Courses, Spring 2020
Big Data, AI, and Political Science: Applications to Russian Politics
This cross-disciplinary course focuses on two broad questions. First: how do politicians use new technologies to influence politics? Second: how do scholars use new technologies to study politics? It uses Russia as a laboratory to explore these questions. The course consists of four parts. It starts with a review of contemporary Russia and pays attention to the quantitative studies of its economy and politics. Next, the course provides a non-technical introduction to Big Data and AI algorithms. Finally, it outlines the applications of the new technologies to the study of Russian politics.
Challenges to Security and Stability in Central and Eastern Europe
This course examines the geopolitical, political, military, socioeconomic, and ideological factors that are challenging security and stability in the region of Central and Eastern Europe after collapse of the USSR. The goal is to give students a broad understanding of the reasons for the worsening security and stability in the region, particularly the Baltic states, Visegrad states, and GUAM member states, and to model further potential developments. The influence of the global players—United States, European Union, Russia—on the security situation in the region is considered.
Contentious Politics and Political Mobilization in Post-Soviet Russia
RSEE 385, PLSC 385, SOCY 349
This course aims at exploring and discussing the patterns and trends in collective actions in post-Soviet Russia; it also aims at unraveling the interplay between contention and regime dynamics. Students examine the ebbs and flows of mobilization, its cross-temporal and cross-regional specifics, and its impact on the political processes. Russian language proficiency not required.
Culture, Power, Oil
ANTH 438, ANTH 638
The course analyzes the production, circulation, and consumption of petroleum in order to explore key topics in recent social and cultural theory, including globalization, empire, cultural performance, natural resource extraction, and the nature of the state. Case studies from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and the former Soviet Union, among others.
Eastern Orthodox Worship and Thought
This course is intended to be an introduction to the Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) tradition by examining the history and theology of its worship. The course proceeds chronologically, beginning in the early centuries of Christianity and tracing the development of Orthodox liturgy and theological reflection up to the present day. Along the way, we consider various aspects of Orthodox worship: music, iconography, female bodies, dogmatic developments, etc. The course has two main assignments. First, each student writes and presents in class a book review of a classic text of modern Orthodox theology or modern scholarly analysis of an aspect of Orthodox worship. Second, all students write a 10–12-page research paper. In the last two weeks of the class, students present their work to the class, conference style. Area II.
Exploring Russian Utilization of Private Military Companies
This class examines how the Russian Federation has employed nontraditional utilization of private military companies (PMCs) to expand their influence in Latin America, the Middle East, Central Africa, and Eastern Europe. The course focuses its analysis on the underlying strategic and tactical facets of Russian PMC deployment to supplement its special ops and intel capabilities writ large. Through a series of case-study-based lectures led by experts across academia, national security, and intelligence, students explore the Russian legal basis for PMCs, collaboration between the PMCs and the Russian Foreign Ministry, and the role of the Russian state-owned resource industries in supporting PMC deployment. At the conclusion of the course, students collectively develop a written product and presentation that analyze Russian Special Ops strategic deployment of PMCs and develop a series of actions that could be taken by the United States and the international community to counter Russian influence through PMC mechanisms.
Extreme and Radical Right Movements
Gender and Politics after Socialism
RSEE 336, ANTH 338, WGSS 738
Gender is an intensely politicized fault line that runs through post-Soviet society. In Russia, both political protest and political reaction are played out in overtly gendered terms (from Pussy Riot’s punk prayer to Putin’s bare-chested machismo). This seminar considers, from an ethnographic perspective, how gender has become a site of explicit politicization and contestation in post-Soviet societies. The first half of the course examines the changing circumstances of women and men in the post-Soviet economy; the post-Soviet crises and reformulations of femininity and masculinity; and the social effects provoked thereby, such as violence, homophobia, and new activism. The second half examines the various intersections of gender with other domains of social difference including class, age, race, religion, nationality. How gender is problematized in certain sites, workplaces, the home, and family is a topic of discussion, as is how certain ways of inhabiting gendered norms might give rise to forms of self and person, to modes of agency and freedom. Each post-Soviet case study is juxtaposed with comparative ethnographic examples in order to discern whether the post-Soviet region has its own gender dynamic, or instead partakes in broader global trends. These ethnographic cases are read alongside texts in feminist, gender, queer, and postcolonial theory to think across empirical examples in creative ways.
