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Studying the Middle Ages Is Fascinating

An illustration from the E codex of the Cantigas de Santa Maria

An illustration from the E codex of the Cantigas de Santa Maria
© Wikimedia Commons

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.

Juan Sota
Photo courtesy of Juan Sota

I found the programme very complete and fascinating and can definitely recommend it. The idea behind the programme was to make it as multidisciplinary as possible, and to provide students with a wide approach to the Middle Ages. We had the opportunity to get into medieval art, literature, philosophy, religious practices and rituals, law, power, and daily life.

We also received a very balanced territorial view of the period: from oriental Late Antiquity and Islam to Byzantium, Rus`, Western Europe and the Scandinavian countries. All this provided students with a very complete context for our specific research and helped to find new interests.

Learning from the Best

Maybe the key factor of the programme is the teachers, who in their vast majority are very good specialists. In comparison to the bachelor’s degree, I felt that the  relation with teachers was different. In the master’s programme they see you more as a colleague, than as a pupil. For example, Oleg Voskoboynikov counts on us for projects and conferences in the university. He has always been open to listen to what we had to say about the educational process.

I like the diversity of subjects, especially when they were taught in a personal way by the teachers: it was interesting to see how professional historians deal with different sources and scientific fields!

Usually, it is extremely compelling and helpful when the teacher speaks about his own experience and research.

Olga Togoeva, who works mainly for the Academy of Sciences, taught in the first year two of the best courses we had. What impressed me the most was her ability to make the classes interesting by using a lot of graphical material, and her readiness to answer questions and help students. I once asked her for advice about an article I was working on, and I was really delighted by the availability and thoughtfulness she showed and the interest she put in it: she really helped me a lot!

Other lectures that are difficult to forget are Mikhail Boytsov's. His course on power and its symbolic was very demanding, but captivating and very original: I learned a lot of new things! The discussions in his seminars were also very vivid and enriching and we were taught by practice to analyze medieval texts, paying attention to details.

Diving into Medieval Songs

I am doing my research paper on the “Cantigas de Santa Maria”, which are a XIII century collection of songs dedicated to the Virgin Mary, composed under the supervision of Alfonso X, king of Castile and Leon. There are many amazing things about the “Cantigas”: the complex history of their composition, their richly illuminated manuscripts, the expression of the fervent piety of the king, the interesting details about ordinary life they provide us with.

During my master’s, I have primarily studied the images of lay people, that offer us the miracle-tales of the “Cantigas”. For me it was exciting to explore the vision of the society given in this monumental work of Alfonso X from the point of view of moral and religious life. Which was the ideal proposed for different social groups and why? And how are all these ideas connected with the wider European context?

I have been working with my supervisor, Professor Antonina Sharova, since the 2nd year of my bachelor programme in History. She provides me with a lot of good ideas and helps me to prepare articles and presentations for conferences. I am very grateful for her continuous help!

The thesis is going well, I have read a lot and written the main part, but I still have to work a lot on it for making it a solid research paper.

Studying Online

During the pandemic period we had classes online. I attended them from Moscow, since I knew that leaving the country could mean that I would not be able to come back for a long time, until the borders would open.

Online education was a bit difficult for me because I missed the time we use to spend together with classmates: in my opinion, communication and socialization are an important part of what we receive in university.

During that time, it helped me to have a schedule for the day to manage my time well: wake up early, do some sport, read, work on my thesis and spent time with friends. Thanks to that I can really say that this year has been productive and full of interesting things.

Joining Academia

I am now applying for the doctoral programme in HSE. I am eager to be accepted in the full-time advanced doctorate, which involves the possibility of doing an internship abroad and working in HSE scientific centers.

I am sure this will help me to develop my abilities and enrich my research, and it will be a good opportunity to get in contact with many specialists and fully enter academic life, as it is my goal.

It is my view that the interest in medieval studies is currently high in Russia, and that HSE plays a leading role in this field, so I want to be there!

HSE University welcomes applicants from all over the world and offers not only different levels of study, but also different formats in English and Russian, online and offline. International applicants can apply for Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes in a separate admissions process for foreign applicants and receive scholarships with full or partial tuition fee coverage.

Master’s applicants also have the opportunity to get a preliminary assessment of their portfolio and communicate with their programme of choice online.

To learn more about HSE University, its admission process, or life in Moscow, please visit International Admissions website, or contact the Education & Training Advisory Centre at: inter@hse.ru, or via WhatsApp at: +7 (916) 311 8521.

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