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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Research Structure and Environment
The Department is unique among British departments of Russian studies in having established members of staff who are recognised specialists in Kievan, Muscovite and eighteenth-century Russia, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature and thought, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian history, Russian and Slavonic philology, offering a full range of undergraduate courses. All members of the Department are research-active and attract research students in their special fields. The University Preliminary Review Committee in its report in 1998 endorsed the research strategy of the Department, which was not to seek to form groups specialising, for instance, in the modern period but to encourage research across the whole spectrum of Russian culture, history and literature from the eleventh century to the present.
In effect, the members of the Department, together with the affiliated lecturers (one of whom is internationally known for her work on Dostoevskii and another well-known for his work on etymology), the College Research Fellows, and the research students, form a large working research group, united by their commitment to Russian and Slavonic culture and by the opportunities to meet on a regular basis and share the fruits and problems of their research. The Departmental Research Seminar is the forum where staff, students and visiting scholars meet on a regular basis, at least twice a term, but it is only one of the ways in which research interests are encouraged and developed.
In November 1999 there was held the first Elizabeth Hill Memorial Lecture, which is financed by funds from an appeal fund and which will bring to Cambridge every two years a distinguished scholar, who will additionally discuss his or her research at the departmental seminar during a week’s stay. The first lecturer was the Deputy Director of the State Hermitage, Dr Georgii Vilinbakhov.
Each term also sees a programme of visiting lectures delivered by distinguished scholars from many parts of the world, but particularly from Russia and Eastern Europe. For example, over the past two years Russian scholars lecturing in the Department have included, in addition to Vilinbakhov, Professor Lidiia Sazonova, Professor Sergei Ivanov, Dr Dmitrii Bulanin, and Professor Evgenii Anisimov, from various institutes of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow and St Petersburg, Professor Sergei Mironenko, Director of the State Archive of Russia, Moscow, Dr Aleksei Lidov, Director of the Research Centre for Eastern Christian Culture, Moscow. Some of these scholars, and yet others (e.g. Dr Mikhail Robinson, Academy of Sciences, Dr Oksana Yurchyshyn from the National Museum, Lviv, Ukraine, and Professor Eliza Malek from the University of Lodz, Poland) have come to Cambridge under the auspices of the British Academy and similar institutions to work for longer periods in Cambridge, to consult with members of the Department, and more often than not, have addressed the Research Seminar about their research.
At times, the lectures form part of a series, aimed at attracting wider interest in the university community: thus, for instance, in 1996 there were four lectures on ‘Modern Russian Art and Architecture’ and in 1998 a special series was organised to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Department. The academic year 2000-2001 has seen such initiatives given a new purpose and format: a series of eight lectures over two terms given by scholars from within the University and outside (including USA) on aspects of the theme ‘All the Russias: Discourses of National Identity in Russian Culture’, which will result in an edited collection of articles. The aim of this and future series is to provide a thematic focus across periods and disciplines for both Departmental and invited lecturers. In addition, there have taken place in the past few years a number of short conferences, organised by, or with the assistance of, a member of the Department: the most recent examples are Dr Kelly’s International Symposium on ‘National Identity in Post-Soviet Russia’ at King’s in 1999 and Dr Widdis’s ‘Tracking the Train in Russian and Soviet Cinema’ at Trinity in 2000.
An essential aspect of the research profile is the programme of regular lectures and seminars on an even wider range of topics, including anthropology, geography, politics and history of science, offered by the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies (CamCREES), the umbrella organisation for co-ordinating activities in Russian and East European Studies in the University at large, which currently has three members of the Department on its steering committee. The senior research exchange arrangement with St Petersburg University has entered its second decade and facilitates research visits for staff and graduates to Russia and brings Petersburg scholars to Cambridge. The annual Report of CamCREES gives evidence of the great variety of research and teaching activity throughout the University in the area of East European studies, covering both staff and research students, and provides an impressive listing of publications.
The encouragement of postgraduate research and provision of a stimulating research environment are high on the list of priorities of the Department and of CamCREES. The Department continues to promote graduate recruitment through its web page, which highlights research opportunities at Cambridge, including the excellence of the Russian and East European holdings of the University Library and, to a lesser degree, of the Faculty and individual College libraries. The recent refurbishment of the Modern and Medieval Languages building has provided much needed computer facilities and a well equipped common room where graduates can meet and discuss their work. Although funding remains a major obstacle for many eminently suitable British candidates, research students from many countries are enquiring about research in the areas covered by the Department’s expertise. Currently and in the recent past, graduate students have come from the USA, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Germany and Russia. The Department has introduced a new Russian module into the Faculty’s MPhil programme, entitled ‘Text and Identity in Russian Culture’, which exploits the great chronological and cultural expertise of members of staff and provides a challenging stepping-stone to further research. All members of the Department are available to supervise students in their areas of expertise, and particular care is taken to provide students not only with forms of corporate identity as detailed earlier but with opportunities for advice and guidance, additional to that from the supervisor, from an officially designated Adviser. Many of our recent graduates in Russian and Research Fellows (of whom there have been five since 1993) occupy with distinction lectureships in British and other universities (e.g. Exeter, Sussex, London, Harvard, Madison, Rome). Although Czech is no longer on offer at Cambridge with the retirement of Mr Brusak, the last of a line of excellent graduates students he has supervised is about to submit her dissertation. Dr Tosi, who is a Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, is eloquent testimony to the research ethic and environment of the Department. Since completing her PhD under Professor Cross’s supervision at the end of 1997, she has published five articles in prestigious American and British journals and international conference proceedings.

