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Regular version of the site

Post-Doc Fellow from USA Studies Russian and Soviet Film and Photography

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.

Jessica recently spoke with the HSE News Service about her experience at HSE so far, her research interests, and her recommended reading (and viewing) for international audiences interested in Russia.

Jessica Werneke

— You haven’t been at HSE Moscow very long. How would you assess your time here so far? Do you have any ‘lessons learned' to share? 

— My experience at HSE has been overwhelmingly positive. I've been working at HSE for 1 year and four months. The university, and the Centre where I work, have been wonderful, and allow for a lot of flexibility. As a historian of Russian/Soviet Visual Culture, I have easy access to archives and libraries, and the university administration has offered a lot of support. 

— Have there been any differences between your expectations and what real life has turned out to be in Moscow?

— I visited Moscow in 2011, 2012 and 2013 for my doctoral research. When I began my employment at HSE in 2016, I was no stranger to the city, having lived as central as Aeroport and as far flung as Belyaevo and Strogino. I had an established network of Russian and expat friends.

I will say that Moscow has changed substantially since 2011. The prevalence of credit card culture, as opposed to a cash based system is very noticeable. The service industry has also made noticeable changes. When my family visited me in Moscow in 2012 it was difficult to find restaurants that offered English-language menus, and museums and tours were almost exclusively Russian language based. The prevalence of the English language in Moscow now (I assume, based on the upcoming FIFA World Cup), has substantially increased, which is both positive and negative. The accessibility of services for foreign tourists is an opportunity for the Russian Federation, though I also feel as though a bit of the charm is lost in the internationalization of the city.

— How is your work going? What are you focused on?

— I am currently focused on a variety of projects. My background is in the history of Russian and Soviet photography, and I wrote my dissertation on Soviet photojournalism in the 1950s and 1960s. I am currently working on an article about Socialist Realist photography theory and criticism in the RSFSR in the 1950s and 1960s. I am also researching amateur photography and photography clubs in the RSFSR and the Baltic Republics in the late Soviet period, and finally, a criminal case filed with the Latvian KGB against a photographer who was convicted for ‘anti-Soviet activity’.

— How easy do you find communication, both with colleagues and in everyday life in the city? How do you overcome any difficulties?

Communication and difficulties...that is an interesting question. I think that living in Moscow comes with everyday challenges, but not in a way that one would expect. As I studied the Russian language as an undergraduate and graduate student, I think that my experience will probably have been different from others who may not have the same language skills. As I mentioned previously, the Centre that I work for is absolutely wonderful and has not been challenging or difficult in the least. 

I will say that there are uniquely gendered aspects of living in Moscow. If I need to run to the shop in the US, or the UK, or in Latvia (all places I have lived for decent periods of time), I don't spend time thinking of how I look or what I am wearing. But, if I am in Moscow and need milk first thing in the morning, I feel obligated to take a shower, put on make-up, and dress up. To me, this feels as though it is a social obligation: If I don't I feel that I will be treated differently.

— What are some of your favourite places in the city for leisure and fun?

— One of my favourite things about Moscow is the forest parks. Gorky Park is wonderful, but Sokolniki and Bitsa are so much more interesting...for a massive metropolis Moscow offers many options for access to greenery and nature. I also love the Lumiere Brothers Gallery, and VDNKh is a must see. 

— Are there any books, films or research papers that you can recommend for international newcomers to HSE Moscow?

— Hmm...Cultural references for newcomers to Moscow/Russia. Let me preference this by saying that I am a huge fan of classic Russian and Soviet cinema. Black Lightening (Черная молния) offers a modern take on the city, particularly how Moscow City changed the face of Moscow itself, but I also love Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Москва слезам не верит). The Shurik films are easily accessible for a general audience and a good introduction to Russian film - I'm particularly a fan of Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (Иван Васильевич меняет профессию). Cheburashka is, I think, an important cultural point of reference, as is the animation work of Yuri Norshteyn. In the past, I've shown my students the Soviet version of Winnie-the-Pooh (Винни-Пух) and they loved it. Solaris is a cinematic masterpiece, but more cerebral. Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera is a given, as is Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible Parts 1&2 and Protazanov's Aelita. The animated short ‘Film, film, film’ is also amazing, but for those unfamiliar with the context, it might be difficult to understand.

