Russian history centre set up

August 8, 2003

A centre for the study of imperial Russia gets off the ground this month, backed by a grant from the George Soros-endowed Central European University in Budapest.

The centre, funded through a $250,000 (£155,000) grant over three years, will bring together historians from Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Centre co-director Velikhan Mirzekhanov, dean of Saratov State University's history faculty, where the centre will be situated, said a key aim was to study the tsarist period through the focus of national and ethnic experiences of empire.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to rapid changes in the way Russian history was studied, Dr Mirzekhanov said, with the old divide between Soviet studies and the Romanov period that preceded it dissolving.

But he said historians of empire still tended to view events from the centre - from a Moscow or St Petersburg focus.

Dr Mirzekhanov said the centre's approach would concentrate on reading imperial history from the outside in, taking a perspective from its outskirts, from the history of those peoples and nations subjected to Russia's empire building.

Leading international experts on Russian history will teach and mentor a group of 30 young historians from Russia and neighbouring countries at annual summer schools over the next three years.

Dr Mirzekhanov said a new approach to imperial history was essential to a clearer understanding of the conflicts and tensions of the post-Soviet period: "The imperial legacy of today is the multitude of problems and conflicts we are experiencing in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Inter-regional conflicts, such as those seen in Tajikistan, the Caucasus and Georgia all have their roots in history."

Saratov State's history faculty has long experience of working with international partners. Paul W. Werth, a Russian history specialist from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, US, who will be at the summer school, said: "I'm thrilled by the creation of an international scholarly community that includes our Russian colleagues. The work we shall do in Saratov will build on and deepen earlier connections.

"Our goal is to analyse the imperial experience from a range of perspectives, using a range of analytical categories - centre-periphery, region, ethnicity, nationality, religion. The real challenge is for us to construct a history using elements of the approach to history 'from below'

and the activity of the state, government and elites."

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