International Masters` student week was held on 14-18 March at the Department of History of the National Research University Higher School of Economics
It was a joint event of the Master Programme “Applied and Interdisciplinary History” of the Department of History (HSE-Saint-Petersburg) and the University of Jyväskylä supported by the Finnish-Russian Student Exchange Programme (FIRST). Five intense days gave about HSE and Jyväskylä`s students a unique experience of research activities, class studies, field trips and a fruitful atmosphere of informal communication. More than 40 students participated.
HSE Master students Justin Ramsey and David Damtar reflect the activities during that week.
The initiative that orchestrated the joint internship week was a very good idea due to the platform the week long internship provided for learning. It did not only create an opportunity for students to explore new environments and learn new things but also gave the chance for them to work together and learn from one another from different perspectives.
On Monday, students from both universities accompanied by professors were gathered before one of the most interesting museums in St. Petersburg ‘Smolny’ that speak a lot about Russian history. Students entered the Museum with the assistance of guides who were fluent in English and Russian to give a balance with respect to language.
The background history of ‘Smolny’, including serving as an institution for training noble girls and the ground for the 1917 Russian Revolution and other administrative purposes were brought to remembrance by the guides backed by different artifacts and photos, books, original writings and exhibitions of students of the Institute several years ago. It serves as the place at which specific memories of organizers of the October revolution and their activities before, during and after 1917 are preserved. These were made known to students as we toured the auditorium where the revolution was declared as well as offices that were used by Lenin and Trotsky among other places.
In the following day, a two and half hour trip by bus outside St. Petersburg to a place which history was not only shaped by Russia and Finland as obvious examples due to its location but more so, other European powers such as Sweden, Germany and others, was another interesting learning experience. Touring the Vyborg castle was lively with the various histories of the place from different perspectives echoing the idea in us young historians the challenge that comes up with dealing with sources in historical production. A discussion session gave the opportunity to listen to presentations of the history of the city from different perspectives including Russian and Finnish versions.
Touring other parts of the city after a sumptuous lunch which further provided grounds for more interaction and making friends was another interesting episode of the trip. It came to our realization that Vyborg as a historical city has more to tell and more to unravel as renovations were made with a construction of library for studies about the city and other important histories in connection with the city to be undertaken by all interested people.
The Vyborg city visit brought to realization how the place served as a ground for international power and trade relations since the eleventh century. The return journey provided a temporal rest in the evening filled with happiness and tiredness after the long day experience at Vyborg city.
On Tuesday the group visited Peterhof palace, an amazing scene of the past not too long of a bus trip from the city. The palace is a great representative of how society was back in the 18th Century and part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace, which was constructed under the orders from Peter the Great, can be described as the “Russian Versailles”. The palace and the space it occupies is overpowering as you walk around to the entrance you have a direct site to the Sea Channel leading directly to the Gulf of Finland. Inside the palace there are countless overwhelming rooms with vast amounts of invaluable artifacts. The history of the palace is tremendous as you are told the story of hit from its construction and function during the reign of Tsars and Tsarinas up to the Great Patriotic War and the aftermath from the conflict and looting on the palace. Besides the amazing rooms, which make up the palace one of the other important features is the outside lands which surround it. With the many gardens, which make up the area one of the features that stands out is the fountains and pumps, which allow them to work. This feature for the time it was built is a significant feature, which make up the palace. This enables the amazing fountain sculpture of a man tearing open the jaws of a lion. This signifies the victory of Russia over Sweden in the Great Northern War. The palace is not only a great piece of Russian history but also a great representative of human achievements. It is necessary see during your time in St. Petersburg.
Friday was a day of intensive student research activities. As Justin Ramsey, Master student at HSE, said, the Cold War is a significant period you learn about when you grow up in America. It is taught to students as a tense period where world destruction was always imminent as there was high pressure with the Soviet Union. But is what Americans are taught in school, or learnt through films and television, or just through talking with family members the same as other nations. Students from different countries had an opportunity to interact with each other as they interviewed family members or friends who had lived through this period. It is from these interviewes we were able to compare and contrast what was similar or different depending on where one lived. The group was a mixture of people from both sides of the period, including interviews of people from America and Finland to the “other” side in the Russian Soviet Republic and Belarusian Soviet Republic. What was clear from all the interviews wherever one lived was that it was known of the very real possibility of nuclear conflict. This fear was very apparent in the interviews along with specific events, which stood out in their memories. The most common were the Cuban Missile Crisis, Invasion of Czechoslovakia and Vietnam War. What was also revealed was how there seemed to be different narrative between the private individual from that of the official state stance. Seems most of the people interviewed saw a difference between the people of the nation and the government, which represented them, as they were not inherently linked together. What this group work revealed is that the narrative of the Cold War may differ depending where one lives but there seems to be more similarities on the individual experience then we may like to think.
The program included a series of lectures given by instructors from both universities. On Monday the lecture by Dr Julia Lajus and Elena Kochetkova (HSE Saint-Petersburg) gave a profound overview of the key events that filled in the Cold War as well as the main stages of historiography. In particular, they illustrated how the paradigm of the Cold War studies has transformed from the hostility into cooperation discourse over time. They stressed that until recently researchers comprehended the Cold War mainly as a political rivalry of two superpowers while today scholars bring into the fore more actors of different levels and examine cooperation in science, technology, and culture. Dr Julia Lajus also presented a case study of Arctic during the Cold War, stressing a specific character of this region. After the Second World War the Arctic gained a military meaning being a potential menace to the world order. At the same time, military aligned with scientific when presenting military in the Arctic meant exploring this undiscovered region. We find a few examples of cooperation between polar scientists from two blocs such as international scientific events, especially during the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. Elena Kochetkova told about the cooperation between the Soviet Union and Finland in the forestry industry, illustrating that the Iron Curtain was permeable on the micro level. There were intensive contacts between engineers and industrial scientists from two blocs in the form of exchanges, international conferences and joint state projects.
On Thursday, Dr Simo Mikkonen (the University of Jyväskylä) held an inspiring lecture devoted to both theoretical thinking about the cultural Cold War as well as a few patterns of the cooperation between the artists from the Soviet Union and Western countries. His talk was mainly built around cultural diplomacy and transnational networks. The lecturer stressed that the Cold War was a significant stimulus for art internationally and among other things meant spreading cultural influence. Dr Simo Mikkonen argued that cultural Cold War might be studied at two levels – official and unofficial when the first implied propaganda and state vision of art while the second meant personal perceptions and feelings. Focusing on artists and their communication (which was more intensive and much less interfered with the political factor than we used to think) enables us to examine the attitudes and visions of the other behind the Iron Curtain.
Justin Ramsey and David Damtar, first-year students of Master Program in Applied and Interdisciplinary History