Why does HSE need its own vegetable garden? Why is it important to study informal social ties within the context of history? How can you trace literary allusions in Russian poetry? In research project proposals that were selected by the Faculty of Humanities in this year’s Project Group Competition, students tackle these questions and more.
The project-based approach will become the basis of HSE's educational model, which is outlined in HSE’s 2030 Development Programme. Among other things, the model provides for the formation of project and research labs and groups that will engage students more directly in scholarly and/or practical work.
For this purpose, a new competition was launched to form project groups not only among HSE employees but also among students. Faculties have already announced their selections. Now, project proposals will undergo the second stage of the competition, during which the university central committees will have the opportunity to provide additional support to projects.
Project: ‘Digital Studies of Intertextuality in Russian Poetry’
During the third module, I took a digital humanities minor course, and one of the mandatory tasks was to devise a project. We came up with an idea and made the first drafts. We didn't do much, but our lecturer Daniil Skorinkin saw its potential and offered to file an application. It was a great opportunity for all of us to get more experience with digital humanities, so naturally we agreed.
Once, as I was reading a commentary to a book of poems by Osip Mandelstam, I thought that it might be interesting to visualize the ties between poets and present their allusions to each other in the form of a chart. My group members supported this idea: we thought that it may change our perception of Russian poetry that had been shaped by our high school literature classes. When we started studying various poetry collections, we realized that their accompanying commentaries lacked common standards; all the volumes were compiled in different ways and, among other things, it made their machine processing rather difficult. Then we came up with another idea: to develop a single format for literary commentaries in order to make working with them easier. A standardized literary commentary format could be useful in all areas of the humanities.
Our plan is not only to analyze the intertextual ties between poets using digital tools, but also to create a database of Russian poetry commentaries to facilitate searches for relevant information. Thanks to the competition, we were able to pay for the website host. While you are limited in time and resources in regular class projects, the project competition gives us a chance to do something we are interested in and conduct our research using a wider range of data.
Most of our team members are computer linguists, but we also have a philologist due to the interdisciplinary nature of our research. This is not the first time we have worked together on a project, so it's much easier for us to distribute responsibilities based on our interests; some prefer TEI development, while others enjoy working with visualization tools.
Project: ‘The Friendly University Flower and Vegetable Garden"
There is a tradition in my family: every year during the May holidays, we plant potatoes so that we can stock up all our cellars with vegetables by the end of August. I couldn't continue this tradition in Moscow, but I was just itching to figure out a way to still do it. I started growing vegetables on the windowsill in my dorm, like peppers and basil. After that, I consulted with my mom and grandma and decided to pitch the ‘friendly vegetable garden’ project to my colleagues.
We are implementing this project as an initiative group of second-year Cultural Studies students called the ‘Young Amateurs Club’. We all love different things but at some point, our interests intersected at home gardening. My teammates joined the project for various reasons. Primarily, it was because they are supporter of a zero-waste lifestyle, are interested in distributed lifestyle, which is widespread in Russia, and a pure desire to do something with their own hands.
We started thinking about the project from the very start of this academic year—together with the expert Nadezhda Zhdanova, we conducted a workshop on planting watercress, we launched pages on social media and decided to take over the HSE space for our good deeds. Before the lockdown, we managed to plant just several containers of salad and pepper seedlings on the windowsills in our class building.
We plan to create ‘green’ zones adjacent to the Faculty of Humanities building on Staraya Basmannaya Street, as well as inside the building itself. We are going to plant flowerbeds and grow some plants on the windowsills. We also want to landscape the interior court in future. All this space can be used to grow fruit and vegetables and to hold mass events (land cultivation, planting, crop harvesting), gardening lectures, and workshops with guest lecturers.
Staraya Basmannaya Street is quite green, but students have never taken part in its landscaping or looking after plants there. The interior court has not been used at all, the flowerbeds in front of the entrance are planted with annual plants, while the potted plants inside the building are watered by cleaning ladies and merely serve as a reminder of that warm, so-called ‘Culture Two'.
