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.
— 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
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'.
A group of 20 undergraduates from the United States visited St. Petersburg, 'the northern Venice', this January, taking part in a programme that blended the history, society and culture of the Russian Empire’s capital. Participants arrived from Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, opting to spend two weeks of their winter holidays here (6 – 22 January) learning about this city. Participants were diverse in their fields of studies, Russian knowledge, and travel experience, some even choosing this trip as their first chance to travel outside the borders of the United States.
On Monday, October 3, two professors of anthropology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Heather Paxson and Stefan Helmreich – delivered a seminar for students of HSE St. Petersburg Master's programme in Applied and Interdisciplinary History. A presentation by Professor Paxson focused on how the microbiopolitics of cheese making in the U.S. presupposed and promoted industrial methods and standards and how in recent decades interest in producing and consuming artisanally made, raw-milk cheese has risen dramatically.