Professor Iurii Krivosheev is the founder of the school of historical studies of Russia’s regions at St Petersburg University. He talked about why not only international students can be interested in studying the history, geography, culture and international relations of the regions of Russia, but also Russians themselves.
Please tell us about the creation of the programmes ‘Russian Studies’ and ‘Russian Region Studies.’
These educational programmes stem from the time-honoured traditions of the Faculty of History (now the Institute of History) of St Petersburg University. Domestic and universal history has always been studied and taught by the best specialists in their fields. All history specialisation programmes included a course in Russian history. The course duration was up to three years divided into five to six semesters. However, the problems of Russian regional history were hardly ever addressed. For example, let us consider the regional studies of Siberia. This vast region played a huge role in the history of Russia. Yet, following the syllabus, we used to have only half a lecture available to introduce Siberian regional problems along with various other topics. The timing was, indeed, inadequate. Gradually, it became obvious that not only the country’s history should be studied, but also the history of its regions, including the cultural dimension of development. Hence, the idea of the in-depth teaching of the history of Russia was born. Thus, in the early 2000s, we developed and launched a pilot specialisation programme ‘Historical Regional Studies,’ followed by ‘Cultural and Heritage Tourism.’ Both programmes were met with enthusiasm by the students.
After a while, the restructuring of the Russian education system began, and undergraduate specialisation programmes became a thing of the past. Instead, bachelor’s and master’s programmes appeared. In fact, our initiatives fitted in well with the new format. All that was required of us was to create something distinctly different. And then the University administration came up with a proposal for two pilot programmes: a bachelor’s programme ‘Russian Studies’; and a master’s programme ‘Russian Region Studies.’ The programmes were to be independent yet complementary. Moreover, initially we were advised to design them specifically for international students. They were considered to be the most likely candidates to apply, and ultimately enrol.
What was the rationale behind the decision to open admission only for foreigners?
We used to wonder about that as well. There is no doubt that international students are interested in these programmes. Yet, I consider it completely unjustified that our compatriots cannot enrol. Besides, the ‘compatriot category’ is understood in an extended sense, including Russian citizens and those coming from the CIS countries. I believe these programmes have true potential. Therefore, late last year we formally proposed that applicants from Russia and the CIS countries should be eligible to apply for these programmes.
What is unique about these educational programmes?
What is unique about these programmes is that many departments of our University participated in their creation. Historians were at the centre point of the design, but we worked closely with geographers, political scientists, and international affairs experts, and above all, with philologists. Not only do they participate as lecturers, but they also made some valuable suggestions regarding the programmes’ content. Based on their recommendations, the programmes include such non-trivial courses as: ‘Regional Studies Through Language,’ ‘Russian Identity,’ ‘Russian Communication Style,’ and, indeed, one of the most useful courses for international students – ‘History of Russian Literature’. There is also a long-term Practical Russian course. A number of courses are taught in English.
We adopted an integrated approach to the study of history, placing particular emphasis on the courses that illustrate Russian history from different perspectives. Thus, we included the courses: ‘Events and Personalities in Russian History’; ‘Peoples of Russia’; ‘Religions in Russia’; ‘Environment and Society in Russian History’; and even ‘Russian Cosmism’. Furthermore, the programmes ‘Russian Studies’ and ‘Russian Region Studies’ encompass a wide range of issues. They range from developing and functioning of power structures and administrative-territorial entities, to foreign relations of Russian regions, and Russia’s role in the globalised world today. Therefore, I would like to stress once again the interdisciplinary character of the new programmes. Experts in geography, political science and international relations – leading scholars and professors of St Petersburg University – were involved in the programme design.
Who do you think is more likely to demonstrate interest in these educational programmes – students from big cities or students from the regions of Russia?
In 2002, when the specialisation programme ‘Historical Regional Studies’ was launched, there was a rather small enrolment – about ten students. But geographically, they represented the whole of Russia and some adjacent countries. There were students from the Caucasus and Khakassia, and a few came from Kazakhstan. Only three students were residents of St Petersburg. Are the regions of Russia interested in the programme ‘Russian Studies’? Undoubtedly. Over the years, in the aforementioned specialisation programmes, we had some 500 graduates, and no one has been disappointed.
By the way, Russia, to a great extent, is represented by its regions in the educational programmes offered by the Institute of History of St Petersburg University. These include: Russian North and North-West; Central Russia and Moscow; the Volga region and the Caucasus; Central Asia; Siberia; and the Far East. All of them are studied separately and independently. Today, the Arctic theme has become rightfully highlighted; and we have a course focused on this region – we started planning it three years ago.
The admissions campaign for 2019/2020 academic year is about to start. Will it be possible to apply for the programmes ‘Russian Studies’ and ‘Russian Region Studies’ this year? How many students do you expect to enrol?
This year, these programmes are open to international students only. But we hope that from the year 2020 Russian citizens will be able to apply as well.
I want to stress that we would like to enrol more students in the bachelor’s programme ‘Russian Studies.’ There are numerous career options available for the graduates to pursue. They can work in education and in the public sector at both central, regional and municipal levels. Foreign citizens can find employment at embassies and consulates. The programme enables a broader range of historical disciplines to be studied. It includes academic disciplines, such as the Study of Sources, Archival and Library Science, and Museology. The students can also study practical subjects, such as Fundamental Principles of Excursion Studies and Management. Besides, they benefit from acquiring the necessary psychological and communication skills. The graduates can also become journalists or news media editors, as the programme includes the following courses: ‘Language of Mass Media’ and ‘Genres and Idiostyles of Russian News Media’. And indeed, experts in the field of regional studies are always in demand in the tourism industry. By the way, we have developed another master’s degree programme – ‘Cultural and Heritage Excursion Studies’. At present, it is undergoing evaluation, and we hope to launch it next year.