to Nazi collaborators: charges of treason and 10 years in a forced labour camp. HSE Associate Professor Liudmila Novikova studied how and why this policy shaped their destinies.

Studying Cultural History of Ethnic Minorities in the USSR

Isabelle R. Kaplan, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, talks about her research on non-Slavic minorities in the Soviet Union in an interview to the HSE Look.

Scarcity Trauma: Why Russia in the 1990s Was not Nostalgic about Soviet Life

In 2001, ten years after the launch of reforms in Russia, 54% of Russians  believed  the main achievement of the reforms was the availability of consumer goods, rather than freedom of speech or the possibility of travelling  abroad. A decade later, public attitudes had not changed, and the availability of goods on store shelves was still perceived as the number one priority. The massive trauma caused by scarcity was particularly strong. How it was addressed and in what way it influenced public attitudes after the USSR collapse is examined in a study  by HSE professor Oleg Khlevnyuk.

Underground Capitalist in Soviet Russia

Nikolai Pavlenko, a shadow entrepreneur and creator of a successful business in Stalin’s USSR, was executed by firing squad in 1955. Running a successful commercial enterprise right under the dictator’s nose in a strictly planned economy was a striking but not so uncommon case in the Soviet Union at the time, according to HSE professor Oleg Khlevniuk who made a number of unexpected findings having studied newly accessible archival documents. Below, IQ.HSE offers a summary of what his study reveals.