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Unit information: Between Utopia and the Everyday: St Petersburg - Moscow in 2018/19

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Unit name Between Utopia and the Everyday: St Petersburg - Moscow
Unit code RUSS30080
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Connor Doak
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Russian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will be taught by Professor Andreas Schönle

In a country that remained predominantly agrarian until the twentieth century, the two alternating capitals Moscow and St. Petersburg have always assumed an enormous importance as sites of interaction and trade, but also as beacons of Russia’s religious and cultural orientation. Thus their residents and visitors inhabited spaces that were saturated with symbols and permeated with meaning. Dostoevsky called St. Petersburg “the most abstract and intentional city in the world,” meaning thereby that its inhabitants were caught in a rationalist attempt to remake the world. He also noted that urban dwellers were “an accidental tribe” cut off from their traditional culture and co-existing with strangers.

How did the two Russian capitals attempt to transform the behaviour and identities of their residents and what were the competing cultural programmes Moscow and St. Petersburg articulated through their designs and their monuments? How did residents attempt to appropriate these ambitious and alien cities and make them home, and how did they handle the social, ethnic, and religious differences that divided them? How were the two cities represented in literature and art, given that they were themselves artistic projects?

In this unit we will approach these questions through a broad analysis of the development of St Petersburg and Moscow from the eighteenth century to the present, seen primarily through the prism of the literature and art they inspired. We will also pay attention to issues of urban development, focusing not only on changes in the urban fabric, but also on the ways in which architecture and certain institutions aimed to forge human behaviour and identity. Finally, we will discover a range of different disciplinary approaches to urban studies, from anthropology to architectural history to film studies.

Sources include fiction, memoirs, plays, poems and a range of visual artefacts (monuments, engravings, photographs, films), which will be read alongside various approaches to urban studies.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, a student will be able to:

1) demonstrate a high degree of understanding of texts and images from the eighteenth century to the present and articulate this orally and in writing;

2) use an appropriate range of cultural and historical criticism through which to interpret such material

3) articulate an advanced understanding, appropriate to Level H, of the works’ relationship to the historical and cultural context

4) demonstrate familiarity with a range of disciplinary approaches to urban studies and understand the methodological issues around them

5) demonstrate an appropriate level of analytical skills in reading texts

6) demonstrate an appropriate level of analytical skills in reading images.

Teaching details

1 x 2 hour weekly seminar

Assessment Details

One 3000-word essay (50%), testing ILO 1- 6

One two-hour exam (50%), consisting of (a) an analysis of a visual artefact and (b) an essay, testing (a): ILO 2, 3 and 6; (b): ILO 1-5.

Reading and References

Primary Texts

Alexander Pushkin. Mednyi vsadnik'/The Bronze Horseman. Edited with Introduction, Notes, Bibliography and Vocabulary by Michael Basker (London: Bristol Classical Press. 2003).

Nikolai Gogol, Nevskii prospect

Aleksandr Griboedov, Gore ot uma

Andrei Belyi, Peterburg

Lydia Ginzburg, “Zapiski blokadnogo cheloveka”

Works by Etienne Falconet, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Pavel Shillingovskii, Boris Smirnov

Generation P, movie by Viktor Ginzburg (2011)

Secondary Reading

Solomon Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History (New York: Free Press, 1997).

Iu.M. Lotman, “The symbolism of St Petersburg and the semiotics of space,” Universe of the Mind. A semiotic Theory of Culture, trans. by Ann Shukman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990). 191-202.

Andrew Kahn, Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman. 'A critical study of The Bronze Horseman and its poetic form (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1998).

Katerina Clark, Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995).

Vladimir Papernyi, Architecture in the Age of Stalin: Culture Two (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Olga Shevchenko, Crisis and the Everyday in Postsocialist Moscow (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009).

Andreas Schönle, Architecture of Oblivion: Ruins an Historical Consciousness in Modern Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011.