University of Notre Dame

St. Petersbury: Myth and Reality

RU 33302/HIST 30479: St. Petersburg: Myth and Reality

From its inception in 1703 on the banks of the Neva River, St. Petersburg has embodied Russia’s search for a national identity. Founded by Peter the Great as Russia’s “Window on the West,” it has been championed by those who wished to ally Russia more closely with Western Europe and vilified by those who viewed such a connection as the undoing of native Russian culture. Starting in the early 19th century, St. Petersburg developed a rich tradition of writers, artists, composers, dancers, and filmmakers who focused on the question of the city’s dual nature within Russian society. Over the course of a semester, we will use this rich artistic heritage to investigate both the myth and reality of St. Petersburg and how they reflect Russia’s uneasy relationship with the West. Which political, social, and cultural values did the Russians appropriate from the West? How did this lead to the modernization of Old Russian culture? What is the “Russian soul”? What impact did revolution (1917) and war (World War II, or as the Russians call it, “The Great Fatherland War”) have on the Russian psyche? In seeking answers to these questions, we will read and view some of the greatest works of art produced in the 19th, and 20th centuries. Areas to be covered include literature (Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Bely, Blok, Mandelshtam, Akhmatova, and Zamyatin), painting (Repin, Surikov, Malevich. Kandinsky), and film (Eisenstein,). Artistic works will be supplemented with historical accounts, eyewitness reporting, memoir, and documentary footage.

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