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College of Arts and Sciences Invites All to Reimagine Russia's Realms

by Sarah Geegan


The UK College of Arts and Sciences has launched the third chapter in its Passport to the World Initiative, opening doors for students to "reimagine Russia's realms."

Proceeding from the college's years of South Africa and China, the year of Russia, "Reimagining Russia's Realms" amounts to a year-long exploration of culture and history that shaped Russia and the many other homelands of Eurasia. The initiative provides opportunities for the UK and Lexington community to learn about Russia and its neighbors in a multidisciplinary way, through events that range in focus from literature and history, to politics and the environment.

Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby, chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures (MCLLC); Cynthia Ruder, professor in MCLLC; and Karen Petrone, chair of the Department of History, have taken the lead in planning the initiative.

"Russia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, one of the countries that is richest with natural resources, and it frequently is one of the countries about which Americans know the least or are misinformed," Ruder said. "So, the Year of Russia provides the opportunity to share not only the expertise that is based at UK, but to also invite a variety of speakers and performers to participate and fill out this picture of what Russia was, is and perhaps will be."

Though the first events began in September, the month of October is stocked full of events that focus on different perspectives of Russian culture.

Robin Haarr from Eastern Kentucky University will lecture on human trafficking in the former USSR Wednesday, Oct. 17 in the Chemistry-Physics Building; and Stacy Closson from  UK Patterson School of Diplomacy will lecture on Russia's energy policies vis-a-vis the world gasoline market Friday, Oct. 19. For a full calendar of events, click here.

"It's important to emphasize that we are going to explore Russia through such a wide variety of perspectives, that people should be able to think more creatively and in new ways about Russia," Petrone said. "There will be lectures by historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and sociologists, as well as focus on literature, folklore, animation, theater productions, music, the environment, politics, journalism and religion."

Events will take place off-campus as well. Daniel Prior, a historian from Miami University in Ohio, will lecture at Keeneland on a Kirghiz historical poem about an 1864 horse-stealing raid on Oct. 31. This event is co-sponsored by the Keeneland Library. The Land of Tomorrow Gallery will also host an art exhibition in February.

The initiative includes course components as well — chances for students to earn credit for exploring Russia in multidisciplinary ways.

The fall course: A&S 100-401: "Crime and Punishment in Russia’s Realms," taught by Ruder and professor Janet Stamatel from the Department of Sociology, will examine issues of crime and punishment from literary, social science and creative perspectives in Russia and surrounding countries from the 1920s to the present.

Utilizing film studies and analysis of contemporary literature, the course will also include several guest speakers with expertise in different types of crime including homicide, organized crime and human trafficking. These lectures are also open to the public and can be found on the calendar of events.

"Students have lots of preconceived notions about Russia," Stamatel said. "So when we say 'Russia and crime,' they think immediately of organized crime and things they hear about in films or on TV, so being able to get them to fully appreciate some of the science behind that is exciting."

The spring course, "War and Peace in Russia's Realms," taught by Petrone, will also offer a cross-disciplinary analysis of Russia, particularly focusing on the nation's history but also including literary studies, film studies and military history.

"Both of these courses will explore the intersection of cultures and the wealth of cultural heritage that you find in this region of the world," Rouhier-Willoughby said.

The year will culminate in opportunities to physically explore Russia's realms, through two faculty-sponsored education abroad experiences. Rouhier-Willoughby and Ruder will both offer courses in Russia.

"The program is open to the community along with current students, and it involves cruising the Volga River and visiting important cities and sites along its banks," Rouhier-Willoughby said. "Participants will see St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as some important historical mid-size or smaller-size cities. There will be some land expeditions in addition to the time on the boat."

The two courses focus on Russian folklore and Russian cultural history. A guest lecturer will provide comparative study of the Mississippi and Volga Rivers, and the program will facilitate excursions to historical locations and museums.

For more information on this education abroad program, click here.

The organizers said they will continue to add events to the calendar throughout the year, in an effort to provide as many perspectives on Russia's realms as possible.

"This array of scholars that we are bringing in, we hope, will serve as models for our students of what one can do career-wise and how various people look at the same issue from different vantage points," Ruder said. "I think in terms of enhancing students' critical thinking skills, which is one of the goals of undergraduate education here at UK, that this diversity of experience will enable those students to develop those skills even more intensively."

For more information on Reimagining Russia's Realms, click here.

To listen to a podcast, produced by the College of Arts and Sciences, in which Ruder and Stamatel discuss A&S 100-401: "Crime and Punishment in Russia’s Realms," click here.

The Passport to the World initiative is sponsored by the A&S Advisory Board.