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Regular version of the site

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:

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.

From Chains to Art Therapy: The Evolution of Mental Health Care

Mental health disorders are among the leading worldwide causes of disease and long-term disability. This issue has a long and painful history of gradual de-stigmatization of patients, coinciding with humanization of therapeutic approaches. What are the current trends in Russia regarding this issue and in what ways is it similar to and different from Western countries? IQ.HSE provides an overview of this problem based on research carried out by Svetlana Kolpakova.

Introduction to Daurian Gothic: What It Is and How It Has Emerged in Transbaikalia

Medieval horror, vampires, sorcerers, mysterious monks and the rising dead, alongside real historical figures and stories about the Russian Civil War wrapped in the aura of mysticism – this is perhaps the shortest formula for Daurian Gothic. Alexei Mikhalev, Doctor of Political Science, discusses this phenomenon and its evolution.

Russian and French Scholars Present Research on Soviet History at Graduate Seminar

The International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences at HSE University held a Graduate Student Seminar in Soviet History together with Sciences Po (France) on June 17 – 18, 2019. HSE News Service spoke with participants and instructors of the seminar, which examinedthe impact of WWII on the Soviet Union and surrounding regions, as well as aspects of the Soviet system from Stalin up to the 1980s.

In Search of Truth in the Pravda Newspaper

On June 24-25, HSE University held the international academic conference, ‘The 1990s: A Social History of Russia’ organized by International Center for the History and Sociology of World World War II and its Consequences, the Boris Yeltsin Center, the Egor Gaider Foundation, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. HSE News Service spoke with Roberto Rabbia, one of the international participants, about how he became interested in Soviet history, why he reads Soviet newspapers, and what he has learned from his research.

Library Night at HSE: Shakespeare, Museums and Quests

Almost 40 teams took part in the ‘Through the pages of Basmania’ quest, organized by the Higher School of Economics as part of an annual citywide event, Library Night. Event participants also staged passages from Romeo and Juliet and attended lectures about theatre at HSE library.

Exploring Global Politics, Culture, Art and Propaganda in the Social Media Age

Today, we have moved from the political concept of panem et circenses (bread and circuses) to keep the masses happy to the dangers of culture driven by spectacle and politics driven by algorithms. Post-war theoreticians of the crowd had personal experience of fascism, and today contemporary artists are attempting to address similar problems. During the XX April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development, scheduled this year for April 9-12 at the Higher School of Economics, Sarah Wilson, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, will explore some of these issues in her presentation 'Culture and Emigration, Crowds and Power.'

How Equality Started in Research

Legally, the 1917 revolution solved the gender issue in the Russian academic community. The doors to the profession opened for women, but a ‘glass ceiling’ remained. Ekaterina Streltsova and Evgenia Dolgova studied who it affected and why. This study is the first to present a socio-demographic analysis of the female academic community in Moscow and Leningrad during the early Soviet era.