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.
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!
How the Telephone Conquered the World. Episode Five: From the US Free Market to Conservative Britain
In this series of columns on IQ.HSE, Anton Basov, HSE Faculty of Computer Science editor, discusses how telephones have become an integral part of our everyday life. The fifth episode of the series chronicles the early experiences of the telegraph and telephone in Great Britain, shedding light on the challenges they faced, and explores the adverse impact of excessive government regulation and nationalisation on the evolution of telecommunications.
Petroleum for equine care, wood oil for lighting, sandalwood for Easter celebrations, and lemons and olives for entertaining unexpected guests. Russian monasteries often used these and other eastern goods in the period leading up to and during the reign of Peter the Great. Analysing their account books leads to a revision of the traditional assumptions about the primary consumers of oriental goods in Russia. These consumers, in addition to the royal and aristocratic circles, included monastery estates, as discussed in the paper ‘“Three altyns worth of petroleum…”: Oriental goods in Russia at the second half of the 17th and early 18th century’ by historian Arthur Mustafin of HSE University. Based on his paper, IQ.HSE explores the types of goods that were shipped from the East to Russia in the latter half of the 17th to the early 18th century, including the routes and purposes of these shipments.
How the Telephone Conquered the World. Episode Four: David the Start-up Versus the Corporate Goliath
The history of the invention of telephony reads like a captivating detective novel, but even more intriguing are the events that contributed to the worldwide adoption of this technology. In this series of columns on IQ.HSE, Anton Basov, HSE Faculty of Computer Science editor, discusses how telephones have become an integral part of our everyday life. The fourth episode of the series recounts the story of the fledgling start-up's confrontation with hordes of patent trolls and its subsequent victory in a full-blown corporate war against the largest telecommunications company of the late 19th century.
‘In Search of the Key to the Past’: Students of HSE Art and Design School in Nizhny Novgorod Develop Collection of Souvenirs
The HSE Art and Design School in Nizhny Novgorod, together with the ‘Protected Quarters’ project to revive Nizhny Novgorod’s historical territories, have carried out the ‘Timeless’ creative project, which included a design laboratory and an educational programme. As a result of the creative workshop, students made concepts for souvenir products based on the local identity.
Today, we can make a telephone call to anyone, anywhere in the world—but this was not always the case. In this series of columns on IQ.HSE, Anton Basov, HSE Faculty of Computer Science editor, discusses how telephones have become an integral part of our everyday life. The third episode focuses on the evolution of telephone connections, the first subscribers, and the history of the telephone directory.
‘We Have Always Loved You, Sakhalin’: Research Expedition Studies Sociocultural Anthropology of Miners' Working Life in the USSR
Researchers from the School of Foreign Languages and the Group for Historical Research, together with students of the History programme at the HSE University campus in Perm, have come back from an expedition to Sakhalin Island, where they studied Soviet industrial culture and the working life of miners. The expedition participants shared their impressions of their ‘immersion into the past’ and the extraordinary landscapes of the island with the HSE News Service.
Throughout July, students of the HSE International Summer University are studying Russian History and Behavioural Economics. The courses are taking place in an online format—something that seemed unthinkable for a summer programme before the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent years have shown that online learning is a unique opportunity for students from all over the world to study with leading HSE University professors from the comfort of their own homes.
The first major Soviet publisher of children's literature, Raduga, was established a century ago and featured the debuts of many authors who would later go on to become famous, as well as illustrations by prominent artists. Based on a research paper by Marina Sazonenko, graduate of the HSE Doctoral School of Art and Design, IQ.HSE examines how — and why — the illustrations in Soviet periodicals for children changed over time.
This December, HSE University’s Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities hosted Professor Juliane Fürst, from Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History, who gave a lecture about Soviet hippies and the Soviet Flower Power. In an interview with HSE News Service, Professor Fürst spoke about her interest in Soviet subcultures and her research plans.
On September 30, Stephen Riegg, Assistant Professor of History of the Texas A&M University, presented his book Russia’s Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914 at the first seminar of this year’s Boundaries of History series.We spoke with Professor Alexander Semyonov, the seminar chair and the Director of the HSE Centre for Historical Research, about the goals of the seminar and to Stephen Riegg about his research.