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Regular version of the site

‪‘When We Study History, We Must Be Introspective’

Nathan Marcus, Assistant Professor of History, recently joined the HSE campus in St. Petersburg. A scholar of Modern European History, he has a book that will soon be published by Harvard University Press. Recently, he spoke with the HSE news service about his research and teaching interests, as well as on the important role that studying history plays in today’s society.

— Several local surveys have shown that young people don't know much about Russian and Soviet history, which is a shame and a sad commentary on school and family education. What justification would you offer for studying history in general?

— Studying history and gaining a good knowledge of the past is absolutely essential for making informed decisions. As individuals, we learn through experience, and this holds true for societies, too. Of course, circumstances change and we cannot simply extrapolate from the past to the present. But look at the recent global financial crisis. Economists around the world were not sufficiently trained in financial history. They ignored the likelihood of a systemic crisis, of a ‘black-swan event’. Hopefully, this is about to change.  

— ‪What do you find attractive in your subject of Modern European history? How is your course structured?

— When teaching and studying the history of modern Europe my focus is on financial history. First, because I am strong believer in interdisciplinary approaches. Financial history brings together the quantitative approach of economists with the qualitative analysis of historians. And second, because money makes the world go round. We cannot understand the history of modern Europe without a good understanding of how its financial markets, economic structures and monetary policies have evolved since the French Revolution.

— ‪You came to HSE in 2014. What were your first impressions of living and working in St. Petersburg?

— I had never been to St. Petersburg before arriving here in September last year. I am absolutely thrilled to be living and teaching in this city. It’s a very friendly and welcoming place, easy to navigate and visually stunning. Moving here from Israel I was also happy to find a thriving Jewish community in place.

I am very impressed with their comprehensive language skills, which I think compare very favourably with those of other students I have taught abroad.

— ‪What are your teaching and research goals for 2014—2015?

— I am currently putting the final changes to my book  ‘Credibility, Confidence and Capital: Austrian reconstruction and the collapse of global finance, 1921-1931’,  which will come out with Harvard University Press. At HSE, I continue to teach courses in economic and financial history to undergraduates and as of next year to graduate students as well.

— ‪St. Petersburg is a very special historical place not only for Russia but also for the entire world. What are your favourite places there?

— Nevsky Prospect of course! It has certainly changed since Gogol’s famous ‘Nevsky Prospkt’ was published in 1835, which told the stories of Piskaryov and Pirogov. Still, it is the one place where the city’s inhabitants, young and old, poor and rich come together each day.   

— ‪You speak English, German, French and Hebrew, which definitely makes your research of the modern world easier. Are you studying Russian? How is your communication with students going?

— I started picking up Russian and I hope to be fluent soon. It’s a difficult language to learn, but the large amount of foreign words helps. With my students, I communicate in English and I am very impressed with their comprehensive language skills, which I think compare very favourably with those of other students I have taught abroad.

— ‪What have you personally learned from studying history? Does it help you understand life and life processes better?

— History is one of academia’s oldest disciplines and its origins stretch back to antiquity. Some situate it in the social sciences, others in the humanities. That tells you something. One reason for history’s popularity is that past events are so often used to justify present-day ideologies or policies. That is why it is so important that history is also introspective. When we study history, we not only study the past, but we also think about how to study the past. Through studying history, we discover the varied processes, ideologies, fallacies and mechanisms that shaped and informed human behaviour in the past, and which continue to do so in the present.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service

See also:

‘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.

‘I Have Always Respected the University’s Comprehensiveness and Inclusiveness’

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.

Funny Pictures of Difficult Era

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.

‘There Is Something Inherently Interesting in People Who Break the Mainstream Norm’

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.

‘Boundaries of History’ Seminar Starts New Season of Meetings

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.

European Values: From the Discovery of America to the First World War

The English-language course ‘Europe and the World, ca. 1500 to 1914’ has launched on Coursera. Its author, Andrey Iserov, Deputy Dean for International Affairs at the HSE Faculty of Humanities, examines a historical span of four centuries during which European states reached the peak of their economic, military, and political power. Students of the course will learn how the independence of Hispanic America by the mid-1820s influenced China, what caused the religious schism in Western Christianity in the 16th century, and how European colonial policy developed.

‘The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past’

This summer, the HSE Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences was reorganized to become the HSE Institute for Advanced Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies. Oleg Budnitskii, Doctor of Historical Sciences, head of the Centre and director of the Institute, talked to the HSE News Service about the new division.

Exploring the History of Places and Environment in Russia

The collective volume Place and Nature: Essays in Russian Environmental History, co-edited by David Moon, Nicholas B. Breyfogle, and HSE researcher Alexandra Bekasova, was recently presented at a seminar of the Laboratory for the Environmental and Technological History of the Centre for Historical Research at HSE – St. Petersburg. The book is one of the fruits of a networking project carried out in 2013-2016 with active participation of HSE researchers.

Conference Brings Together New Perspectives on the Russian Far East

On March 28-31, 2021, the HSE International Laboratory ‘Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective’ held an international conference ‘The Russian Far East: Regional and Transnational Perspectives (19th -21st cent.)’. The event was jointly organized by the Laboratory with the German Historical Institute Moscow, Indiana University Bloomington (USA), and the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East FEB RAS (Vladivostok).

Studying the Middle Ages Is Fascinating

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 and aspirations.