In the now distant 1960s, long before perestroika gave rise to serious changes in Russian attitudes towards teaching American Studies at Russian universities, my postgraduate supervisor and the founder of the chair of foreign literatures at Kuban State University, Prof. N.I. Samokhvalov, (1) would complain to his young disciples and assistants that the United States, a pioneer democracy whose social and cultural experiences required deep and careful examination, had been all but neglected by Soviet scholars, especially those who worked at regional universities located far from the capitals and their extremely rich libraries. He insisted that we develop American Studies topics in our literature courses and in our research projects as well, despite the obstacles we faced due to lack of information and ideological barriers.
This memory brings me back to the bitter emotions of my chief (2) when, as a member of the delegation of Soviet scholars headed by Professor Jassen N. Zassursky, (3) I participated in the Soviet/American Symposium, "Dialogue of Cultures: USSR-USA," at Duke University in May 1990. We visited the wonderful Triangle Center and worked in seminars. My report was discussed in a seminar directed by Professor Bernard Mergen of George Washington University. That first trip to America was the inspiration for establishing the Center for the History of Russian and North American Cultures at Kuban State University in 1992. Here we started a research and teaching project in American Studies that resulted in a new educational program and curriculum, leading to the formation of the department of Russian/American Studies as a branch structure of the Philological Faculty.
There are two important things that need to be mentioned when we discuss the structure of our program: the first is its close bond with philology, which means that the program has not become truly multi-disciplinary. Admittedly, we still depend to a great extent on the state educational standard, for our students expect to receive the customary state-certified diplomas. The philological outline of the program specifies the number of non-philological courses that are included in the course of study, and describes how these courses affect the goals and structures of the courses in linguistics and literature. In order to conform with state standards and student expectations, an emphasis on language and literature is retained, yet we believe that the program is potentially capable of evolving into a thoroughly revised interdisciplinary curriculum that would meet the demands of cultural anthropology, and may finally develop into a solid interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary program that would include the kindred fields of American Studies, Russian Studies, comparative cultural studies--all as branches of humanistic inquiry, focused equally on languages, literatures, history, philosophy, religion, art, etc.
Since 1993 we have trained forty students who have completed the five year program. In 1998,1999, and 2000 three groups of graduates defended their research projects and passed the state exams in English and American literature. The students majored in American Studies and minored in Russian Studies, and were tested by the state examination board in Russian language and literature as well.
The joint curriculum for Russian and American Studies in philology serves as the first step towards a program that combines comparative studies and cultural anthropology, and this goal probably defines the specific interdisciplinary vocabulary of our program. The problem that inconvenienced us was the 1994 wave of rebounds in state educational policy that prevented us from introducing a multilevel curricular structure. In view of this, the center staff made a decision to forego several years of new student recruitment. Our activity was reactivity in 2001, after the Kuban State University rector, Professor Vladimir A. Babeshko, won the support of the state education office in promoting non-traditional approaches to university academic studies and research.
At present our department offers several interwoven majors and minors (the so-called "multi-leveled" program), including a one year propaedeutic (preparatory) course, independent projects, the BA degree (a four-year curriculum), the specialist diploma (five years) and a Master's degree in philology (one to two years). The postgraduate program (two to three years) is available to students with an M.A. or a specialist diploma. Six of our former graduates have joined Ph.D. programs that are offered through our department. Another, Olga Medvedeva, has been admitted to the M.A. American Studies program at Indiana State University. As part of their research for writing dissertations on Russian, American and comparative studies, many of our former students participate in the annual International Conferences on Studies in American Culture held at Moscow State University.
There is no independent chair for American Studies at Kuban State University. Professors and teachers who develop American Studies courses at our department work under the chair of Russian and comparative studies in languages, literatures and cultures where they form a section. Thus, the Center for Studies in the History of Russian and North American Cultures unites colleagues from different faculties and coordinates our multi-disciplinary history of culture curriculum. Our colleagues from the other chairs and departments, for example, those who teach non-philological disciplines such as philosophy, history, and the arts, participate in center activities and gather for joint seminars at the beginning, middle, and end of every semester.
