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
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.
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.'
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.
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.
Exploring Political and Cultural Space of St Petersburg through the Summer School 'Topography of Imperial Power'
On a grey autumn day, it is always nice to warm up by reliving memories of summer adventures. This year, the balmy weather did not leave our city till mid-October, and a summer mood also lingered at HSE University – St Petersburg with the IV International Summer School 'The Topography of Imperial Power: Political and Cultural Space of Saint Petersburg' which ran from September 11 till October 2, 2018.
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and HSE University – St Petersburg launch the Paulsen Programme, funded by the Dr Frederik Paulsen Foundation, in order to support historians in Russia who have been working on the period from the mid 17th century to 1918.
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.
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.