Staffing Policy
A significant change in the Department’s staffing policy has been brought about by a strategic re-assessment of the Faculty’s teaching needs. In 1999 the Department ceased to be able to offer full undergraduate courses in Czech, hitherto taught by Mr Brusak on a non-established basis. With the impending retirement of Mr Gömöri it was decided that the Department would retain its Slavonic dimension — and at the same time strengthen its core provision in Russian — through the re-establishment of a post in Slavonic philology (last held by Dr Vlasto up to his retirement in 1983). The change in structure gives the Department’s teaching greater coherence. At the same time the retirement of Ms Kirillova has enabled the Department to deepen and broaden its research capacity in modern Russian culture.
The two new appointees, Dr Widdis (b. 1970) in 1998 and Dr Hansen (b. 1964) in 2000, have brought vital new blood to the Department, while adding in important ways to its teaching and research. Dr Widdis has filled the need in literature teaching for the modern period (nineteenth and twentieth centuries) created by Ms Kirillova’s departure and in addition, has introduced a much-needed Soviet film element to the Faculty paper on European cinema; she has taken a leading role in developing, and contributing teaching to, the Faculty’s MPhil module. Her research fields of Russian film and cultural studies, including concepts of ‘space’, are much in demand at international conferences and seminars. Dr Hansen’s appointment has enabled the Department to secure Dr Du Feu’s distinguished legacy of teaching in Russian and Slavonic philology. Apart from strengthening the Russian language areas of the Department, he is a specialist in Polish, allowing the possibility of the re-emergence of that language within the Department at some future stage. His expertise in linguistics has found an immediate sympathetic echo in the Department of Linguistics.
Both appointees receive strong departmental support through their experienced mentors (Dr Franklin and Dr Ward respectively) and through the Head of Department, Professor Cross, who is responsible for conducting their annual appraisal.
Research Strategy
The Department’s research strategy is reflected in its staffing policy and research structure. The Department is determined to build on its important recent research initiatives, both collectively and individually. It is hoped to make the thematic lecture series an annual or biennial event, dovetailing with the Elizabeth Hill lectures, and to continue to promote one-day colloquia and seminars on specific research topics. A major effort has been undertaken to promote graduate studies in the Department: a new graduate prospectus has been prepared for circulation world-wide to Russian and Slavonic Departments.

All members of the Department have under contract or are beginning projects, which, it is hoped, will be published within the next few years. These include ‘The Command Structure of the Soviet Communist Party, 1920-1950’ (Stanford University Press) (Dr Howlett); ‘Russian Art and Civilisation’ (Wiedenfeld and Nicolson) (Dr Franklin); ‘Alexander Herzen: An Intellectual Biography’ (Dr Kelly); ‘Homage to St Petersburg: British Perceptions of the City (1703-2003)’ (Professor Cross); a long-term (retirement) project on Anglo-Hungarian Cultural Relations, 1541-1741 (Mr Gömöri); a historiographical work on the First World War (Dr Ward); ‘Aleksandr Medvedkin’ (IB Tauris) and ‘Projections of the Soviet Space: Film and the Creation of a New Continent’ (Yale UP) (Dr Widdis); ‘Gebrauchsgrammatik des Polnischen’ (Dr Hansen).

Self-Assessment
The Department has in the course of the decade covered by the RAE changed considerably, transforming itself into an efficient teaching unit and becoming very productive in terms of published research. It has undertaken, both on its own initiative and in concert with Faculty reforms, a basic overhaul of its courses, and has sought to create a research culture which is attractive to scholars at all levels. With regard to funding, it now has at its disposal the Dame Elizabeth Hill Fund which provides substantial grants for postdoctoral research (including visits to Slavonic countries) for pre-eighteenth-century specialists. A substantial number of the projects signalled in the 1996 RAE return was completed as planned, and many other major pieces of work in addition. Books were published by Cross, Kelly, Gömöri and Ward. Those promised by Franklin and Howlett are complete and due for publication in 2001. Dr Howlett’s ‘Building Paradise: A New History of Russia in the Twentieth Century’ was in fact finished by the end of 1999, when the retirement of Eltsin required a new chapter to assess his reign!


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Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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