Throughout my thirty year pedagogical career at Kuban State University I delivered courses in world literary history that focused mostly on Western European countries and partially on the United States. I left the foreign literatures chair to start building the center and the department, aiming to combine research and teaching in the field of the American Studies and devote my energy entirely to shifting the focus of our work in the direction of Russian/American comparative studies, while keeping in view the larger global cultural context. Pedagogical strategies also needed to be revised in order to accommodate the wide range of discourses, cultural and literary, to the demands of the new specialization we had introduced into philology. We faced many new difficulties, the principle problem arising out of the need to differentiate between the goals of the philological courses and the cultural courses that made up American/Russian Studies. Our students expected to get traditional diplomas (specialist in philology). We faced this challenge by carefully adjusting the new disciplines and approaches to the standards of the state diploma. The first thing we needed to do was distinguish between methods of reading of literary texts philologically from methods of reading texts culturally. We also introduced methods that would create opportunities for research projects that advance the goals and processes of teaching and pedagogy.
Actually, we knew that if we really craved change we could not be satisfied simply to cut out the former literary history courses and fill the gaps with American texts. The idea was to reconstruct the curriculum in such a way that would leave space for every related discipline, but would nevertheless preserve the coherence and integrity of the whole. Course contents and plans were reviewed and the lists of texts painstakingly examined; special care was given to formulating the purpose and the title of every course, so that the students, who were unprepared for change, could plunge into the multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary waters and still retain a sharp sense of particular disciplinary values. In order to improve teaching strategies, we felt it was crucial to avoid confusing the philological and cultural aspects of American literary studies, the more so since our students have special language classes in English and Russian, as well as in general literary history, theory, linguistics, history, art history, history of music, philosophy, sociology, and religious culture of Russia and the United States.
The multi-disciplinary dimension having been introduced, the students' diverse interests began threatening to destroy the coherence of the literary component of the program. Every new group of enrollees has compelled us to vary the course goals and themes, although the subject of our American Studies (and Russian Studies, as well) has remained fixed and is defined as the study of American/Russian literary histories against the backdrop of world cultural background. The enrollees of 1993 were somewhat frightened by the changes and concerned that they might not receive sufficient training to become teachers of the English language or to be employed as translators and guides. This turned the first year of our innovations into a patient competition with other departments, such as the foreign languages faculty, which offered more traditional specializations. But subsequent entering groups differed in their interests as the younger generations are demonstrating true flexibility in their plans for future careers. The 1995-2000 students used to lament they could not extend the week's schedule to have more hours for history, philosophy, music, psychology, sociology, and religion. But when presented with the prospect of the cancellation or reduction of philological courses, the students agreed that in preparation for advanced studies at the M.A. or Ph.D. level it made sense to acquire keen skills in linguistics and literary analysis while they were at the B.A. level. Another encouraging observation: the more they learned of Russian language, literature, and culture, the stronger their curiosity was about American Studies. Moreover, when I suggested to the weaker students that they review their individual plans and withdraw from either the Russian or the American part of the program, they all rejected the idea. It makes me happy to see young girls and boys so earnest in their desire to learn about American culture via primary sources--books, magazines, videos, and films produced and designed in the US--and so self-confident in their capabilities to recognize the meanings and values of different cultural texts.
In my attempts to identify some key theme that would unite the diversity of courses into a flexible system, I decided on a triad: 1) the American mind and its democratic roots; 2) the American cultural and literary self in the context of cultural and literary epochs; and 3) languages: natural, cultural, literary.
