Historical Voyage across Europe
Undergraduate history students of HSE in St. Petersburg, research assistants of the Centre of Historical Studies, and members of the research and study group ‘Applied Geoinformatics in the Humanities’ recently visited Heidelberg University.
The group included students Yana Kitaeva, Alexander Kuchinsky, Valentina Smirnova, Alexandra Egorenko, Oleg Kudinov, and Sergey Mikhailov, as well as Ivan Sablin, research fellow at the HSE Centre of Historical Studies.
Heidelberg University has come first among German universities in the QS international ranking for many years. Students participated in several events organized by the German hosts together with Ivan Sablin, a graduate of the doctoral programme and associated member at the Heidelberg University Cluster of Excellence ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’.
On May 21, 2015, HSE history students and students of the Heidelberg University Centre for Eastern European History presented their papers in English as part of the research seminar ‘New Studies in East European, Russian and Eurasian History’ chaired by Professor Tanja Penter and Ivan Sablin. The papers covered a wide range of topics on Eurasian history in 19th – 21st centuries. After the seminar, German and Russian students discussed their experience of university studies, and the specifics of undergraduate and master’s programmes as well as student life in Russia and Germany. Professor Tanja Pentre and Ivan Sablin talked about a possibility of turning the seminar into a regular academic event for undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students of the two universities.
Sergey Mikhailov, 3rd-year student:
‘It was very interesting for me to talk to German students, to share impressions of the approaches to higher education in Russia and Germany. I was surprised to find out that education is not divided by years of study for German students, as it is in Russia: they say ‘I’m in the third semester, in the fourth semester etc.’ This is because each semester they are free to choose the subjects, and if a subject turns out to be useful and interesting, they can continue studying it in the next semester, or, in the opposite case, abandon it. I was also impressed by the amount of time German students are given for writing papers: there might be one or two months without any lectures or homework – only working on their paper. I believe that this approach is very effective in terms of preparing them for further work in the academic field, since writing a big serious paper requires a lot of effort and time’.
Valentina Smirnova, 3rd-year student:
‘The seminar in Heidelberg was useful for me, because my discussions with German students revealed some new questions that I can add to my topic. In addition to that, it was exciting to find out about their research projects and to better understand what issues are most topical among German students today’.
On May 22, 2015, Ivan Sablin, Yana Kitaeva, Alexander Kuchinsky, Oleg Kudinov, and Sergey Mikhailv participated in a historical geoinformatics research seminar ‘Historical GIS: The Problem in Time and Space’. Ivan Sablin spoke on ‘Historical Geographic Information Systems beyond Time and Space’. The seminar was organized by Kilian Schultes, Lukas Loos, and Ivan Sablin, researchers at the Heidelberg University. As part of the discussion following the presentation, participants of GIS clubs in St. Petersburg and Heidelberg presented their current research projects and shared their experiences.
On the same day, Alexandra Egorenko and Valentina Smirnova attended a lecture on Russian literature by Mikhail Bezrodny, lecturer at the Heidelberg University Slavic Institute, who also advised Alexandra Egorenko. Alexander Kuchinsky, Yana Kitaeva, and Ivan Sablin met Anna Andreeva, researcher at the Cluster ‘Asia and Europe in a Global Context’ and a leading expert in Japanese history. Anna Andreeva consulted Alexander Kuchinsky.
Alexandra Egorenko, 3rd-year student:
‘At Heidelberg, I was very impressed by Mikhail Bezrodny’s lecture on Russian literature for German students, one of whom advised me to go the former for a consultation. It was exciting to see familiar texts from a new perspective, since we, who live to some extent inside the cultural code where these works were created, have certain pre-settings for their perception. These pre-settings can be deconstructed by means of studying Russian literature as a foreign one, deciphering the diffuse metaphors and ambiguous epithets. The main characters in Ivan Bunin’s ‘Dark Alleys’ were a revelation to me, since they were interpreted completely differently as compared to my studies at school. Bezrodny also agreed to answer some questions on the topic of my research (how literature characters influence self-identification strategies and personality formation) and gave me some useful advice that helped better formulate my research problems and narrow the range of necessary sources’.
On May 23, 2015, the trip participants went on an excursion to Wissembourg in France. The city of Wissembourg (or Weissenburg) is in Alsace – a key region for French-German relations. As part of the excursion, the participants viewed some architectural monuments from the Middle Ages and early Modern period, and discussed the cultural hybridity of the region, as well as issues of historical memory and national identity building in modern and contemporary periods.
On May 24, 2015, Valentina Smirnova, Alexandra Egorenko, and Ivan Sablin went to Vienna, where they attended public and private cultural institutions, including the Belvedere palaces, the Albertina museum, the Leopold Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, Hundertwasser House and the Vienna State Opera. The visitors saw various ways of organising museum space and working with collections, and examined how modernist and post-modernist trends developed in world culture through the example of visual and audiovisual sources, and also discussed the interrelations between arts, history, and politics. It’s worth saying that the trip to Vienna also allowed the participants to collect valuable material for individual research projects.
Alexandra Egorenko, 3rd-year student:
‘The trip to Vienna was very useful, since we attended some of the most famous art museums not only in Europe, but globally. In these places, we saw some key works of the early 20th century. My research interests are related to this period, and that’s why it was particularly important for me to see how the trends I study were embodied in visual aids. In addition to that, the opportunity to see paintings, graphic works and sculptures by foreign artists widens the borders of a researcher’s imagination and often allows us to look at objects of study from a completely different perspective, seeing them in a different context. I believe that it’s very important for a historian to understand how the arts developed, and not only during the period they study. I see the time framework of ‘modernity’ as very flexible: can we see the art of 1960s as something contemporary? The answer to this question can help define the role of this historical period in what is happening today. For example, my acquaintance with the art of Viennese Actionism lead me to a conclusion that modern destructive trends in arts and mass culture are continuing the work of those artists, which means that their epoch is much closer to us than it may seem at first sight’.
Valentina Smirnova, 3rd-year student:
‘In one of the halls of the Leopold Museum, photos and paintings of 1890s-1910s portraying women were exhibited. The images were selected by the keepers in order to demonstrate how representation of women changed over time. It seemed to me that on the photos of 1890s women were rather an object used as a tool to implement the artistic idea. The later works, such as by Egon Schiele, demonstrate a more emancipated view of women’.
The whole trip was organized by students themselves, and they demonstrated good leadership and organization skills as well as a good command of English. All the presented papers are of a level suitable for a large international academic conference. The participants would like to express their gratitude to Heidelberg colleagues, including Prof. Tanja Penter, Kilian Shultes, and Felicitas Fischer von Weikersthal.