History According to Chornobog: HSE Perm Student Creates an Unusual Educational Project
‘Another City: Mystical Stories of Perm’ — this is the title of a work by Nikita Matkin, a first-year student in the Master's programme ‘Digital Humanities’. It received an honourable mention in the Best Russian-Language Scientific and Popular Science Works Competition for HSE University employees in the ‘History of Art’ track. Nikita spoke with the News Service about the idea for the project, his studies at HSE University, and his love for his hometown.
The Idea Behind the Project
I was preparing a paper on different transmedia tools in a study of public history. I had the idea of showing different kinds of tools using the example of the Tower of Death, which stands in the centre of Perm. One part of my presentation was a map of urban legends. I could see that they were all connected with historical places and, at the same time, lined up in a clear chronological sequence. And then the muse seized me — and I decided to describe all these myths in an artistic style, as if they were told by Chornobog (the Black God) — the god who brings misfortune in the mythology of the Baltic Slavs. Thus, a little Permian lore was built up and the concept called ‘Another World’ was born.
The Mysticism and History of Perm
The main idea of the project is to present the history of the city through fascinating material. I have always been interested in various mystical legends and at a certain point came to realise their depth. In essence, they embody the citizens' idea of different historical places, and, through spooky myths, one can describe the real history of Perm. Many of these legends were formed around historical places and personalities of nationwide significance.
The names of Kolchak, Meshkov, Andronik, Gaidar, Osorgin grace the pages of our project as they directly influenced the emergence of myths
On the one hand, the project embodies my desire to conduct a tour of a different city, but at the same time, it allows the importance of these places in Russian history to be revealed. The observer can view the city from a completely different angle. Few people know that the Styx (a small river in Perm that got its name from ancient Greek mythology — ed.) flows not far from the city centre. Even the realisation of this fact changes the image of the city slightly, adding a touch of mysticism to it.
Working on the Project
I have long been interested in transmedia projects. I was aware of quite a few technologies and examples of work. In particular, I was inspired by two projects: Mono from ‘Batenka, you’re Transformer’ and ‘Dreams behind the Hijab’. Both are implemented on the readymag platform, which allows you to replace standard vertical scrolling with a more unconventional horizontal format. It didn't take me long to find an artist, either. My artist friend Alexander Chertov has a very dark style that fits perfectly into the project concept. He did all the illustrations on the website, and now he's performing the voiceover, which is being recorded. It therefore didn't take long to bring the idea to fruition. But further development of the project and finding and adding new stories can take a long time.
The most interesting thing is that while I was working, the project itself started to make sense of things I hadn't seen before. The locations are all lined up in chronological order. The entrance to ‘The Other City’ is through the Styx. The Archbishop's complex on Komsomolsky Avenue is the Tower of Life, and at the end of that street is the Tower of Death. There is a total of nine sites through which the wayfarer is led by Chornobog. And I didn't even think to put any meaning into it at first, it all happened by itself.
I studied history, mythology, and literature when creating the site. The content of the project is mainly based on articles by local Perm historians. The map of dungeons was created on the basis of diggers' stories, and the stories themselves were collected from social networks and mass media. At the same time, all the information on the site has links to the relevant literature.
There were no HSE University students involved in the project until recently, but after the news broke of the project's competition victory, I got my classmate Valeriy Kelsin involved in the study of histories of buildings.
Participating in the Competition
Dinara Gagarina, Dean of the Social Sciences and Humanities Faculty where I study, suggested that I enter my project in the competition. I thought, why not? We gathered together all of the documents and applied to participate. The news that my work got a special mention in the competition was further confirmation of the importance of the project to society, as I received a string of competition victories this year. My research won a collective student project competition, and I received scholarships from the Oxford Foundation and the Vladimir Potanin Scholarship Fund. At the same time, I thought that the rest of the winning papers were student projects or small popular science websites. But when I looked at the list of winners, I was very surprised: these are major projects of social significance by prominent scientists. It is an honour for me and my artist partner that we have been placed alongside such interesting projects.
Thanks to our victory, we will be able to develop the project: we have already moved it to the permanent domain http://inoigorod.ru/ and the plan is to add sound effects and a voiceover, and post the remaining stories. And then we will do the same project for other cities in the Perm Region. The need for such stories is confirmed by the popularity of Alexey Ivanov's books and the games ‘The Mooseman’ and ‘The Black Book’, which are based on the Permian Komi mythology.
The contest for the best Russian-language scientific and popular science works by HSE University employees was established in 2020. In 2021, 257 entries were submitted for the competition, with 35 winners in the scientific category and 30 in the popular science category. The jury gave honourable mentions to 3 works, including Nikita Matkin's project ‘Another World: Mystical Stories of Perm’ in the ‘History of Art’ category.
Studying at HSE Perm
I graduated from the Faculty of Philology at Perm State University with a degree in Media Communications. I am now in my 1st year of my Master's degree in ‘Digital Humanities.’ I chose this programme because I really wanted to master programming for scientific and practical activities. Our Master's programme gives students with a humanities background like me the opportunity to learn different digital tools, including Python. As a result, I gained more than an exhaustive knowledge of the language: it gave me exhaustive theoretical material in the field of Digital Humanities.
I chose HSE Perm as I am not ready to leave for a number of reasons. I love the city and the Perm region and want to explore the area. In addition, at HSE University, students from any campus can study with Moscow professors
I like our University because it offers tremendous opportunities for personal development, especially in terms of research. Access to library resources, the ability to build your own track, free project activities — it all allows you to follow an individual path. At the same time, all responsibility for learning lies with the student. If a student has a desire to develop themselves, HSE University gives them all the resources they need. I would also like to mention the interdisciplinary courses that have appeared this year: they help you tailor your curriculum to your individual needs.