The students are gaining an understanding of these preeminent themes in the process of reading and interpreting specific authors and literary works. Consequently they are gaining proficiency in perceiving the philological constant of cultural studies; the structural integration of philology into the whole of interdisciplinary studies is accepted as an undisputable fact. The young philologists gradually become more skillful in dealing with the extra-literary values of literary texts and the textual qualities of cultural phenomena. We mark the students' changed perceptions of "fiction" and "non-fiction" and finally admit their growing capabilities to recognize the hidden ties between "purely literary problems" and the problems more often associated with politics, sociology, philosophy, or religion. The American national and individual self is accordingly revealed through a diversity of texts as a pluralistic construct. By studying the laws of natural and cultural languages, students get a chance to re-evaluate the fundamental role of philology in an epistemological system; they apprehend more adequately the richness and idiosyncrasies of the American mind. Literary and non-literary discourses circulate in the process of shaping American society through different historical events.
The above-mentioned themes have been used in creating two courses on American literature of the 17th-18th centuries. The first course is entitled "Rhetoric and Poetics of American 17th-18th Century Literary Genres: Preachers and Enlighteners" (2) and is adapted to the interests of those students who display strong enthusiasm for philological analysis. The course is a full year in length; the students are required to prepare for close readings of primary texts in class and to review secondary, critical materials for their homework. Class discussions included Aristotle's conception of discourse in relation to the religious and moral writings of John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, William Penn, and Jonathan Edwards, and to the enlightening rhetoric of literary works by Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin. The classes were generally marked by a spirit of research and were aimed at reading beyond the literal level. The students were expected to learn to distinguish between ideological and aesthetic values, to recognize the signs of the author's personality and to know the different selves of a writer--as a thinker, philosopher, preacher, social scientist, moralist, politician--to explain what turns a person into a literary personality, a poet and artist. In class the students learned to follow the curves of the literary language and to seize the moments of its transition from the art of rhetoric to the art of poetic imagery. This course may be considered successfully completed if the students feel well prepared to advance to the more complicated topics of the following course, topics which deal completely with philological aspects and the development of genre in the writings of 18th century authors such as Ebenezer Cook, Benjamin Franklin, Royall Tyler, and for the course on the poetic language of American romanticism.
The 1995-96 course was structured differently, and even the title advertised a new, non-philological approach: Revolutionary Changes in American Literature in the 17th-18th Centuries. This time the accent was placed on the great shift in American democratic vistas that resulted in the victorious events of the Revolution of 1775-1783. The changes in topics and approaches were impelled by the students' remarkable interest in the American experience of "word battles." This was an academically stronger group, with evidently good pre-university knowledge of English and literature acquired through our propaedeutic course. Many of the works of the New England preachers were recommended for reading, though not the same full list as the previous philological course required. Instead, some new materials concerning Southern writers such as William Byrd were included; a special part of the course treated the theme of "cultural mythology" and presented the "new American cultural heroes," for example Poor Richard and Daniel Boone. This course ignored neither fiction nor poetry, but the analyses it suggested helped to shed light on the major ideas of early American public figures, as they were presented in literary forms. These included the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson's correspondence, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and Dissertation, and works by Thomas Paine. Our reading of St. John de Crevecoeur helped us concentrate on the genesis of the ideas that formed the intellectual background of the Revolution. Thomas Jefferson's text of the Declaration of Independence supplied proper material for discussions on the art of word and thought, and on the significance of rhetoric training for future statesmen.
If we test our program according to the standards of the Russian educational system we will agree that it is based on well-known traditional approaches. The two major principles--those that have survived the permanent reforms--are dialectical historicism and coherent wholeness. Thanks to these approaches, students proceed through American literature page by page, moving in succession from the earliest periods to the latest ones. But when we focus on the great epochs such as "the 19th century" or "the 20th century," we feel free to divide them into smaller sub-periods, giving priority to the lecturer's own conception of literary trends and ideas. Traditional historicism (or dialectics) seems to best suit our expectation that students comprehend American culture in its dynamic wholeness, in spite of its visible rises and recessions. The approach is familiar and responsive to the current need in Russia to do justice to the American experience.
