The Topography of Imperial Power: The Political and Cultural Space of St Petersburg. International Summer School

The Topography of Imperial Power: The Political and Cultural Space of St Petersburg. International Summer School

Department of History Higher School of Economics in St Petersburg
St. Petersburg
Russian Federation
Vom - Bis
01.09.2020 - 22.09.2020
Department of History Higher School of Economics in St Petersburg

Russia’s Imperial history is full of contradictions. It’s one of forced expansions and peaceful colonisation, of ferocious conquests and non-violent territorial gains, tolerant coexistence and merciless repressions. As the empire expanded, a huge variety of people of different faiths and races found themselves in Russian territory and had to find ways to live together. The history of the empire begins in 1721, when Tsar Peter I was proclaimed Russian Emperor, and ends with the overthrow of the monarchy and the October revolution in 1917

Both before and after it, the Russian Empire was a military and ambitious power which played more often than not a significant role on the world stage. Strict centralism has, since the beginning of the 17th century, been the latest unswerving tendency in Russian history. All the threads of power without exception were concentrated at the centre - the metropolis - in the hands of the leaders. Centralised government, clearly, was considered essential to oppose both the centrifugal tendencies of a polyethnic society and threats from the outside world. This form of government seemed to be the only way forward. Any decentralisation, even federalism was understood to be a weakening and in itself a threat to the integrity of the state.

In these circumstances the capital took on a huge significance. All roads lead here, and all decisions were issued from here. All institutions and establishments of the law and executive branches of power were here, politically and physically. Between 1712 and 1918 Saint Petersburg was a city of tsarist palaces, ministries, government bodies, the higher organs of the Russian Orthodox Church, army barracks, and the residences of the most powerful aristocratic families.

Their lives were closely entangled. Political actors met and discussed things with one another. Couriers rushed to deliver despatches, decisions were taken in political salons and from the second half of the 19th century officials and politicians in government institutions were connected by telegraph and telephone lines. All possible communication threads created a fraught political space in which events in the empire were reflected as in a prism. The topography of that political space is the subject of study at the summer school.

The Summer School is designed for students of social sciences and humanities. The curriculum will include Russian language courses for foreign students, presentations, workshops, partially held in Saint Peterburg’s public space, and master classes, as well as a special cultural program in the city. The summer school welcomes students from all foreign universities. Admission to the school is also open to students of the Saint Petersburg campus on a competitive basis.

The Summer School 2020 is organized by the Department of History in St.Petersburg ( in cooperation with the Department of the History of Eastern Europe at the Georg-August University of Göttingen (

Students who wish to attend the summer school should send a motivation letter and a completed form to Professor Pavel Vasilyev

Further information is available on the programme website Go East, German Academic Exchange Service (

Requirements: knowledge of Russian is not essential as all the lectures, seminars and excursions will be conducted in English. A basic knowledge of the history of the country and of contemporary Russia are desirable, but not essential.


The HSE summer school comprises an intensive course in Russian language (students are divided into groups for beginners and advanced levels), seminars and lectures on Topography of Imperial Power: the Political and Cultural Space of Saint Petersburg, and excursions. The main thrust of the summer school is on the theme of the lectures. The mornings will be devoted to language classes with seminars and lectures in the afternoons and tourist excursions arranged around the lecture programme

Language classes: Once students arrive in St Petersburg, they will be divided into groups according to the level of their Russian. Qualified teachers with experience of teaching Russian to absolute beginners will be running the classes. There will be 2 - 3 hours spent learning Russian every day. Students will be taught speaking skills and a basic knowledge of specialised vocabulary.

Thematic course: the thematic seminar is at the centre of the summer school, and is taught professors of HSE and Georg-August University of Göttingen. Participants will be sent a reading list in advance to help them to prepare. In the framework of the thematic course the participants should write an essay (4-5 pages).

Lecture programme: Leading historians, political scientists and economists will be lecturing at the summer school on the history of Saint Petersburg and on the city in the present, about the complex inter-relations between the political institutions of the empire and the contemporary transformational processes in Russia.

Excursions: Saint Petersburg is a European metropolis with an impressive array of monuments which reflect the history of the city and of Russia as a whole. For the summer school the city is both a magnificent backdrop and an object of close examination in seminars and excursions.

HSE will give an official certificate to all students who complete the summer school successfully. If you take part, and on condition you present your own paper, you can earn 5 ECTS credits.


Pavel Vasilyev

190008 St. Petersburg, 17 Promyshlennaya Ulitsa