Exploring the History of Places and Environment in Russia
The collective volume Place and Nature: Essays in Russian Environmental History, co-edited by David Moon, Nicholas B. Breyfogle, and HSE researcher Alexandra Bekasova, was recently presented at a seminar of the Laboratory for the Environmental and Technological History of the Centre for Historical Research at HSE – St. Petersburg. The book is one of the fruits of a networking project carried out in 2013-2016 with active participation of HSE researchers.
Place and Nature: Essays in Russian Environmental History presents a new perspective on the environmental history of the lands of the vast territory of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Particular attention is paid to the Russian North and Siberia and the Far East, rather than central Russia. The contributors focus on how people have interacted with ‘nature’ and, in the process, transformed it into ‘environment’, or turned ‘spaces’ into ‘places’ by inscribing them with historical meaning.
The project was initiated by David Moon (Anniversary Professor, University of York, UK), one of the most renowned environmental historians studying Russia. The project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust (UK). Professor Moon, who has published extensively on Russia, acted as the project’s lead investigator.
For the project, a network of specialists from British, American, and Russian universities conducted multidisciplinary research on the key aspects of the environmental history and history of natural resources in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Many researchers from the HSE Laboratory for the Environmental and Technological History participated in the project.
The project team carried out several research trips to different parts of Russia that are important for studying the history of the relations between humans and nature: the Solovetsky Islands, Lake Baikal, the Perm region, and the Urals.
Alexandra Bekasova, Associate Professor Department of History,
Senior Research Fellow, the Laboratory of Environmental and Technological History
While studying in the Faculty of History of Leningrad State University at the end of the 1980s and a little bit later after graduation, I tried to use various opportunities to combine work and travel around the country. Besides conducting research at the archives and libraries, I enjoyed participating in various archaeological expeditions as an amateur, which took place in Northwest and Central Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, the North Caucasus, the Black Sea coast.
I wanted to visit the Urals, the Altai region, and the Russian Far East. I even bought a guidebook, Lake Baikal in Questions and Answers at that time, but I managed to go there only many years later as a project member. What struck me the most were the combination of rocks and water, the particular geological and hydraulic features of the place, its specific materiality, as well as the scale of the constructed hydraulic structures and other material objects.
Participating in the project and the research trips were important for me as a historian of mobility since my research focuses on technology and environment, the history of mobility, and travel and exploration in an environmental and technological perspective.
We have also met, talked to, and in other ways engaged with local inhabitants and experts. Along the trips, seminars were organized at the Solovetsky Maritime Museum, the Buryat State University at Ulan-Ude, the Ural Federal University, and HSE University – Perm.
In this way, our research also makes an important methodological intervention in the research and practice of history. Namely, in order to write a multidimensional history, historians need to embed themselves in the places they study. As environmental historians we have gained first-hand experience of the distinctive characteristics of local places, and gained a sense of how they look, sound, taste, feel, and smell. Our work underscores that ‘place’ and ‘travel’ are both a topics of study and theoretical models and methodological approaches.
Julia Lajus, Head of the Laboratory of Environmental and Technological History, Associate Professor Department of History
In Place and Nature: Essays in Russian Environmental History, Alexei Kraikovski, also a researcher at the Laboratory, and I co-authored a chapter on Solovki. I also contributed to the Introduction to the volume.
My first degree was in marine biology, and from there I turned to history of science and then to environmental history. So, I was happy to take active part in the project.
The trip to the Solovki Islands in the White Sea, the region that I know well thanks to my marine biology research, was particularly important for me. Both other trips – to Baikal and the Urals, where I had never been before, were crucially important for my development as an environmental historian as they provided first-hand material for comparative study.
A blog maintained by the editors, Exploration and Place in Studying Russia’s Environmental History, is available here.
Throughout July, students of the HSE International Summer University are studying Russian History and Behavioural Economics. The courses are taking place in an online format—something that seemed unthinkable for a summer programme before the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent years have shown that online learning is a unique opportunity for students from all over the world to study with leading HSE University professors from the comfort of their own homes.
Pivot to the East: A Comprehensive Study of the Cultural and Civilisational Centres of the Non-Western World is the Top Priority
China and the Chinese world, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Arab countries, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and Africa are gaining new significance in Russia’s foreign policy. However, we do not know enough about the Eastern countries. It is necessary to change the priorities in education, starting from grammar school. Prospects for the development of domestic Oriental studies in the context of the new stage in the development of the system of international relations were discussed at a round table at HSE University.
Robert Romanowski was a ‘Digital Professor’ at HSE University in November 2021. In his interview for the HSE News Service, he talked about the specifics of online teaching, his course on Strategic Branding, and the skills that are essential for marketing professionals today.
There is major potential for economic and humanitarian cooperation between Russia and African countries. Particularly, Russian organisations and universities can help transfer competencies and knowledge in the fields of agriculture, energy, industrial production, environmental management, climate change, and public administration. Experts and representatives of African embassies in Russia discussed these issues at the round table ‘Russia-Africa Sharing Knowledge’ hosted by HSE University.
As part of an international project conducted with the participation of Roscosmos and the European Space Agency, a team of researchers used differential tractography to analyse dMRI scans ofcosmonauts’ brains and found significant changes in brain connectivity, with some of the changes persisting after seven months back on Earth. The paper is published in Frontiers in Neural Circuits.
HSE University-Perm and the Training Centre of the Uzbek Ministry of Finance Sign Cooperation Agreement
HSE University in Perm has become the first academic partner of the Training Centre under the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The parties have signed a cooperation agreement in education and research.
The first major Soviet publisher of children's literature, Raduga, was established a century ago and featured the debuts of many authors who would later go on to become famous, as well as illustrations by prominent artists. Based on a research paper by Marina Sazonenko, graduate of the HSE Doctoral School of Art and Design, IQ.HSE examines how — and why — the illustrations in Soviet periodicals for children changed over time.
This December, HSE University’s Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities hosted Professor Juliane Fürst, from Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History, who gave a lecture about Soviet hippies and the Soviet Flower Power. In an interview with HSE News Service, Professor Fürst spoke about her interest in Soviet subcultures and her research plans.
On November 9, 2021, HSE University signed a memorandum of understanding with Wageningen University & Research, a major university in the Netherlands and one of the leading agricultural research institutes in the world. Participants of the signing ceremony included HSE University Rector Nikita Anisimov, President of the Wageningen University & Research Executive Board Professor Louise Fresco, and Dutch Ambassador to Russia Gilles Beschoor Plug.
The majority of Russians would not agree to being fitted with microchip implants for any purposes—medical or otherwise. A joint study conducted by HSE University’s International Laboratory for Applied Network Research and Aventica found that respondents believe the risks of personal data leaks and misuse to be too high.