This summer, my colleagues and I took part in a week-long workshop organized by the University of Michigan and the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow. Through this program, we were given the opportunity to meet with literary professionals, anthropologists, and other cultural experts from both the academic world and the private sector. The experience allowed us to further our own academic interests, explore areas which were outside of our fields, and foster professional connections between our university and various academic institutions in Russia.
For me, the highlights of the workshop were the opportunities we had to meet with prominent cultural institutions outside of the traditional university setting. On our first day of the workshop, we met with Galina Yuzefovich, a prominent literary critic who currently writes a weekly column at the Russian news organization Meduza. Galina’s lecture on contemporary Russian literature focused on notable post-Soviet authors as well as the literary market in Russia today. While she acknowledged the problems of studying contemporary literature, she also provided several ideas for approaching the field, including specific recommendations of authors and, more generally, suggesting we pay more attention to the popular literary market. As someone who has long been interested in exploring contemporary Russian writing, it was refreshing to talk with someone who was actively engaging in this area and was extremely familiar with the Russian literary world - both in terms of what was being written and what people were actually reading.
Another high point of the workshop was a meeting with the online university Arzamas. Since starting as a podcast in the early 2010s, they have recently undergone a period of rapid expansion which has included branching out into a paid subscription service, launching a YouTube channel, and hosting live events in Moscow. I have been listening to Arzamas’ audio lectures since I was an undergraduate student, and it was an honor to meet with them in person. Arzamas’ work is fascinating from a professional standpoint, as the organization has essentially made its living by finding a way to bring academic lectures and materials to the public at large. To me, Arzamas stands as an example of how we as scholars can convert our specialized knowledge into forms that are more accessible to a popular audience.
Through these meetings and other lectures we attended, the workshop provided us with numerous opportunities to explore many areas of the Russian academic world and build connections that will hopefully aid us as we continue our academic careers. As a whole, it was a very beneficial experience, and it helped me think about my future research interests and how I might incorporate other fields into my own studies.