Over three years ago, Dr. Amanda Ewington of the Russian Studies Department and eight other Davidson professors embarked on a two-week immersive trip to Russia.
Tuesday, September 19th, these professors and many other Davidson faculty found themselves speaking as part of the “Revolution &” series, marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Davidson has been preparing for years to mark the centennial of the Russian Revolution, the 1917 uprising against the Tsarist autocracy that led to the rise of the Soviet Union.
The “Revolution & Spectacle” lecture on Tuesday, including presentations by Dr. Carole Kruger, Dr. Shaw Smith, and Karli Henderson, highlighted the theme of revolution through the history of Quebec during Expo ‘67, analysis of the painting “Liberty Leading the People,” and discussion of the Theatre Department’s production of “The Dragon,” respectively.
While the Revolution series is marking the centennial of the Russian Revolution, Ewington noted that “it is both marking the Russian Revolution and interrogating, investigating, … using the occasion to look at questions of revolution more broadly,” not celebrating.
Ewington also argued that the series’ multidisciplinary approach, having different perspectives on revolution presented by faculty across many departments “is really in the best tradition of liberal arts, where you’re looking at it through different disciplinary lenses.”
Dr. Roman Utkin, also of the Russian Studies Department as well as a participant in Studio R, the cohort of 9 professors who traveled to Russia during May of 2014, held that the importance of the Russian Revolution, along with the magnitude of its implications, makes it a prime topic of discussion from which to begin broader and deeper discussions along the theme of revolution.
Utkin stated, “The Russian Revolution as an event is one of the most pivotal and consequential events for the development of the 20th century. It determined the course of the 20th century because of the social upheavals, the rise of the Soviet Union, and how the West was finding and defining its identity vis-á-vis the Soviet Union, and sometimes against the Soviet Union.”
Ewington commented on Davidson’s series, saying, “It’s important to know that all over the world people are marking this [occasion]– it’s important context. It’s not a weird, esoteric thing Davidson decided to do– if anything, if we stand out it’s because we thought of it so early.”
Studio R traveled to Russia in order to gain more understanding and awareness about Russia within Davidson as well as to prepare for the centennial of the revolution. The name of the group, Ewington explained, pays homage to Davidson’s Center for Teaching and Learning’s Studio D. The group’s blog, which kept accounts of the trip and experiences, states that Studio R “turns to Russia itself as a creative laboratory of immersive trans-disciplinary intellectual exchange with colleagues, alumni, and Russian peers.”
Years in advance, the trip was priming Davidson for the centennial in 2017, culminating in the “Revolution &” series, art series like “Lenin Lives,” the revolution theme of the Humanities course, and more.
Utkin added, “[The series is] a two pronged initiative: on the one hand, it is the Russian revolution, and at the same time it is revolution as such as a phenomenon, hence the big theme for [humanities] is revolution. What is revolution, what [are] the political, economical, reasons and ramifications of revolutions? It’s really about understanding the present by studying the lessons of the past.”
Both Ewington and Utkin emphasized the importance of understanding the U.S. current condition in respect to the events of the Russian Revolution, since, according to Ewington, “There’s been renewed interest in Russia, but some of it bordering on caricature. Some people talk about a new Cold War with all the discussion of Russian meddling in the elections and that is of great concern, but we need expertise and nuance in those discussions. At the same time, for us as Russianists, we professionally lived through a period where people were just ignoring Russia all together. But traditionally, when Americans do remember Russia, it is often this sort of cartoon version, devoid of cultural, historical context.”
“The Russian side of this Russian Revolution initiative is very important in this historical moment in this country,” Dr. Ewington noted. The series seeks not only to inform the Davidson community about the Russian Revolution, but to also challenge the community to understand Russia complexly and from many perspectives.
“Frankly to me,” explained Utkin, “it is very important we make the Davidson community aware of Russia’s role in this particular historical moment, when our American society all of a sudden rediscovered that Russia exists on a map, not even [that it] exerts some sort of influence,” he chuckled, “but that it exists and it does things and has effects on other countries.”
Ewington and Utkin both underscored the importance of using this occasion and the “Revolution &” series to challenge Davidson community to understand and seek to learn about Russia more deeply, to “challenge binary thinking” and “taboo thinking, that it is ‘too hot to touch’” as Utkin said.
Ewington inquired, “How do we memorialize– is it a celebration to have a monument of Stalin, are you erasing history by removing it?” Questions like these can be considered through the lens of the Russian Revolution, argued Ewington. “Russians have been grappling with it for 25 years since the fall [of the Soviet Union]. We can be asking a lot about our own political moment with the same questions.”
The next event in the Revolution series is a lecture by Laurence Senelick of Tufts University entitled “A Dragon for All Seasons: On Evgeny Shvarts’s The Dragon” in Tyler-Tallman Hall of the Sloan Music Center.