The program for Russian and Eastern European Studies is expanding this fall to include a focus on Eurasian studies.
The MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies announced the expansion on Sept. 10, saying the new program will provide students with opportunities to learn about relations between Eurasia and the rest of the world, propelled by new guest speakers and recent additions to the department’s faculty members. Douglas Rogers, the faculty director of the program, said that new hires — such as Sergei Antonov, a specialist in the history of Russia who joined Yale two years ago — helped foster discussions that led to the expansion.
“It’s an increasing set of conversations,” Rogers said. “Having a program allows us to bring in more guest speakers. It allows us to bring in visiting faculty, it allows us to have people take exciting new courses.”
One of those courses is “Post-Pravda: Truth, Falsehood, and Media in (post-)Socialism and Beyond,” taught by Dominic Martin, a lecturer and postdoctoral fellow who worked as a research fellow in St. Petersburg before coming to Yale. The course, taught in the wake of Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump, establishes today’s era of “post-truth” and explores the meaning of the term in the context of the media and contemporary politics. Rogers also explained that a visiting political scientist from Russia will be teaching two courses on Russian politics and the media, starting in spring 2019. \
Antonov, a Russian history professor, explained in an interview that typical Russian and Eastern European Studies programs usually draw a line at countries like Poland and Hungary. Yale’s expansion, he said, will extend study to countries like Ukraine, Kazakhstan and surrounding states, allowing for a more globalized perspective.
Rogers also emphasized the importance of the program in a global context, remarking on the differences between the new project and typical area studies curriculums. In particular, he noted the importance of Russian affairs in American politics.
“Whatever topics you’re thinking about in this part of the world, [whether] it’s politics in the media, politics in social media, populism, inequality, the development of capitalism, all of these elements that one might study in Eastern Europe or Russia are the pressing issues of all of us,” he said. “We’re still studying the topics that are relevant elsewhere, as this post-Pravda course demonstrates, like the ways in which Russian political discourse and American political discourse seem to be entangled.”
Williams College Russian professor Julie Cassiday — the president of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the premier international organization dedicated to research and teaching about the areas within its purview — said that Yale’s decision to expand its program in this way is a “recognition of the need to provide students with more opportunities to study post-Soviet and post-socialist space.”
Cassiday said that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the field of Russian Studies has evolved to encompass areas in Central Asia and Europe once influenced or controlled by Soviet Russia, and that Yale’s expansion will put the University’s students and faculty members at the vanguard of study about those regions.
Cassiday also mentioned comparable programs elsewhere in the United States, listing Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Because of the expansion, Yale will be able to join this network of preexisting departments and add to the current discourse on the area, Cassiday said.
“It’s exciting to me … to hear the good news that Yale is supporting a wider range of teaching, study and research of the region than ever before,” Cassiday said.
It is not just faculty members who have high hopes for the project — students are excited as well. Marimar Calisto Pitta ’22, a prospective Russian and Eastern European studies major, said the expansion will allow her to study the influence of Russian culture on areas beyond Eastern Europe, most notably Central Asian countries like Tajikistan.
Rogers emphasized that he has high hopes for the program moving forward, saying that the department’s next steps include finding guest speakers or new faculty members with an expertise in Central Asia.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org