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.
Alexandra Kolesnik, Junior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at HSE’s Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities recently completed her post graduate studies in History and successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘Historical representations in British popular musical culture of the 1960-1980s’. Here, Alexandra talks about her research into modern pop-culture.
Jessica Werneke, who completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa and her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, joined the International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences as a Research Fellow in 2016. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she has spent a considerable amount of time living internationally – in both the UK and Latvia – and following her post-doc plans to start a new position as a Newton International Fellow of the British Academy at Loughborough University, where she will continue her research on Soviet photography clubs and amateur photographers in the RSFSR and the Baltic Republics.
The October Revolution created a new cinema. At first, 'the most important of all arts' struggled to keep up with social transformations and was not yet used as a weapon in the fight for a communist culture. But the mid-1920s, an innovative, cutting-edge film industry had emerged from sources such as theatre, street performance, posters, poetry and circus shows. This industry was able to do what the politicians had failed to achieve, namely trigger a world revolution.
On October 11, Professor Dominic Lieven of the University of Cambridge, where he serves as Senior Research Fellow, Trinity College, gave a public lecture at HSE St Petersburg entitled ‘Reflections on empire, Russia and historical comparison’. The event was organized by the Center for Historical Research.
A hundred years has passed since the October Revolution of 1917, but this event still hasn’t reached its logical conclusion. Its consequences are still crucial in defining the political system in Russia today and fostering divisions in society, believes Andrey Medushevsky, Professor at the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences, political scientist, historian and author of the book A Political History of the Russian Revolution: Norms, Institutions and Forms of Social Mobilization in the 20th Century.
Department of History at HSE St. Petersburg is focusing on a global, comparative and transnational approach to historical studies, and cooperates with several European and American research centers. One of its primary partners is German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which sponsors a position of an Associate Professor for a German scholar, and Dietmar Wulff, the current resident, told The HSE Look about his three years at the department and plans for the future.
On October 10, Stephen Wheatcroft, Professor of the School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne delivered a lecture on ‘The importance of the grain problem in the Russian Revolution and for the next 40 years of Soviet Economics' at HSE Moscow as part of a long and busy schedule. A participant at previous April Conferences at HSE, Professor Wheatcroft is one of the world’s foremost experts on Soviet social, economic and demographic history, as well as famine and food supply problems in modern world history.
Samrat Sil is a recent graduate of the English-taught Master's programme in Applied and Interdisciplinary History ‘Usable Pasts’ at HSE St. Petersburg. David Datmar, a native of Ghana, decided to join the programme to help him prepare for eventual study at the PhD level, which he plans to undertake soon at the University of Oxford. Both gentlemen were recently awarded certificates of recognition for their role as ambassadors contributing to the university’s internationalization agenda.
International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, Higher School of Economics and The Friedrich Ebert Foundation held 'A Memory Revolution’: Soviet History Through the Lens of Personal Documents' in Moscow on 7-8 June, 2017. The conference brought together distinguished historians and sociologists from across the globe. Michael David-Fox, Professor of History, Georgetown University, and Academic Advisor of HSE International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences shares his reflections and considerations on the main topic and discussions at the conference and his own research
On May 31, Valerie Kivelson, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, will be delivering a seminar entitled ‘Visualizing Empire: Muscovite Images of Race’. Professor Kivelson is an expert in Medieval and early modern Russia, history of cartography, history of witchcraft, religion, and political culture, among other topics. She is the author of 'Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth Century Russia' and a guest editor of 'Witchcraft Casebook: Magic in Russia, Poland and Ukraine. 15-21st Centuries'.