Alexander Kamenskiy: ‘Teaching History Needs to Look Forward ’
Alexander Kamenskiy, Dean of the HSE Faculty of History which will open in the next academic year told us about the opportunities for improving the way history is taught, and changes in Russian education.
- Alexander Borisovich, what are the main specific features of History teaching in Russia?
- In Russia the tradition of teaching history started long ago, back in the second half of the 19th century, when the science of history was formed and devolved from other areas of human sciences. In the 20th century this tradition developed further.
The modern Russian model of history teaching harks back to the 1930s and has basically remained unchanged until today. It is largely based on the concept that knowing history involves memorising a large number of facts, events, names, which in a certain sequence makes up the essence of history.
Two courses lay at the heart of this model:World History and The history of Russia, which are taught over several years. Specialized courses are added to them, which aim to give certain skills and knowledge in narrower historical disciplines.
- And in your view, what are the consequences of studying history according to this model?
- This model, like any other, has its advantages and disadvantages. When it was created, it corresponded with the level of history science development and featured consistency and fundamental character. But many things have changed since - in the system of higher education as well as in science itself.
One of the consequences is the separation of the history of Russia and history of the rest of the world, which exist in students'minds independently from each other and are connected mainly through wars and conflicts.
The other result is that often people who receive a traditional history education become very narrowly focused specialists unable to look at the problems they study in a broader historical context. Quite often they only gain skills preparing them for employment in one specific area.
- But why is now the moment to change something in history studies?
- The science of history, its structure, has drastically changed. If in the 19th century a process of separating history as a science from other areas of knowledge took place, then now we see the reverse process in the area of humanities.
Now the priority is research which cannot be strictly defined as historical, culturological or philosophical:they have an interdisciplinary character. This sets a new challenge for the teaching of history:a historian should have a general fundamental education in human sciences. On the other hand, many new areas have appeared in the science which don't really fit in the traditional courses.
In addition to this,, Russian higher education is moving to a two-tier system. Now we can often see attempts just to ‘cram'into 4 years everything that previously was taught over 5 years. In my view, today we need a totally new approach.
The fact that in the Higher School of Economics the Faculty of History has been created from scratch, together with our School's status of a National Research University, allowed us to avoid recreating the traditional model of history education and the corresponding faculty structure, but to suggest an educational model appropriate for the current structure of history as well as including some of the specifics of the two-tier system of education.
- You will be the Dean of the new faculty. What are your priorities?
- The most important goal of higher education is satisfying the people's thirst for knowledge;in this particular case - people's interest in the past. But at the same time we should give education which will allow a graduate to easily find a role in life.
The model of history teaching we are suggesting aims to improve the level of graduates'mobility. It should give them more opportunities to find their vocation in various spheres of life:not only in research and teaching, in archives and museums, but also in administration, culture or journalism - everywhere where people in any way work with information about the past.
Creating the new educational programme, we assume that no student is able to get to know the whole history of humanity. Initially, we shall primarily offer courses on topics having a general cultural significance (i.e. Ancient History), as well as those directly relating to today (i.e., History of Russian National State, or more specialized courses, like Comparative History of Terrorism or History of Colonialism and others). I also hope that we shall manage to pay more attention to economic and social history. We plan to open Master's programmes, and probably, among others, courses in economic history.
Ekaterina Rylko, HSE News Service Originally published on RIA Novosti website