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Regular version of the site

190068 Saint Petersburg
123 Griboedov channel, Room 123

Phone:+7 (812)786-92-49 

Postal address: 
190068 Saint Petersburg
123 Griboedov channel

Department Head Adrian A. Selin
Academic Supervisor Evgeniy Anisimov
Remembering the Neoliberal Turn: Economic Change and Collective Memory in Eastern Europe after 1989

Gökarıksel S., Gontarska O., Hilmar T. et al.

L.: Routledge, 2023.

Сholera Riots in Staraia Russa in 1831. People and the Authorities: Actions, Motives, Concerns
In press

Belan M.

Slavonic and East European Review. 2024. Vol. 102. No. 2.

Book chapter
The Stolbovo Treaty and Tracing the Border in Ingria in 1617–1618

Adrian Selin.

In bk.: Sweden, Russia, and the 1617 Peace of Stolbovo. Vol. 14. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2024. P. 99-118.

Working paper
The Image of the Past in Ciro Spontone’s ‘Historia Della Transilvania’

Khvalkov E., Levin F., Кузнецова А. Д.

Working Papers of Humanities. WP. Издательский дом НИУ ВШЭ, 2021

Gifts of Empire

Academic Year
Instruction in English
ECTS credits
Delivered by:
Department of History
Compulsory course
1 year, 1, 2 module


Course Syllabus


What is gift? What does it mean to give a gift and receive one? What social relations are created by gift giving? Do gifts play a similar role in all societies? Is ‘pure’ or ‘free’ gift possible? These are the questions of the classical gift theory which appeared in anthropology in the early twentieth century as a way to understand traditional or stateless societies. These are the questions that scholars ask today too, but in a new research context. What is the place of gift in societies that are dominated by market exchange? How did gift giving work in assembling tributary and trade empires? How does modernity take gift form — in ‘civilising mission’, ‘development’, ‘modernisation’, aid and humanitarianism? What is imperial on these modalities of governance? What are gifts of this empire? This course focuses on some of the key work in this field of anthropology and history.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • ILO 1 Able to learn and demonstrate skills in the field, other than the major field
  • ILO 5 Work with information: find, define and use the information from different sources which required for solving of research and professional problems (including the system approach)
  • ILO 8 Able to efficiently communicate based on the goals and communication situations
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • analysing basic themes of the course
  • analysing basic approaches in gift theory
  • analysing the relationships of gifts and warfare
  • analysing the concepts of contract, free will and force in gift relations
  • analysing advanced approaches in gift theory
  • analysing concepts of expenditure and voluntarism in the context of gift theory
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • A little kingdom in the old regime
    Introduction to case studies in gifts relations and late premodern state
  • Gift theory: introduction
    key approaches in gifts theory
  • Expenditure and humanitarian reason
    Expenditure and humanitarian reason
  • Imperial order and diplomacy (i and ii)
    Linguistic and ontological turns in gift theory; cases of India, Caucasus and Bosnia
  • Gift and contract (i & ii)
    Gifts of development; faces of voluntarism
  • Indian wars: gifts and poison
    18th century warfare in North America and the politics of the gift
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking review essay
  • non-blocking final essay exam
  • non-blocking leading discussion
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (2 module)
    0.5 * leading discussion + 0.5 * review essay


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Bornstein, Erica. Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012
  • Grant, Bruce. The Captive and the Gift: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus. Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press, 2009

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Fassin, Didier. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.