The Russian city of St. Petersburg offers an excellent laboratory for cultural historians. Conjured up from reclaimed marshland as Czar Peter the Great’s “window to the West,” the city bears witness to its various historical identities as imperial capital and cultural showcase, heroic survivor of a 872-day siege in World War II, and strategic Soviet naval center. Today those identities co-exist alongside post-Soviet democracy and capitalism, and residents are grappling with their cultural memories as they shape a new urban environment.
“Cultural historians believe that communities construct their sense of the past through memory vehicles such as books, films, museums and commemorations,” says Associate Professor of Russian Studies Alexander Prokhorov. “In post-Soviet Russia, historians and social activists have urged a re-evaluation of the cultural memory in a contemporary context.”
Prokhorov and other W&M faculty have teamed up to offer students the year-long program, “Visualizing St. Petersburg: Urban Environment in Transition.” In spring 2011, students took a one-credit preparatory course to learn various methodological approaches to conducting research, choose their summer sites for individual research projects and become familiar with media-production techniques and equipment. Teaching continued during the six-week summer session in St. Petersburg, where the students carried out their exploratory research. In a final one-credit fall course, the students will use written, audio, and visual media to produce cohesive narratives of the urban environments they studied in St. Petersburg.
The St. Petersburg project has been awarded two faculty fellowships in student-faculty research by the College’s Reves Center for International Studies.