‘Boundaries of History’ Seminar Starts New Season of Meetings
On September 30, Stephen Riegg, Assistant Professor of History of the Texas A&M University, presented his book Russia’s Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914 at the first seminar of this year’s Boundaries of History series. We spoke with Professor Alexander Semyonov, the seminar chair and the Director of the HSE Centre for Historical Research, about the goals of the seminar and to Stephen Riegg about his research.
Alexander Semyonov, Director of the Centre for Historical Research
Once the Faculty of History (now the Department of History, and the Centre for Historical Research) was established at the HSE campus in St. Petersburg in 2012, the first thing we thought about was a research seminar, which would bring together historians with different backgrounds: political and intellectual history, environmental and technological history, social and cultural history. In addition to creating a discussion platform for different research schools, traditions and approaches, we also wanted to promote the new faculty among the academic community. We were planning to focus on the systematic reflections and advancement of global, comparative, and transnational history. Hence, we settled on Boundaries of History as the title of the seminar.
The complex metaphor in the title refers to limits and scales in comparative and global history, as well as the goal of studying historically-formed diversity and, in particular, the diversity and complex arrangement of difference in historic empires
The metaphor also emphasizes the everlasting methodological problem of boundaries between history and other social sciences and humanities. Moreover, we often discuss the division between history and historical memory in all of its manifestations, in particular, fostering a dialogue between professional and public history.
We always try to stay true to this agenda, inviting or responding to the requests of prominent or distinguished scholars in these respective fields. Relevant and prominent publications and joint projects also provide a good reason and occasion for specific events.
The seminar has proved to be a living organism and it evolved together with the currents of contemporary historiography. For example, a number of papers presented at the seminar addressed what we called ‘contested global history’
We were happy to start this year’s seminars with the paper of Stephen B. Riegg, Assistant Professor of History of the Texas A&M University and winner of the Ab Imperio Award given by Ab Imperio: Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space journal, which I co-edit. Professor Riegg won the award in the Best Book category for his book Russia’s Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801–1914 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020).
Russia’s Entangled Embrace traces the relationship between the Romanov state and the Armenian diaspora that populated Russia’s territorial fringes and navigated the empire’s metropolitan centers. Engaging ongoing debates about imperial structures that were simultaneously symbiotic and hierarchically ordered, Stephen Badalyan Riegg helps us to understand how, for Armenians, imperial rule represented not hypothetical, clear-cut alternatives but simultaneous, messy realities.
He examines why, and how, Russian architects of empire imagined Armenians as being politically desirable. These circumstances included the familiarity of their faith, perceived degree of social, political, or cultural integration, and their actual or potential contributions to the state’s varied priorities. Analyzing the complexities of this imperial relationship—beyond the reductive question of whether Russia was a friend or foe to Armenians—allows us to study the methods of tsarist imperialism in the contexts of diasporic distribution, interimperial conflict and alliance, nationalism, and religious and economic identity.
Stephen Badalyan Riegg, Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University
I was born in Yerevan in 1986, just a few years before Armenia emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union as an independent state. As a result of my relatives’ advanced education in the Soviet system, my ethnic Armenian family was Russified in its cultural and even political outlooks, which occasionally conflicted and periodically aligned with the general attitudes of the Armenian society around us. As a child I observed, but did not yet understand, the overlapping tensions and partnerships between post-Soviet Armenian and Russian elements. Unraveling the modern roots of that tangled embrace became a mission of my graduate studies, which resulted in the dissertation that I later revised and expanded into my book.
I emailed Dr Semyonov back in 2013 on the advice of my dissertation advisor, Dr. Louise McReynolds. To my tremendous gratitude, Dr. Semyonov agreed to sponsor my visa and host me at HSE during my dissertation research. In 2013 and 2014, I conducted about a year and a half of full-time research in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Yerevan. Because my book focuses on the evolution of tsarist policies toward Armenians, rather than a history of Russo-Armenian ties, the sources are mainly Russian.
My experience at HSE was simply wonderful and I remain very grateful to Dr. Semyonov and the entire HSE community for their ongoing support. It was a real pleasure—and an important professional experience—to spend 2014 attending seminars, such as Boundaries of History, at HSE and meeting diverse specialists.
Since 2014, I have continued to benefit from my affiliation with HSE and I am eager to return to St. Petersburg when the pandemic circumstances allow international travel
Main Findings and a New Project
Accommodation, not assimilation, guided the tsarist approach toward Armenians. Russian chauvinism patronized Armenians as Aziatsy, but they remained familiar, “our” Asiatics. Religious kinship between Oriental Orthodox Armenians and Eastern Orthodox Russians was an enduring cultural link that undergirded the political bond between these imperial actors, even when Armenian clerics and Russian bureaucrats required interpreters at their meetings.
