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What Specialists the Master's Programme 'Global and Regional History' Prepares

The Master's programme 'Global and Regional History' has two educational tracks: historical and anthropological. The main goal of the programme is to prepare graduates to continue their academic careers. However, the students will also be able to work in the more applied fields: in museums, publishing companies, exhibitions, and marketing. Find out which courses await students and why the programme rejects traditional division into Russian and world history in the interview with Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov, the programme's Academic Supervisor.

What Specialists the Master's Programme 'Global and Regional History' Prepares


Prof Ssorin-Chaikov, could you tell us what historians engage in at the moment?

— On the one hand, historians are interested in microhistory: how the stories of individuals, families, and social groups fit into the context of the society and time. But they also study the context of these micro-processes themselves—global history. For instance, if you are interested in the Soviet or American society of the mid-20th century, it is not enough for you to understand the structure of only one society, you have to cover a wider landscape of social interactions. In our programme, we take an interest in both of them.

We also rejected the traditional division between Russian and world history. For example, if one studies the history of the USA, the historian should take into account how the cold war influenced the country's economy, culture and social history. The same goes for almost all the other regions—sometimes the biography of one person can influence the way we understand the whole broad context.

How did your interest in anthropology begin?

— I became an anthropologist back in the Soviet Union when I went to study at Moscow State University in the faculty of history and chose the Department of Ethnography. My initial interest in anthropology was related to the typical school interest in American Indians. This motivated me to search for sciences which would let me study such a society. I realised that it was ethnography in particular, but if we speak an internationally accepted language—social and cultural anthropology.

I worked a lot with the indigenous peoples of Siberia, but my interest does not limit to them. I have been studying practices of gift-giving to heads of state. In these researches, I rely on the theory of gift exchange which was founded by Marcel Mauss at the beginning of the XX century. Prof Mauss noticed that gifts formed relationships: the other person reflects why they received this gift and how to make a return gift correctly. It works not only at the interpersonal level but at the public level as well—as in the relations between rulers and subjects.

You worked at the University of Cambridge for a very long time. What did it give you?

— The University of Cambridge has the strongest department of social anthropology in the UK. Brilliant scientists work there, I still keep in touch with them: they engage in the anthropology of ethics, political anthropology, digital anthropology, environmental issues and other equally acute problems. It is always interesting to maintain the discussion with such specialists and be aware of what new things are being done.

The programme offers two educational tracks: historical and anthropological. How are history and anthropology related?

— On the one hand, Russia defines anthropology as a part of historical sciences. On the other, in Western anthropology, there was a so-called historical turn when to understand the cultural differences and traditional societies, anthropologists started to use the global context. For instance, it became clear that it is impossible to study the Australian Aborigines, Amazonian Indians, and Siberian peoples without taking into account which empires they are integrated into. At the moment, these societies are studied in relation to things which are covered by the course of the history of the Modern age. At the same time, historians are actively mastering anthropological methods—fieldwork, for instance.

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor even launched a PhD programme where history and anthropology coexist. There are several similar programmes in Europe—for instance, in Jyväskylä, Finland, but in the first place, we look up to our colleagues in Ann Arbor and develop a similar concept in our Master's programme. But if the Michigan programme started with the historical anthropology of colonial empires, our focus is much wider. We are interested in the cold war, the history of the early Modern age and how to understand complex processes in the territory of the former USSR and Eastern Europe from an anthropological perspective.

What issues about the modern world do anthropologists study?

— One of the most topical issues is the adaptation of society in the context of climate changes—what is called Anthropocene. This issue fits in ecological anthropology. We even have a course about it, where we look at how different societies survive in the wildlife and interact with each other.

Another direction is multispecies ethnography. Anthropologists look at a person in conjunction with animals, insects, and plants. I am not joking, there are researches about people and mosquitoes and—for sure—about people and viruses.

Anthropologists study what the digital world is and how the constant work with gadgets affects our interrelations. This also has historical roots related to the history of the digital environment and the history of cybernetics. They date back to the Second World War when the decryption of enemy messages appeared.

