Tomsk State University: November 13-14, 2008
Robert Givens, a professor in the Department of History at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA, attended a conference hosted by Tomsk State University: “Outcomes of the Twentieth Century as the USA Enters a New Century,” on November 13th and 14th. Dr. Givens is currently a Fulbright Scholar and lecturer at the School of International Relations at Saint Petersburg State University. This is the second Fulbright Fellowship to Russia that Dr. Givens has been awarded. A fluent speaker of Russian, Dr. Givens has lectured on American Politics and US-Russian Relations at Saint Petersburg State University in 1999-2000, at Pomorskoe State University in Archangel and at a WWII conference in Saint Petersburg in 2000. He has also accompanied a group of American Students to Krasnodar in 2002. He currently lectures on “the history of American diplomacy from the eve of WWII to 1991…particularly focusing on the Cold War”, as well as teaches a course on “contemporary US foreign policy and the evolving relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation.”
Dr. Givens gave a talk during the opening presentations of the conference in Tomsk based on some of his earlier research that sought to link the anti-communist crusade of the 1950s to the recent cultural wars in the US. While the conference’s theme was “Outcomes of the Twentieth Century as the USA Enters a New Century,” was broadly inclusive of the many papers presented, significant attention of a less academic nature was focused upon the recent American presidential election.
As Dr. Givens noted, many of the papers presented at the conference addressed questions of history as well as what would have been considered political science in the United States. This wide variety of papers presented illustrates some of the cultural differences in how academic disciplines are defined in Russia and the United States. Throughout the conference, Dr. Givens spoke with faculty members of Tomsk State University about different methods for teaching US domestic history and military history to undergraduates; Dr. Givens cited this as the most valuable part of the conference. Overall, Dr. Givens was impressed by the quality of several of the student presentations and he made special note of the quality of the American Studies Program at Tomsk State University. At the same time, he remarked that some of the papers would have benefited from access to more scholarly materials in addition to the information that is available on the internet.
The topic of Russian identity emerged as the key point of discussion during a wrap-up session, and Professor Givens was particularly struck by the concerns stated by many participants that Russian popular culture was largely a reflection of trends in American popular culture. He noted a sense of dissatisfaction that Russian culture was not fully appreciated in its own right on an international stage.
Despite the deviations from conference theme, Dr. Givens considered it a successful conference. Dr. Givens and the other American participants, including representatives from the US Embassy in Moscow, (http://moscow.usembassy.gov/pas.html) welcomed the opportunity to become acquainted with a center of American studies that receives relatively little attention, but is home to knowledgeable scholars.