Trip to Saint Petersburg Inspires US Students
A group of 20 undergraduates from the United States visited St. Peteresburg, 'the Venice of the North', this January, taking part in a programme that blended the history, society and culture of the Russian Empire’s capital. Participants arrived from Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, opting to spend two weeks of their winter holidays here (6 – 22 January) learning about this city. Participants were diverse in their fields of studies, Russian knowledge, and travel experience, some even choosing this trip as their first chance to travel outside the borders of the United States.
Students shared different reasons for embarking on the programme. Elizabeth Nolasco said, 'I thought this was an interesting opportunity. You’re going to go to St. Petersburg and study history where the capital of the empire was.' Literature had played a key role in sparking Caroline Dunbar’s interest in the country and its heritage years earlier. Having read the works of Dostoevsky and Akhmatova, she jumped at the chance to visit the city where they had lived and worked. Samantha Linder wished to rediscover the country of her ancestors, as well as to experience the wealth of Russian art in the city first hand. Daisy Paez was inspired to come here because of a strong female figure in Russian history, telling us, 'The first thought that came to me was Catherine, and right away I just knew I wanted to come to Russia and study her, especially. I had never been to Russia, or even out of the US, so two weeks outside of the country was just ideal for me.'
After even a short time in Russia, participants agreed that the trip had been transformative. Ms. Nolasco talked about how the reality compared with longstanding assumptions about the people, saying, 'Any time I focus more on the people and the stereotypes that we heard – they’re unfriendly and they don’t smile – but I’ve met so many amazing people here.'
After coming here, I am very happy that I did. It’s a beautiful city, and when I compare it to places like Paris or Rome, I think it is even more charming and romantic, because there is an honesty to St. Petersburg
Some of the people Ms. Nolasco was referring to included HSE staff and faculty who had put together this programme with the specific aim of introducing the rich history of this city and country, the evolution of its society, art forms and politics in a compelling way. Their success in this was obvious from the praise participants placed upon the enthusiasm of the professors and their ability to bring long-dead czars and artists to life in their lectures. But the praise of HSE did not stop with administrators and lecturers. Participants of the programme were very grateful to meet their Russian peers, students at HSE, through the Buddy System. After long days of lectures, tours, and activities, the participants were able to explore modern Russia and see it through the eyes of their 'buddies'.
Participants took excursions to the city’s key points of interest, as well as did a large amount of sightseeing on their own, but they agreed that in all cases the material they had covered in their lectures complemented these tours nicely. Ms. Dunbar shared her thoughts on the programme, saying, 'It’s all been rewarding. My friends and I have done a lot of sightseeing on our own. We’ve gone to the museums for Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Akhmatova, and there were things we had learned in class that were helpful in those museums. Like in our History class, we had talked about political thought in the 19th century, and those political thought movements always come up in the background of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky novels. So, it was great to learn about them from a historian.'
Ms. Paez summed up the overall impressions the participants shared about the city quite nicely, stating, 'After coming here, I am very happy that I came here and very appreciative. It’s a beautiful city, and people like to say that it is a European city. And when I compare it to places like Paris or Rome, I think it is even more charming and romantic, because there is an honesty to St. Petersburg.' Two weeks here in St. Petersburg, experiencing the culture, braving the Russian winter, and beginning to scratch the surface of the rich culture heritage the city has to offer has left a lasting impression on each of the students, with many looking forward to the next chance to return.
On October 11, Professor Dominic Lieven of the University of Cambridge, where he serves as Senior Research Fellow, Trinity College, gave a public lecture at HSE St Petersburg entitled ‘Reflections on empire, Russia and historical comparison’. The event was organized by the Center for Historical Research.
A hundred years has passed since the October Revolution of 1917, but this event still hasn’t reached its logical conclusion. Its consequences are still crucial in defining the political system in Russia today and fostering divisions in society, believes Andrey Medushevsky, Professor at the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences, political scientist, historian and author of the book A Political History of the Russian Revolution: Norms, Institutions and Forms of Social Mobilization in the 20th Century.
Department of History at HSE St. Petersburg is focusing on a global, comparative and transnational approach to historical studies, and cooperates with several European and American research centers. One of its primary partners is German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which sponsors a position of an Associate Professor for a German scholar, and Dietmar Wulff, the current resident, told The HSE Look about his three years at the department and plans for the future.
On October 10, Stephen Wheatcroft, Professor of the School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne delivered a lecture on ‘The importance of the grain problem in the Russian Revolution and for the next 40 years of Soviet Economics' at HSE Moscow as part of a long and busy schedule. A participant at previous April Conferences at HSE, Professor Wheatcroft is one of the world’s foremost experts on Soviet social, economic and demographic history, as well as famine and food supply problems in modern world history.
Samrat Sil is a recent graduate of the English-taught Master's programme in Applied and Interdisciplinary History ‘Usable Pasts’ at HSE St. Petersburg. David Datmar, a native of Ghana, decided to join the programme to help him prepare for eventual study at the PhD level, which he plans to undertake soon at the University of Oxford. Both gentlemen were recently awarded certificates of recognition for their role as ambassadors contributing to the university’s internationalization agenda.
International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, Higher School of Economics and The Friedrich Ebert Foundation held 'A Memory Revolution’: Soviet History Through the Lens of Personal Documents' in Moscow on 7-8 June, 2017. The conference brought together distinguished historians and sociologists from across the globe. Michael David-Fox, Professor of History, Georgetown University, and Academic Advisor of HSE International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences shares his reflections and considerations on the main topic and discussions at the conference and his own research
On May 31, Valerie Kivelson, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, will be delivering a seminar entitled ‘Visualizing Empire: Muscovite Images of Race’. Professor Kivelson is an expert in Medieval and early modern Russia, history of cartography, history of witchcraft, religion, and political culture, among other topics. She is the author of 'Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth Century Russia' and a guest editor of 'Witchcraft Casebook: Magic in Russia, Poland and Ukraine. 15-21st Centuries'.
On Monday, October 3, two professors of anthropology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Heather Paxson and Stefan Helmreich – delivered a seminar for students of HSE St. Petersburg Master's programme in Applied and Interdisciplinary History. A presentation by Professor Paxson focused on how the microbiopolitics of cheese making in the U.S. presupposed and promoted industrial methods and standards and how in recent decades interest in producing and consuming artisanally made, raw-milk cheese has risen dramatically.
Yanina Karpenkina won the 2016 annual contest for HSE students, which is organized by the International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences. Thanks to the contest, she went on a six-week internship as a research assistant with the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
This April, Microhistory Days took place at HSE. The event coincided with the visit to the School of History of Prof. Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon (Reykjavík Academy in Iceland) and Dr. István Szijártó (Loránd Eötvös University, Budapest), renowned experts in microhistory, founders of the Microhistory Network, and authors of What is Microhistory? Theory and Practice, a comprehensive analytical monograph.