‘Projects Will Bring Research Teams Together’
A number of new projects will form the basis of the educational and scholarly activity at HSE’s School of Philology. These projects will allow the School to expand its scholarly breadth, consolidate its active research teams, and engage new colleagues in collaboration. HSE News Service spoke with School Head Evgeny Kazartsev about the new projects, their anticipated outcomes, and what changes will need to be made in order to bring them to fruition.
Professor Kazartsev, starting this academic year, activities at the School of Philology will be project-based. Among the planned projects are two ‘megaprojects’. What is meant by the term ‘project’ here? Why was this format chosen?
A project is a specific topic of scholarly inquiry that is developed by a group of colleagues. It is about collectively engaging scholars with a particular specialization, as well as students. For students, project work will foster a rich scholarly environment and allow them to gain professional experience. In addition, students of different years will participate together in special project-based seminars. This will allow our first- and second-year students to learn from our more advanced students.
Both the Faculty of Humanities and the University will allocate significant funds for the implementation of these projects. We are going to expand the breadth of scholarly research conducted at the School and engage new faculty members in collaboration. No staff reductions are planned.
At present, two megaprojects have been identified. These will be key areas of our work, uniting several large research centres and various teams of scholars. Other projects are not as large in scale, but they are also very important.
Tell us more about the megaprojects.
The first megaproject, ‘Social Uses of Literature: Russian and World Literature in Mass Consciousness’, is an interdisciplinary study of the transformation of literary texts in mass consciousness through cinema, mass theater, school curricula, museums, magazines, the Internet, and other forms of modern media. The project will provide a new systematic perspective on the history of mass consumption of Russian and foreign literature in Russian and Soviet society.
The second megaproject is the ‘Centre for Speech Practices’. Its participants will study various forms of speech practices and the function of the language in different social and professional groups. A special aim of the project is the analysis of language politics, in particular, the status and role of the Russian language in regions of the former Soviet Union and adjacent territories. The project provides for the study of the crisis of cultural and linguistic identity, as well as linguistic practices in the context of extreme diversity.
Tell us about the other projects that are in the works at the School of Philology.
The project ‘Russian and Comparative Literature’ is a platform for dialogue between different contemporary areas of the humanities related to the study of Russian literature in a cross-cultural perspective. In particular, we are interested in how Russian literature is perceived today in the world, what significance it has for world culture, how it interacts with other literatures, what impact it has on them, and vice versa—how Western literature influences Russian literature.
We also have a project entitled ‘Late Soviet Literature and Culture’, which focuses on literature, culture, the literary canon, and poetics in the late Soviet period. Its purview includes both official and unofficial (uncensored) literature and various forms of poetics used by Soviet writers and their opponents in underground literature. We will also study the interaction of literary forms with other forms of art in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet periods. Our colleagues in History, who have already received a mega-grant, will play an important role in the project.
We also plan to create a Centre for Digital Literary Analysis, which will develop computer methods and technologies for the study of literature (poetry and prose), simulate the processes of intellectual activity with text parameters, and study the mechanisms of creativity. Here we will collaborate with linguists, while philologists have their own methods of studying the structural indicators of a text.
The Laboratory of Linguo-Semiotic Studies will develop linguistic methods for studying various aspects of culture and the interaction of cultural traditions.
Another project is ‘Translation Studies and Cultural Transfer’, which focuses on the development of modern translation practices, translation methods, and the ways in which literatures and cultures interact in literary translation.
What organizational or structural changes are needed to implement projects? Will new departments need to be created?
Existing university structures may be involved in these projects, although new ones may be created. But the main change lies elsewhere: projects provide for wide interdisciplinary interaction, so they will extend far beyond the School of Philology.
For example, the project on Russian and world literature in mass consciousness will involve colleagues from the School of Philosophy and Cultural Studies, particularly Ilya Kukulin and Olga Roginskaya. We also plan to work with the School of History, the School of Linguistics, the Faculty of Computer Science, the Institute of Education, the School of Media, and other HSE departments.
It is equally important that colleagues from different HSE campuses participate in the projects. The projects in Russian and Comparative Literature and Late Soviet Literature and Culture, as well as the Centre for Digital Literary Analysis, will be implemented together with HSE St. Petersburg, where comparative literature studies are traditionally very strong. Colleagues from HSE Nizhny Novgorod will also join a number of projects.
How will projects be staffed?
