No rest for the weary!
The past two weeks have flown by as we’ve explored St Petersburg with our hosts Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Mayakovsky, Lenin and Pushkin, among others. BRIC students are starting the second part of their Russian adventure and the following post was written by Professor Brian Seitz, reflecting on his time this fall with BRIC.
Comrade Seitz reporting out from St. Petersburg, Russia!
Actually, in relation to the BRIC students, as a faculty member I am less of a comrade and more like a Professor Commissar. So is Professor Commissar Coyle. Rounding out the leadership triumvarite is our Staff Commander, Samantha Cooper.
As Professor Commissar, I can report that we have not yet had any student revolts, at least none that have occurred while I was paying attention. In fact, the students have functioned overall as a pretty cohesive group, easy to travel with, engaged, responsive, etc. I would also like to report that we have been moving at a pace that is quite intensive—no rest for the weary!—but has provided enough time for the students not only to prepare for our formal class sessions but also to explore some of the opportunities that this magnificent city has to offer.
Our classroom at the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg State University has become our academic home, and we have had some terrific sessions there (sometimes over six hours in the classroom per day!).
Organized thematically, the liberal arts course I have been teaching has focused on a timeframe of about one hundred years, beginning with the mid-nineteenth century, when Russian intellectuals and artists were exploring and representing problems of modern Russian culture, to the Bolshevik Revolution as an attempt to address those problems, and then the emergence of new problems, some of which might be viewed as new versions of old problems related to social hierarchies. Regarding the Soviet period, and following lectures on Marx’s concept of historical materialism, we studied Lenin’s understanding of the role of the state, and we read the poetry of Mayakovsky, who was a passionate communist and the most prominent poet of the early Soviet phase of Russian history. Then we engaged internal critiques of the communist system, including Bulgakov’s, Heart of a Dog. We have seen a couple of films and visited sites directly related to those films, which has helped make the material concrete.
Beginning with our pre-departure sessions, Coyle and I have talked about the significance of the 900 day siege of Leningrad in WWII and how it continues to play an integral role in the identity of the city. One advantage of Russian culture is that Russians tend to have a profound sense of their own history, including the experience of the Great Patriotic War. Yesterday, we visited the Siege Museum and then Piskarevskoye Cemetery, which contains the bodies of over half a million people who died during the siege, mostly of starvation (as many as 1.5 million inhabitants of this city died during that period).
I leave it to the students to ponder that dismal reality as they prepare to make the transition to a focus on the contemporary business climate in Russia.
As for me, although I look forward to meeting the freshmen I’ll be teaching on campus this semester, I am genuinely saddened by the fact that I must depart St. Petersburg on Sunday.
I will sign off with a quotation from Dostoevsky, who wrote, “To see everything, and to see clearly, one must be in Petersburg.” It is my hope that when this team of Babson students leaves St. Petersburg, they will see not only St. Petersburg and Russia but the whole world more clearly, or if not more clearly, at least with a bit more complexity.