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The Master's in 'Global and Regional History' Trains Specialists in History and Anthropology

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

The Master's in 'Global and Regional History' Trains Specialists in History and Anthropology


What are historians engaged 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, historians studying the history of the USA should take into account how the Cold War influenced the country's economy, culture and social history. The same goes for almost all 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. I chose the Department of Ethnography at the Faculty of History. My initial interest in anthropology was related to a school interest in Native Americans. 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 have worked a lot with the indigenous peoples of Siberia, but my interest is not limited to them. I have been studying practices of gift-giving to heads of state. In this research, I rely on the theory of gift exchange founded by Marcel Mauss at the beginning of the 20th century. Prof. Mauss noticed that gifts form relationships: the other person reflects on why they received this gift and how to give a return gift correctly. It works not only at the interpersonal level, but at the public level as well—as in relations between rulers and subjects.

You worked at the University of Cambridge for a very long time. What did you gain from this experience?

— The University of Cambridge has the strongest department of social anthropology in the UK. Brilliant scientists work there, and 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 anthropologists started to use the global context in order to understand cultural differences and traditional societies. For instance, it became clear that it is impossible to study Australian Aborigines, Indigenous Amazonians, 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 we primarily look 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—the epoch known as the Anthropocene. This issue fits into ecological anthropology. We even have a course about it, where we look at how different societies survive in the wild and interact with each other.

Another direction is multispecies ethnography. Anthropologists look at people in conjunction with animals, insects, and plants. I am not joking—there are studies about people and mosquitoes and there are certainly ones about people and viruses.

Anthropologists study what the digital world is and how constant interaction 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 and the emergence of decryption of enemy messages.

Which applied fields do anthropologists work in?

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

In marketing, thanks to their research methods, anthropologists often understand the market much better than economists 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—one which only a few people know about, unfortunately. However, this is the potential anthropologists have in employment outside of academic institutions.

What courses will students study?

— There are three different courses on global history. The first one is taught by Evgenii Egorov and Igor Kuziner. The course focuses on how imperial formations of the Modern Age concede to more modern political systems based on nation states. The students study how the transition from the Age of Empire to the Age of Nation States happened. The second course on global history is more about economics. It is called 'Global Inequality'. The course explains capitalism, its facets, its history, and how to understand global inequality in the contemporary world. I have already mentioned the last course—it deals with the Anthropocene Epoch. 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 a 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 kind of knowledge will students gain?

— Our programme is a research-based 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. Graduates of the programme are now studying at the University of Oxford, Princeton University, the European University Institute, the Free University of Berlin and, of course, in our joint 'Global History' programme with the University of Turin.

But we also try to provide our students with enough knowledge to continue their careers in more applied fields. That is our second priority. Talking about applied professions, anthropologists and historians play a significant role in consulting and resolving conflicts—religious, ethnic and class-specific ones. 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 the historical roots of contemporary problems are. Our graduates will also be able to work in this sphere—in museums, publishing companies, exhibitions, and marketing.

 Do students have opportunities to undertake internships?

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

What books can applicants read to prepare for enrolment?

— You don't have to read every book on the list; you can choose what interests you. These books explain the areas of 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.