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Regular version of the site

Imperial Transformations — Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet History

In December 2015, leading international academic Ronald Suny chaired a seminar at HSE St Petersburg on Imperial Transformations – Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet History, which was part of the international research project Comparative Historical Studies of Empire and Nationalism.

The seminar was organised by the HSE-St Petersburg Department of History, the Centre for Historical Research and the international project directed by Ronald Suny - Comparative Historical Studies of Empire and Nationalism. The project focuses on how the experience of the Russian Empire and the USSR relate to the research map on empire and colonialism. It addresses moments of crisis and reformation as a temporary niche when the principles of government by imperial varieties are reconsidered. 

The seminar was a continuation of Professor Suny’s cycle of lectures at HSE St Petersburg on ‘Russia’s Empires. Thinking About Empire’ for graduates and undergraduates. The lectures covered various questions about the history of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Alexander Semyonov (Head of the Department of History, director of the working group on the Comparative Historical Studies of Empire and Nationalism project) co-chaired the seminar.

The seminar examined questions of post-colonialism, post-imperialism, the concept of democracy, the nation state and empire. During the discussion it became clear that postcolonialism differs from post-imperialism because it means, not just political freedom from empire but freedom of thought.  How the Bolsheviks used the concept of democracy to seize power was also examined. This idea should be seen in the context of influential western discourse which argues that communism cannot exist by itself and sooner or later must cease altogether. The question also arose about the connection between the nation state and empire. Importantly, it was said that empires don’t always change into nation states. Nation states can be regarded as miniature empires as they are also based on colonisation and occupation. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that the nation state and empire are both ideals which do not exist in reality.   

Students presented papers at the seminar on literary sources they had read for the course. These included Constructing Primordialism: Old Histories for New Nations, Marina Mogilner, Human Sacrifice in the Name of a Nation:  The Religion of Common Blood, Mark von Hagen, Federalisms and Pan-movements: Re-imagining Empire, Alexander Semyonov, Russian Liberalism in Imperial Context, Ilya Gerasimov, Sergey Glebov, Marina Mogilner, The Postimperial Meets the Postcolonial: Russian Historical Experience and the Postcolonial Moment and others.

Professor Suny gave master classes for graduate students on writing academic articles in English, and students and teachers at the Department of History gave papers at the seminar on their research. In particular, Associate Professor I. V. Sablin (HSE St Petersburg History Department) introduced his topic  - Governing Post-Imperial Siberia and Mongolia, 1911–1924: Buddhism, Socialism and Nationalism in State and Autonomy Building.

The results of the seminar are that the graduate students’ work in English has been prepared for publication and students on various degrees became acquainted with the latest ideas and concepts in postcolonial and post-imperial studies.


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