Which applied fields do the anthropologists work in?

— I'll tell you about my colleagues—Western anthropologists. My coursemate from Stanford, Jenny Vizbell, got a job in the company Intel Corp. after the PhD programme. She studied the demand for promotional products in various communities. In this company, Vizbell founded a department of anthropology which another of our colleagues, Don Neifos from Cambridge, joined.

In marketing, thanks to their research methods, an anthropologist understands the market often much better than a simple economist because anthropologists see communities from the inside and never lose sight of the details. Sometimes this approach turns out to be more advantageous than statistical methods. That is why in modern economics, anthropologists have their own niche, about which, unfortunately, only a few people know. However, it is the potential which anthropologists have in employment outside of academic institutions.

Could you tell us about the courses which the students are going to study?

— There are three different courses on global history. The first one is taught by Evgenii Egorov and Igor Kuziner. The course focuses on the way how imperial formations of the Modern age concede to more modern political systems based on national states. The students study how the transition from the Age of Empire to the Age of nation states was happening. The second course on global history is more about economics. It is called 'Global Inequality'. The course explains what capitalism is, what facets it has, what its history is like and how to understand global inequality in the contemporary world. I have already mentioned the last course—it deals with Anthropocene. The course is delivered by Aleksandra Bekasova, a historian, and Lidiia Rakhmanova, an anthropologist.

Talking about anthropological courses, I should mention the course on multispecies ethnography by Xenia Cherkaev. Alexandra Kasatkina and I deliver the course on the anthropology of bureaucracy. I also teach the course 'Gifts of Empire' which is the closest to my research interests—both anthropological and historical.

Some courses in our programme work in tandem. For example, there is the course 'Аnthropology of Religion' where we look at religious diversity from the point of view of anthropological methods and theories. This course strongly resonates with the course on the history of science which explains how scientific discoveries and society influence each other. As you can see, in our programme, history and anthropology are closely interconnected.

What knowledge will the students gain?

— Our programme is a research one, the most important task for us is to prepare our students for PhD programmes and give them the most recent and up-to-date knowledge. The programme's graduates are now studying at the University of Oxford, Princeton University, European University Institute, Free University of Berlin and, of course, in our joint programme with the University of Turin 'Global History'.

But we also try to provide our students with enough knowledge to continue their careers in more applied fields. It is our second priority. Talking about applied professions, anthropologists and historians play a significant role in consulting and resolving the conflicts—religious, ethnic and class-specific. Besides, in Western science, there is a notion of 'public history' when a historian speaks not for other specialists, but for a wider audience. Historians explain how complex the modern world is from the point of view of social and cultural diversity and what historical roots the contemporary problems have. Our graduates will also be able to find themselves in this sphere—in museums, publishing companies, exhibitions, and marketing.

Will the students have a chance to undertake an internship?

— We provide our students with internships—everything depends on their interests. Usually, they are related to the specific research topics of the students—for some of them, it is important to undertake an internship in museums, and for others—in the archives That is why we always try to take into account the wishes of our Master's students. Talking about the museums, they are the Kunstkamera and the Russian Museum of Ethnography, the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg, the archive 'Prozhito' and others.

Can you recommend the applicants any books to read to prepare for the enrolment?

— You don't have to read all the books; you can choose what is interesting for you. These books explain what history and anthropology you can study in our programme. Here, a significant role is given to both classical texts by Fernand Braudel and Carlo Ginzburg, and the textbooks—'What is Anthropology?' by Thomas Eriksen.

Reading list

  1. Carlo Ginzburg, 'The Cheese and the Worms'.
  2. Bronisław Malinowski, 'Argonauts of the Western Pacific'.
  3. Fernand Braudel, 'The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II'.
  4. Immanuel Wallerstein, 'The Modern World-System' (For instance, the second volume Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600–1750).
  5. Thomas Eriksen, 'What is Anthropology?'.
  6. Alexei Yurchak, 'Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation'.