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  • The Criteria of Scientificity and Effectiveness in the Humanities: the History of Professional Conventions in Russia and the Soviet Union

The Criteria of Scientificity and Effectiveness in the Humanities: the History of Professional Conventions in Russia and the Soviet Union

Priority areas of development: humanitarian
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

The project aims at reconstructing the historical reasons and arguments for concluding and breaking professional conventions in social sciences.

The theoretical frame of the project is chosen in accordance with the type of sources and the range of analyzed issues. The approach of critical discourse analysis (in the version of N. Fairclough) is used while working with university documentation. 

The professional rhetoric is analyzed using the methods of historical semantics (M. Richter, H. Berdekker, R. Reinchardt), which allows us to reveal anthropological peculiarities of the academic discourse of lawyers, philologists, historians and philosophers. The methodology of M. de Certeau is applied in studying academic life as a special type of every day life. The criteria of academic evaluation were often determined by oral conventions within the small groups (scientific schools, chairs, faculties, councils, research societies, etc.). So, as they were not fixed in texts we try to restore them using the methods of scientific reconstruction.

The empirical base of the project consists of the texts from the archives of Kazan and Moscow universities (National Archive of Tatarstan Republic in Kazan and Central State Archive of Moscow), Ministry of the Public Education (Russian State History Archive in St. Petersburg), Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts (RGALI), and the Manuscript Reading Room of the Library of Tartu University. Looking through the personal files of doctoral candidates and the protocol books of university councils allowed us to find dozens of dissertation reviews that considered to be lost. Besides, it is the first time when the correspondence between two Soviet historians Y. G. Oksman and  Y. M. Lotman is introduced. The journal reviews are analyzed using the examples of the Jurnal Ministerstva Narodnogo Prosvescheniya(St. Petersburg), Universitetskie Izvestiya(Kiev), and Soviet history journals of 1920s.

Our research results in several findings and conclusions. The cases we chose show us the struggle of scientists for the manifestation of academic norms in changing economic and political contexts, the diversity of subjects of the university expertise, and their local specificity. We conclude that professorial councils always reconsidered the evaluation criteria of their professional activity. Academic background of the scholar, scientific importance of his writings, their innovative character, and the strength of his arguments were among them at various times.

In social sciences, it was very hard for scholars to work out suitable scientific criteria when reviewing the doctoral papers. Each time those criteria required additional comments, i.e. what in the reviewed paper was considered to be scientific. In the nineteenth century, the criteria of scientificity used to be determined through the usage of special terms and methods, science Latin as the language of academic writing had been pushed away and replaced by Russian. After heated discussions, the requirement to verify research methods was set up in experimental sciences. Scholars in humanities had to follow other requirements—logic, consistency, and awareness of adjacent papers.

Because of the fact that in the nineteenth century the Ministry of Public Education considered history, philology, and law national sciences, their expertise was developed according to the local conventions, not international. Thus, the political interest of the Russian government was one of the basic criterion of their scientificity. Later it transformed to such requirement as ‘relevance’.

There were also crucial differences between the evaluation practices in social sciences (i.e. history, philology, law) and ones in medicine. While assessing dissertations medics took into account professional hierarchies (more fractional than in other departments) and the requirement to verify the conclusions. The doctor’s mission to civilize the society prompted him to step over the political interest declaring his loyalty to the interests of humanity.

From the moment of launching the inner expertise universities agreed to assess doctoral candidates impartially. In doing so they tried to focus on texts and ideas, rather than personalities. Preferably, they should be interested in developing knowledge and enlightenment, not in competitions. Accusing someone in partiality was the most beneficial strategy in defending a candidate.

The study of journal reviews has shown that Jurnal Ministerstva Narodnogo Prosvescheniya was considered the instrument of improving the quality of dissertations. Diachronically, this genre was changing from the surveys of Western literature to the verification of scientific research methods, regardless of their national or local specificity. In contrast to university councils, university journals provided candidates with a chance to engage in discussions reproducing the atmosphere of public disputes. As a result, academic discussions moved from universities closed to the entire world in periodic. This allowed the growth of academic reputations beyond hierarchical frameworks.

In the nineteenth century, the ‘outer reviews’ ordered by the Ministry of Public Education used in modernizing university science, but in the early Soviet Union they were used by Bolsheviks against their ideological opponents. Reviewing was used to justify the oppressions against universities as a whole, and against linguists in particular. In our project, the well known picture of pushing academic expertise and using it to destroy the last remnants of freedom at the early Soviet universities is specified with additional details. Using different examples, we could reveal the criteria of assessing historical studies, and also we could show how the scientific convention of Marxist science was working out. The correspondence between Oksman and Lotman showed the significance of private and informal reviews and evaluations in strengthening professional reputations in the atmosphere of the closed Soviet university. Those reputations formed a parallel hierarchy, alternative self-organization of the Soviet humanities.

Thus, our research demonstrates the correlation between reviews as the genre of academic writing and the cultural mechanisms of assessing scientific products that shapes academic community.

The results of the project are presented in three papers published in English and German: two of them were issued in journals indexed in Scopus, the last one was issued in the journal of the Polish Academy of Sciences. In Russian we published a book and eight articles. Seven of them are included in the list of VAK. Also, one preprint in “Humanities” is prepared. Finally, fourteen reports at international and Russian conferences were made. 




Морозов О. В. Ученая корпорация и политическая власть: подготовка и празднование юбилея Тюбингенского университета в 1877 году // Историческая и социально-образовательная мысль. 2015. Т. 7. № 3. С. 45-50.
Ильина К. А. Что побуждало русских профессоров писать рецензии: к истории жанра / Высшая школа экономики. Серия WP6 "Гуманитарные исследования". 2016.
Алмазова Н. С., Гребенкина Д. М. Несостоявшаяся реформа архива Казанского университета // Гасырлар авазы - Эхо веков. 2016. № 1/2 (82/83). С. 123-133.
Степанов Б. Е. Борис Дубин и российский проект социологии культуры // Общественные науки и современность. 2015. № 6. С. 163-173.
Marina Kibalna. Book Reviews Published in the "Universitetskie Izvestia": Academic Self-Evaluation Criteria in Kiev // Rozprawy z Dziejów Oświaty. 2015. Vol.  LII. P. 35-51.
Davydov M., Vishlenkova E. A. Einhundert Jahre Streit um die Helden von 1812: Vom „Vaterländischen“ Krieg zum Ersten „Weltkrieg“ // Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas. 2015. Vol. 63. No. 4. P. 545-572.