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Regular version of the site

First International Summer School on Topography of Imperial Space Held at HSE Saint Petesrburg

An international summer school in St. Petersburg held by the HSE History Department in cooperation with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has come to a close. On September 29, 22 students from 17 German universities who had come to St. Petersburg to study Russian history, culture and language received certificates of participation in the programme. Setting off for home the following day, they took with them a unique experience of studying in Russia’s most beautiful city, as well as new ideas and an understanding of Russia and its people.

This year marked the first time the summer school was held. Devoted to ‘The Topography of Imperial Power: the Political Space of St. Petersburg’, it lasted three weeks and included a number of courses, presentations, workshops and a cultural programme. The classes were held in both English and German.

The economic, social, political and religious developments of the Russian Empire and its capital were the central topic of the school. Participants also discussed the political life and regime of modern Russia and the everyday lives of its citizens.

Classes were held both indoors and outdoors. In one lecture, participants learned about the Orthodox Christianity of Saint Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg Chapel at the Smolensky cemetery, the city’s oldest graveyard. The St. Petersburg Metro stations, which are striking in their elegance and decorations, were chosen as classrooms for a presentation on Soviet avant-garde architecture. The programme included a tour of Velikij Novgorod (Novgorod the Great), the ancient town where Russian democracy was born ten centuries ago. The students also visited the Tauride Palace, the seat of the first Russian State Duma (the national parliament).

Dr. Nathan Marcus, Assistant Professor of the Department of History at HSE St. Petersburg noted that it was no surprise that these students showed a keen interest in Russian history.

‘These are very intelligent and motivated graduates of the German education system and they know that to properly understand contemporary issues one needs a good grasp of history. I believe that at the school we managed to give them a good introduction to the political and cultural transformations St. Petersburg and Russia underwent during the last 20-30 years of imperial rule. Without this history, it is impossible to understand the country today. I also think that studying Russian history will remain popular and gain importance in German academic circles, because historically our countries have never been able to ignore one another and they certainly will not be able to do so in the years ahead’, Dr. Marcus said.

Apart from history, students devoted half of their time to Russian language study. They were divided into three groups according to their level and spent at least three academic hours each day perfecting their Russian.

Dr. Dietmar Wulff, Academic Director of the school and Associate Professor of DAAD, said that this project owed its success to the balanced combination of history and language classes.

‘I am very proud that we were able to offer our participants this comprehensive experience. This programme enriched them with the knowledge of Russian history and helped them perceive this country through its language at the same time. This project certainly marks another achievement for HSE St. Petersburg and I hope we will be able to carry it out every year’, Dr. Wulff said.

Satik Aghekyan, Master’s student, the Free University of Berlin

‘I was born and grew up in Armenia, which still has very strong ties with Russia. A visit to this country had been my dream for many years. Finally, I was able to make it come true. Classes on history and politics were the most interesting to me, especially the one on Russian democracy. I had studied this subject before at the Free University of Berlin, but it was important for me to hear about it from a Russian professor. I was stunned by St. Petersburg, too. I had expected to see traditional Slavic architecture, but found myself in a magnificent European city. I will definitely come back’.

Johanna Verhoeven, Bachelor’s student, the University of Hamburg

‘I had started reading about Russia on my own. Later, I found this programme and decided to take part. The outdoor lectures impressed me the most, especially the class at the Smolensky cemetery. Our professor took us to the chapel and we saw people praying, lighting candles, and queuing to kiss relics and icons. We were amazed to see this, as you do not usually witness such religious rituals in Germany. This tour broadened our notions of Russian mentality and customs significantly’.

Franziska Petri, Bachelor’s student, Heidelberg University

‘I study political science. Some time ago we had had a course on Russian foreign affairs, and in completing that course, I understood that I needed to learn Russian because we had used a lot of Russian words when discussing some concepts. That was the reason why I came here. I was glad that we had so many Russian classes at this school. I cannot speak it now, as I started learning the language only while, but I know that I am on the right path. I have no doubt that I will go on studying Russian’.

Roland Moosmüller, Master’s student, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich

‘I am going to become a history teacher, so lectures on the Russian Empire were the most exciting for me. I came here to find inspiration to start my Master’s thesis. I needed to choose between two topics – the history of the GULAG and the siege of Leningrad during WWII. I have not decided yet, however, because the time that I spent taking this course firmly convinced me that I wanted to write on both subjects’.

Aliena Selina Stürzer, Bachelor’s student, the Free University of Berlin

‘I study political science and am fond of Russian politics. I had also started studying Russian while at university. I was lucky to be here because I could practice the language, learn more about this country’s history and simply wander around in this beautiful city. At the first class, Dr. Wulff advised us to take long walks in St. Petersburg as much as possible. We were very active in following this advice. I was very sorry to leave’.


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