However, the historicism of our program moves in two directions simultaneously, looking forward and backward, allowing students to examine the past in retrospect, in the context of the present as well as to see the present in the context of the past. Students are encouraged to attend parallel courses that serve as complements, one of which focuses on American social and literary history, while the other focuses on current events. It may happen, for example, that students will study colonial history and literature alongside the problems of American politics, culture, and literature of the final decades of the 20th century. The effect of this structural parallelism is an estrangement of the student's mind from the real facts of history, an illusion of intellectual independence. Whether it is mere illusion or game, the students are nevertheless given a chance to evaluate ideas and deeds by their outcomes, to meditate on probable reasons and consequences, to think of the fortunes and destitution that predestined American values, to understand why some ideals have survived while others have vanished. All these issues were "hot" ones for the young generation of Russians at the beginning of the 1990s, as people who felt responsible for the questions of democratic reform in the post-Soviet situation tried to find answers in the American past and present.
Another program principle concerns the selection of materials for the courses. Since Kuban State University is situated in the south of the Russian Federation, American Southern culture and cultural regionalism in general are subjects of particular interest to us. A special course, "The Old South: Culture and Literature," introduces students to materials concerning Captain John Smith and the writings of the old plantations. A large part of the course is given over to the art of Southern story-telling and to reading the masterpieces of the genre; the students analyze some popular folk tales and trace the literary tradition rooted in folk art of Thomas Bangs Thorp, Davy Crockett, Mike Fink, and George Washington Harris. The final topic of the course is Southern literary romanticism. Unique pieces from the works of J.P. Kennedy and W.G. Simms are offered to students, who also read about these writers' lives. This course presents an essential supplement to Cooper's page in American literary history, and enriches students' understanding of other famous American romantics such as Washington Irving and Herman Melville. The Southern historical romances are a remarkable supplement to the lectures on American history, wherein events of the War for Independence are discussed.
Our notable interest in American regionalism can also be explained by the existence of our center's special program on the Russian South for American students from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. These students come annually to Krasnodar for a semester of Russian Studies. Although the program welcomes applicants from any region of the United States, students usually come from colleges that belong to the association. Russian students usually assist their American peers in this regional program; we organize field trips to the mountains and to the Black Sea settlements. A 3-day visit to Taman, a small settlement on the seacoast, is a useful introduction to Russian cultural anthropology or cultural studies--"Taman as a Cultural Text." Our students, American and Russian, get a chance to see the remnants of ancient Greek colonies, to meet with the local Kuban Cossacks' folklore group, to stand at the very spots described in Mikhail Lermotov's Hero of Our Time in the "Taman" chapter. These trips offer an ideal situation in which to consider the possibilities and benefits of Russian-U.S. comparative regional cultural studies.
To complete this brief overview of our program, I should describe the mechanism we rely upon to be paid back with the students' knowledge. When the first-year students start their first semester in the class, Introduction to American Studies, they know they will take a parallel course, Introduction to Literary Culture of Ancient Civilizations. The combination may appear strange, but it presents to students the extended horizon of human history--our mutual cultural book where America has found a truly singular place for its young culture. The whole body of American literary history appears differently when you see it as an integral part of global cultural and literary evolution. So, when the spring semester comes and the students proceed to their study of American literary culture of the colonial age their memory retains traces of the first semester, their minds are ready to reactivate the images and ideas that were closely examined in their study of the cultures of the Ancient East, Greek and Roman antiquity, Old Russia, and the pre-colonial civilizations of North America's native peoples.
We have obtained solid proof of our students' growing interest in American Studies in research seminars where deep knowledge of cultural ages and keen writing and research skills are demanded. Ten fourth-year students recently participated in a Melville seminar where they focused on the novel Moby Dick. Every seminar participant selected a chapter, or even one character or particular image, for a closely detailed analysis; some students lingered over the philological artistry of the text, while others preferred to deal with some cultural issue. Several essays were later developed into graduate theses: "Poetics and Rhetoric of Pair Character in Melville's Moby Dick" (Y. Lavrinenko); "Freedom of Choice Motif in H. Melville's Moby Dick and R.P. Warren's All the King's Men" (A. Skryll); and "Captain Ahab as Melville's Poetic Abyss" (D. Firsov).
