Prof. Boytsov discusses the Faculty’s main achievements of 2019, new academic programmes, and plans for the new year.
Professor Boytsov, how would you characterize 2019 for the Faculty?
Like all the previous years, it was challenging, but successful. Although our achievements and challenges vary and are unique to each year, we have managed to maintain a good balance between them, which is to our benefit. Every single achievement has a lasting impact, while challenges can be eventually overcome, even though it might not happen overnight.
Our Faculty is constantly changing; even its structure does not remain the same. At the very beginning of the past year, we established the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archeology, for which we have high expectations. In the spring, the School of Philology split into the School of General and Applied Philology (SGAP) and the School of Literary History and Theory. We are gradually merging with the huge Department of Foreign Languages, which has already been renamed as the School of Foreign Languages.
Over the past year, almost all scientific departments have moved to the renovated wing of the Kurakin Palace. Not so long ago, we had ‘nomadic’ laboratories that had no permanent home. The spaces we previously occupied have now been reassigned to other HSE programmes and schools. Although we are still in need of more space, we fit much more comfortably into the current premises than the previous ones.
I believe that the opening of the Psychological Counselling Centre here on campus has been an essential step. We went as far as to provide a nursery room. Not every university offers these kinds of services. The ‘cloakroom issue’ also seems to have been solved, and we don’t have half the chairs in the cafeteria drowning in students’ coats and jackets anymore. In addition, there is now a nice small café on the second floor.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t do the faculty any good to be cooped up in the Basmannaya building—no matter how nice these freshly painted historic walls look. Therefore, we are developing partnerships with nearby museums. Along with the continuing lecture series, ‘The Unknown 19th Century’ that we hold at the Muraviev-Apostle Estate next door, we began a new series of lectures in the Tropinin Museum last autumn. We would like to expand our presence in the Basmannaya area community.
Have the Faculty’s new programmes gotten off to a good start?
They have, indeed. In the autumn, the long awaited ‘Classical Studies’ Programme was launched. The programme is comprised of two parallel tracks, one for philologists and another for historians. In addition, our Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies has launched three more bachelor’s programmes: in Assyriology, Japanese Studies, and South-East Asian languages and literature. Moreover, the Institute has created a master’s programme in Classic and Oriental Archeology. We can say they have all had successful starts.
In your opinion, what were the Faculty’s most significant achievements last year?
There were a number of achievements, but it is hard to say which of them are ‘the most significant’. I should probably mention our improved rankings. In 2019, we climbed from 243rd to 156th place in the QS World University Ranking in the ‘Modern Languages’ subject category, and from 171st to 122nd place in ‘Linguistics’. It won’t be long before we rank among the top 100 universities.
In my opinion, we have made some very good progress in digital humanities. The popularity of our Digital Humanities Centre has considerably grown abroad, but even more considerably in Russia. An inter-campus HSE DH mega-centre no longer looks like a crazy idea, and I think it has a lot of potential.
I’d rather not attempt to single out ‘the best’ conferences and symposiums amongst the long list of events we either organized or participated in, because I don’t want to leave out any events or accidentally offend any of our organizers or speakers. Let me just say there were a lot of successful events. However, I would like to single out one particular large conference that our students organized from start to finish. It is called ‘Micro-plots: Minor Stories about Major Processes’.
At the end of the year, Professor Oleg Lekmanov and Associate Professor Mikhail Sverdlov won the Big Book Russian literary award, which is certainly one of our most striking achievements of the past year.
Now that we’ve talked about the past, what are you plans for the future?
We’ve got a lot of plans, but it’s too early to show our hand.
Speaking of settling into our new home at Staraya Basmannaya Street, we are discussing, designing, and working towards having two co-working spaces, a teachers’ lounge, and a café for teachers and the faculty’s staff. It would be great if the Faculty Design Commission could do some work to design the main common areas—at least for a while, until we have our own professional design team.
As for special plans for the coming year, we are going to develop our interdisciplinary area studies courses and research laboratories. We are planning to cover various geographical areas. We are deeply grateful to the Iranian Embassy Cultural Representative Office for launching the Centre of Iranian Studies and the Persian Language. It goes without saying that the centre, as a representation of the country, culture and civilization, will be a place where students will be able to develop their professional interests and gain important competencies.
It was those same aims in mind that we have announced the creation of a Centre for Polish Studies. I’m certain that the faculty will effectively cooperate with our Polish colleagues and research and cultural institutions to achieve much in establishing a fruitful academic dialogue between Polish and Russian scholars and students and provide high-quality education for future experts of the Polish history and culture.
You can see what other geographical areas we are planning to cover as part of our ‘academic expansion’ if you look at our list of new programmes that are starting in the 2020-2021 academic year. For instance, admissions are now open to three new bachelor’s programmes: ’Mongolia and Tibet’, ‘Turkey and the Turkic World’, and ‘Ethiopia and the Arab World’.
As the name of the latter may not be clear to everyone, let me briefly explain what the programme is about. The programme aims to train well-rounded intermediaries between the Russian and German-speaking cultures. Fluent in German, these experts will be well aware of the history, literature, philosophy, arts, politics, and everyday life of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Experts in this area are in high demand in the academic world, as well as in business and politics.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that we are not going to limit our activity to teaching future bachelors, masters and PhDs. The faculty is rich in intellectual resources, so we need to transform it into an institution of continuous learning. We can offer high quality courses to students of other universities (as long as they have enough spare time, of course), school teachers, curious retired people, and managers of different ranks who have realized that true success requires not only the ability to count money, but also some knowledge in humanities. For all of them (and many others), we are transforming the faculty courses in continuing education into the Centre of Open Education, ADDENDA. I hope the centre will be up and running in the coming year.