Many statesmen branded Armenians as distinctly non-European and some agents denigrated Armenian villagers as “semi-wild,” but the government saw few incentives for their coerced assimilation or total subjugation. Instead, St. Petersburg unfurled variedly successful efforts to use Armenians in its governance of the Caucasus and to advance its foreign policies.
My new project is tentatively titled “Westerners in the Tsar's East: Russian Imperialism and European Expatriates in the Caucasus.” By the turn of the nineteenth century, Russian officials faced a colonial problem that many of them realized required innovation: the long-coveted Caucasus region could not be annexed through the traditional use of Cossack cavalry and Slavic settlers alone. My project reconsiders the story of Romanov imperialism in the Caucasus by uncovering Russia’s trial-and-error strategy of transplanting or tolerating the settlement of Western European communities in its strategically vital borderlands.
The protagonists include Scottish missionaries, French silk barons, German schismatics, British oil speculators, Swiss evangelicals, and the Russian bureaucrats who monitored them. With both alacrity and apprehension, the Russian state hoped to secure the sociopolitical stability and economic vitality of its Caucasus dominion through the collaboration of foreign expatriates. To the tsarist ministers, viceroys, and other architects of empire, I argue, these techniques were provisional and contingent. In other words, they were experimental.
In 2021/2022 academic year Centre for Historical Research will hold a series of seminars with prominent scholars:
- On October 21, Paolo Sartori (Austrian Academy of Sciences) and Pavel Shabley (Chelyabinsk State University, Kostanay Branch), Ab Imperio Award 2019 winners in the Best Book nomination, will present their book Эксперименты империи: адат, шариат и производство знаний в Казахской степи [Empire Experiments: Adat, Sharia and Knowledge Production in the Kazakh Steppe].
- Also, on October 28 there will be a meeting with Ivan Sablin, Jargal Badagarov, and Irina Sodnomova (Heidelberg University, Germany), Ab Imperio Award 2020 winners in the nomination ‘Best article in a peer-reviewed academic journal or chapter in a scholarly collection’.
- On November 25, Yoshiro Ikeda from University of Tokyo will give a paper.
Seminars will be held in a hybrid or online format.
Follow the Centre for Historical Research on Facebook
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.
The 10th International Moscow Finance Conference, organized by HSE ICEF, took place on October 29–30 online. Vladimir Sokolov, Head of the International Laboratory of Financial Economics, which hosted the conference, talks about the participants, the key presentation topics and how they will impact the global economy.
The UN Climate Change Conference is taking place from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow. The conference focuses on preventive measures against the catastrophic and irreversible consequences of rising average global air temperatures. Igor Makarov, Head of the HSE Laboratory for Economics of Climate Change, will be taking part in the Glasgow conference. In the following interview, he speaks about the pressing problems Russia and the world are facing, and the research HSE scholars are doing on climate change.
HSE University and Coursera are bringing together the world’s leading researchers, professionals, education and technology leaders, and business community representatives for the fourth international research conference eLearning Stakeholders and Researchers Summit 2021 (eSTARS). This topic of this year’s summit, which will run from December 1–2, 2021,is ‘Digital Transformation: Global Challenges to the Education System’.
On October 20–22, the second International Conference on Experience Economy: Museum, Event, and Tourism Management was held at HSE University in Perm. Key talks were delivered by Andrea Rurale, the director of the Master’s in Arts Management and Administration at the Bocconi University School of Management, and Guillaume Tiberghien, University of Glasgow.
In October, a two-day seminar entitled ‘Ageing and frailty in Norway and Russia’ was held by HSE University’s International Laboratory for Population and Health. In addition to purely demographic results concerning the changing age structure of the population and growing life expectancy, most presentations were devoted to the comparative assessment of physical and cognitive status among elderly people, cardiovascular aging, as well as social and medical support for the elderly. We spoke with the organizers and participants of the seminar about their research findings and the implications for society and public health.
What are the outcomes of growing inequality? How much inequality is there in Russian healthcare and education? What does Russian society think about inequality? (Spoiler: that it’s excessively high and unfair.) These questions and many others were discussed by Russian and French researchers at the conference ‘Socio-economic Inequality and Poverty in the Modern World: Measures, Dynamics, and Prospects in an Age of Uncertainty’.
This year’s field season is over, and despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, archaeologists from the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology at the Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies (IOCS) were able to undertake their scheduled expeditions to Italy, Turkey, and Abkhazia. The Centre is the only Russian institution that conducts regular archaeological research in the Mediterranean region—the heart of ancient civilization, where neither Soviet nor Russian classical archaeologists have ever worked before.
The conference on Philosophy and Culture in Time of Pandemics ran from September 30 to 2 October 2021. It was divided into seven sessions held in a hybrid format. The organizers and participants discussed major topics such as social transformation during the pandemic, the role of mass media in shaping perceptions of the pandemic, and the epistemological and ethical issues that have arisen as a result.