Under the present circumstances we have fulfilled our dream of establishing American Studies at Kuban State University and have shaped the body of the program. American literary history courses constitute the core of the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary curriculum; they have been properly planned, provided with primary texts and major critical and academic publications. We have to admit that the intellectual property we have inherited from former centers of Russian-American Studies located at other Russian universities has given us solid and fertile ground for our young roots--here I am speaking of the writings of the Institute of World Literature at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow State University publications, and works by Saint Petersburg scholars.
Our resources have developed with assistance from many sources. Our initial steps towards realizing the idea of the center were enthusiastically and generously supported by the staff of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and particularly by its president, Dr. Elizabeth Hayford. Our colleagues from Hope College and Carleton College assembled a special American Studies library for our needs. A good number of books arrived from Dr. Bjorn Stalhane Andersen at Bergen University, Norway. We have also received the Library of America Series as a gift from the American Embassy in Moscow. We feel deep gratitude to Professor Barney Mergen of George Washington University and to American Studies International for the regular packets of The New York Review of Books. This past year, our students and professors have shown increasing interest in exploring Internet resources. Computers are regularly in use, and everyone is given a chance. Access to web sites and to "mir-net" offers us abundant erudition from around the world and greatly benefits the Center by connecting us with the scholarly online world. Such immediate connectivity to the world makes it possible for our program to be perceived as a living and dynamic structure.
As favorable as current conditions are, we remain faced with uncertainties and unsolved problems, the weight of which we may not be able to withstand for very long. First of all, we have almost used up our goodwill resources, and we have not acquired any fresh resources to help us keep apace with the new challenges of globalization. We have a computer that has become as vital for us as a ship was for Melville's whaling team. However, it is old and deserves an honorable place in the museum. Our library collection does not meet the growing needs of the program anymore--the books we have are aging with use, and the lack of more recent publications poses a true danger to our program's future. We cannot afford subscriptions to periodicals, academic journals, or even to newspapers and basic publications such as the American Literature Association Newsletter. Further, the number of students who would gladly pay for the American Studies curriculum is not as big this year as we need for our financial survival, and this tendency does not appear to be changing. The post-Soviet boom of euphoric American discovery has passed; what we face now is a calm, steady progression toward the acquisition of new perspectives that might help us build cultural bridges across the ocean of cultural fog.
In conclusion, we should revisit our discussion of the literary core of the American Studies curricula. Although the philological component places inevitable limits on the multidisciplinary development of our program, it also unquestionably produces benefits and useful outcomes that we should carefully consider before we begin transforming American Studies into a branch of the cultural anthropology curriculum. There is no doubt that every university graduate, and not only those who graduate from humanities programs, needs to be equipped with substantial skill in linguistics and literature in order to keep up with the demand for higher intellectual standards that will be a necessary outcome of the current global informational glut; as the means and speed of communication multiply, requiring natural, cultural and social, scientific and technological languages, the need for literary training and culture becomes all the more vital. Disciplines such as rhetoric, poetics, semiotics, glossematics, and even practical classes in the literary analysis of single literary works or artistic trends should be included in the interdisciplinary curricula no matter what the major is.
(1) Nickolai Ivanovich Samokhvalov is the author of the rarely mentioned monograph American Literature of the XIX-th Century (Moscow: Vysschaya Shkola, 1964).
(2) N.I. Samokhvalov's "big dream" was to visit the USA or at least be in correspondence with American scholars, but none of his requests ever received a response. Although his dissatisfaction with the Communist Party bureaucracy grew with the years, he realized that he belonged to the system.
(3) J.N. Zassursky is the author of the monograph American Literature of the XX-th Century (Moscow State University, 1966).
(4) This course was delivered during the year 1994-95.
Louisa P. Bashmakova is Director of the Center for History of Culture (Russia and North America) at Kuban State University in Krasnodar, Russia.…