We want our plants to take part in agricultural events and installations, and we hope that our friends—third-year students of the Cultural Studies lab.lapka—will help us with this.
This winter we contacted the administration and got the support of Alexander Suvalko, who held a project seminar for us, and we were (and we are now) ready to get the flowerbed soil prepared this summer. Following the application for the project competition, our action plan has not changed much, but currently we have a different level of mobility and direct financial support, and we are waiting for approval from the administration.
Project: ‘Patron, Client and Broker. Informal Social Ties in the History of Russia from the 18th—Early 20th Century as a Factor of its Development’
Initially, I did not plan to participate in a project and did not want to apply for one until the very end of May. However, as I began coming across various competitive applications on social media filed by my course mates, I decided to give the competition a try and see how relevant the project research we were going to propose would be.
I thought that, thanks to this project, I'd be able to assemble a team of people who share my research interests, namely Russia of the 18-19th centuries. It was interesting to check whether it was possible to establish a student lab where we would work on our research projects in the field of informal relationships and to what extent we could actually work with each other.
Our project is dedicated to patron-client or client-patron relationships, i.e. informal ties between two or more people, whose interaction is motivated by mutual interests and the desire to gain certain tangible and intangible social resources.
We came up with this idea the same day we got the desire to test ourselves. I've been studying patron-client ties for the last three years now and I believe that this allows us to see how long-familiar state institutions function from a different, ‘informal’ point of view. Therefore, I thought it might be interesting to enter this idea in the project competition to find out how many students find the study of such connections fascinating and who else touches upon this issue in their research.
I hope the competition will allow us to show the importance of studying patron-client relationships in understanding various macro and micro processes: starting from how many government decisions are made at the level of individual ministries and the State Council up to comprehending what kinds of “informal'' means many people use in their everyday life to achieve their goals. I have no idea what impact it may have on the life of the Faculty of Humanities, but I do hope that this project will capture the attention of our fellow researchers from a variety of programmes who might find the study of informal relationships useful and interesting not only studying history but other areas as well.
Currently, we are going to hold an organizational meeting at the beginning of the academic year (I hope we'll be able to meet in person), and then launch our research seminars on the methodology of patron-client relationships, as well as monthly seminars to discuss our projects and share the results of our work. All this, in my opinion, will help us develop our cases and give us an opportunity to submit them not only for participation in various academic conferences but also as articles in reputable peer-reviewed history journals.
Another goal is to arrange a patron-client conference and revive the tradition of public academic events dedicated to this area of inquiry.
We have assembled a great team. Half of the team is entering into their first year of their master’s at HSE in history, and the other half is starting their fourth year of the bachelor’s degree program. They all have their own academic interests that they will be able to accomplish within the framework of this project. For example, Anna Novikova is examining the times of Catherine the Great and has recently studied the diary of an English diplomat's spouse, based on which one may unveil the role of informal ties in the foreign policy of the Russian Empire or identify what other ‘parties’ existed at the court of the empress.
Another of our colleagues and team members, Ilya Lukhovitsky, is studying personnel policies of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs in 1852-1868 (prior to Alexander II reforms). Ilya has concluded that patron-client ties played an important role in the formation of the ‘reform team’.
Such projects are equally inspiring for both students pursuing an academic career or seeking employment in academic institutions and students who have a poor understanding and not enough information about what academia is like and how it works.
Project: ‘Digitalization, Analysis, and Publication of Archival Records (19-20th Centuries): The Russian Historical and Cultural Legacy of Alaska".
In my case, the launch of the competition coincided with my personal plans. In April, at the Student Fair, the International Laboratory 'Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective' announced a project where we could participate in transcribing and digitalizing documents from the Alaskan archive depositories that were shot by the Lab Professor and Senior Researcher Myra Bergelson and other linguists during their summer expedition.
The project was exciting and it helped us assemble a team of activist students who would be happy to continue working with the documents.
We are still in the beginning stage of our work—digitalizing documents—but we hope to move on to writing comments and long reads for the resource portal of the International Laboratory 'Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective' (to be launched in 2020). We’ve got many other things to do, which will take us much more than a month.