First of all, the projects are geared towards already existing research teams in the School of Literary History and Theory and the School of General and Applied Philology, which have been merged into the School of Philology. These teams are ready to work together, under one roof, and the main thing bringing these colleagues together will be their project activity.
HSE’s well-known philologists will either lead the implementation of the projects or take active part in them. They include Mikhail Pavlovets and Alexey Vdovin; Mira Bergelson and Maxim Krongauz; Konstantin Polivanov and Elena Penskaja; Maya Kucherskaya and Boris Uspensky; and Georg Wilhelm Heinrich Witte from HSE St. Petersburg.
We will invite scholars from other research and educational organizations in Russia. And, of course, we look forward to working with Western colleagues, including Alexander Dolinin (University of Wisconsin), Ellen Rutten (University of Amsterdam), and Susanne Frank (Humboldt University).
What is the reason for inviting foreign colleagues? Why is it important for the development of philology at HSE?
If students have the opportunity to look at Russian literature through the eyes of foreign researchers, then, as a rule, their perspective on it changes. We are used to looking at Russian literature from the inside, but when we collaborate with foreign colleagues, we get an outside view.
A person who grew up with Pushkin views him as an icon. But one can learn a lot about him from an American scholar studying Pushkin—that he, for example, did not attend school, which is often difficult for one to understand. For example, in Russia, Pushkin’s religious or, let's say, his erotic freethinking, his psychosomatic portrait, are not focal points in Pushkin studies.
What are the major challenges facing the School of Philology? And what are the expected outcomes of the planned project work?
Our main task is to produce strong, modern philological research with a significant comparative component at HSE University. It is not a question of studying this or that national literature, but of the interaction of different literary traditions and different forms of culture in the space of a literary text.
This approach will allow our students to participate in contemporary cultural discourse and become members of the scholarly community
They will learn how to analyze not only a literary text, but also cultural and political events, and they will learn to better understand what they see, hear, and read. In high school, they teach students to read a text using a ‘letter by letter’ principle. We teach students to read critically and analyze texts using the full breadth of their knowledge. Philosophy, religion, art criticism, musicology, and many other fields provide new keys and frameworks for critical literary analysis.
Obviously, over time, a number of projects will give rise to new educational programmes in philology. Our plans include creating a double-degree master's programme, tentatively entitled ‘Russian, Soviet, and Post-Soviet Literary Studies’, in partnership with Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam. Another possible master's programme will be in comparative literature. We hope that it will be implemented jointly by the HSE campuses in Moscow and St. Petersburg in partnership with Humboldt University of Berlin, UCLA, and the University of Jerusalem.
From May 31 to June 3, as part of the Red Square Book Fair, a Russian language festival will be held with the help of the HSE School of Philology.
On September 26 and 27, the HSE School of Philology hosted Professor Brian Baer of Kent University (Ohio, USA) for a lecture entitled ‘The Translator’s Biography in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia: Art, Politics, Identity’, followed by a workshop on ‘Teaching Translation Studies’. Following his lecture and workshop, Professor Baer spoke with the HSE News Service about his career as a translator, the role of the translator in society and his recommendations for international readers looking for exposure to Russian literature.
From September 23 to October 2, the HSE School of Philology (Faculty of Humanities) will host Susanna Witt, Associate Professor, Senior Research Fellow, Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University (Sweden). During this time she will lecture at a conference on World Literature as a Soviet Project, as well as teach several lectures in the School of Philology.
How Russians think bears little resemblance to Germans’ attention to detail or American cheerfulness. The difference can be explained, at least in part, by looking at linguistic peculiarities. A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) launched by HSE called ‘Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communication’ investigates cases when basic Russian cultural values show up through linguistic choices, which may influence the way people act. The nine-week course was first offered in 2014 and was tremendously successful. It will run for the second time starting October 12, 2015. Mira Bergelson, professor in the Faculty of Humanities at HSE and the author of the course, shared the core principles of making contact with people who don’t smile on the street but who may become your best friends after just a few meetings.
Professor Stefania Sini of the Amedeo Avogadro University of Eastern Piedmont, Italy gave a lecture at HSE on the basic principles of the study of narrative. Sini is a philologist who studies the problems of contemporary liberal arts theory and the history of the humanities. She also studies modern Russian culture and in particular, the philosophical ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin.
Professor Georg Witte talked to Ludmila Mezentseva of the HSE news service about his research and about plans for the Free University of Berlin and the HSE Department of Philology to work together