As for literature, Vladimir Nabokov is my favourite author, perhaps of all time, but I think Viktor Pelevin is more representative of the current socio-cultural climate.  

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service



See also:

Underground Capitalist in Soviet Russia

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From Chains to Art Therapy: The Evolution of Mental Health Care

Mental health disorders are among the leading worldwide causes of disease and long-term disability. This issue has a long and painful history of gradual de-stigmatization of patients, coinciding with humanization of therapeutic approaches. What are the current trends in Russia regarding this issue and in what ways is it similar to and different from Western countries? IQ.HSE provides an overview of this problem based on research carried out by Svetlana Kolpakova.

Introduction to Daurian Gothic: What It Is and How It Has Emerged in Transbaikalia

Medieval horror, vampires, sorcerers, mysterious monks and the rising dead, alongside real historical figures and stories about the Russian Civil War wrapped in the aura of mysticism – this is perhaps the shortest formula for Daurian Gothic. Alexei Mikhalev, Doctor of Political Science, discusses this phenomenon and its evolution.

Russian and French Scholars Present Research on Soviet History at Graduate Seminar

The International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences at HSE University held a Graduate Student Seminar in Soviet History together with Sciences Po (France) on June 17 – 18, 2019. HSE News Service spoke with participants and instructors of the seminar, which examinedthe impact of WWII on the Soviet Union and surrounding regions, as well as aspects of the Soviet system from Stalin up to the 1980s.

In Search of Truth in the Pravda Newspaper

On June 24-25, HSE University held the international academic conference, ‘The 1990s: A Social History of Russia’ organized by International Center for the History and Sociology of World World War II and its Consequences, the Boris Yeltsin Center, the Egor Gaider Foundation, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. HSE News Service spoke with Roberto Rabbia, one of the international participants, about how he became interested in Soviet history, why he reads Soviet newspapers, and what he has learned from his research.

HSE History Professor Feels at Home in Moscow’s Multicultural Environment

Martin Beisswenger has been a professor in HSE’s School of History since 2013. Recently, HSE News Service sat down with him to learn about his impressions of Moscow, his research projects, the course he is currently teaching and more.

Library Night at HSE: Shakespeare, Museums and Quests

Almost 40 teams took part in the ‘Through the pages of Basmania’ quest, organized by the Higher School of Economics as part of an annual citywide event, Library Night. Event participants also staged passages from Romeo and Juliet and attended lectures about theatre at HSE library.

Exploring Global Politics, Culture, Art and Propaganda in the Social Media Age

Today, we have moved from the political concept of panem et circenses (bread and circuses) to keep the masses happy to the dangers of culture driven by spectacle and politics driven by algorithms. Post-war theoreticians of the crowd had personal experience of fascism, and today contemporary artists are attempting to address similar problems. During the XX April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development, scheduled this year for April 9-12 at the Higher School of Economics, Sarah Wilson, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, will explore some of these issues in her presentation 'Culture and Emigration, Crowds and Power.'

How Equality Started in Research

Legally, the 1917 revolution solved the gender issue in the Russian academic community. The doors to the profession opened for women, but a ‘glass ceiling’ remained. Ekaterina Streltsova and Evgenia Dolgova studied who it affected and why. This study is the first to present a socio-demographic analysis of the female academic community in Moscow and Leningrad during the early Soviet era.

Post-Doctoral Fellow Discusses Research on Soviet-Era Citizenship and Language Policy

Dr Anna Whittington is currently a Research Fellow at The International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences through the end of August 2019. She recently spoke with the HSE News Service about her work on changes in Soviet-era language policy, her thoughts on life in Moscow and how the city has changed, and much more.