Global Film and Media Concepts
This workshop course is inspired by the great Dictionary of Untranslatables (in French in 2004; English translation 2014), edited by Barbara Cassin and involving scholars such as Étienne Balibar, Jacques Lezra and Emily Apter. Cassin’s dictionary is devoted to terms crucial to philosophical thought, but rather than offer a handbook of reified definitions, it (to quote the introduction) “explores the networks to which [a given] word belongs, and seeks to understand how a network [of philosophical concepts] functions in one language by relating it to the networks of other languages.” The result is an extraordinary investigation - historical, philological and theoretical all at once - of the interdependence of translation, philosophical speculation, and cultural setting.
In this workshop, we will do something similar for key terms in film and media studies. As scholars of film and media, we continually encounter cruxes of translation not as obstacles, but as provocations to new thinking, not least about the very contours of our field globally considered. Our meetings will involve presentations by two, perhaps three participants, who will come prepared to discuss the ins-and-outs of a specific term we have decided upon (and about which the rest of the group will also have thought). If possible, we want the presenters to offer ideas on terms they are dealing with in their current work.
Questions that might be asked of each term or concept could include: which problems does a term solve in a given language, and which problems might it create? What kind of work on language is performed in each instance (e.g., the use of calques; inventing neologisms; incorporating explanatory passages or notes to explain or specify the use of a given term)? How do film and media terminological “networks” relate to other networks both within a specific language and across languages (e.g., the vocabularies of literary or art criticism, of communications technologies, of other disciplines such as history, sociology, or psychology)? How do the linguistic features of specific languages inflect these migrating terms?
The course will be grounded in collective work and presentations, and will culminate in a collectively-authored set of short pieces, and hopefully to be published in the online section of the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. Each will focus on a single term of importance within critical film and media studies, considered within some of the different language and disciplinary contexts within which they operate and between which they migrate.
How To Compare
This course is an exploration of literary comparison from methodological as well as historical perspectives. We compare texts within genres (stories and stories), across genres (poems and animations), across periods (classical and modern), and between cultures and languages. We consider questions such as whether all comparisons must assume a common ground, and whether there is always an implicit politics to any comparison. Topics range from theories of translation and ekphrasis, to exoticism and untranslatability. Readings include texts by Auerbach, Ibn Rushd, Tsvetaeva, Flann O’Brien, Lukács, and Nona Fernández. We will also examine operas (Brecht and Fuentes-Berain), films (Parajanov and Barta), and one computer game.
Human Rights, Law, and Politics in Contemporary Russia
The seminar is designed to give a broad understanding of the lines of theorizing and types of research that animate the study of human rights issues and human rights mobilizations in post-soviet Russia. Acquainting students with academic research in history, sociology, anthropology and political science on the matter, the seminar seeks to analyze these topics going beyond media portrayals of Russian society and binary oppositions that often structure narratives of Post-soviet social and political reality (state vs. civil society, rule of law vs. kangaroo justice, democracy vs. authoritarianism, repression vs. resistance). This course analyzes how “human rights” have been constructed—as a cause, as a discourse, as a legal and institutional framework—since the Soviet dissident movement, then in the 1990s and 2000s, until today, when “human rights” have become a dominant frame on a number of very heterogenous issues for media and activists denouncing the political regime in Putin’s Russia. It pays particular attention to the sociology of actors, as well as to historical, political and social conditions of emergence and development of human rights mobilizations. The course also focuses on various empirical case studies on highly mediatized human rights issues: political prisoners, protest-related trials, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, prison and penitentiary institutions. These case studies provide students with a broader empirical knowledge on contemporary Russian society, and serve as a magnifying glass, as they highlight complex dynamics of Russian politics and law in the last thirty years.
Medieval World Literature, Genres and Geographies
Comparative survey of classic texts from around the Medieval world. Examines the circulation of writers, texts, and genres, while providing an introduction to genre theory.
Memory and Memoir in Russian Culture
Milan Kundera: The Czech Novelist and French Thinker
RSEE 300, CZEC 301, LITR 220
Close reading of Kundera’s novels, with analysis of his aesthetics and artistic development. Relationships to French, German, and Spanish literatures and to history, philosophy, music, and art. Topics include paradoxes of public and private life, the irrational in erotic behavior, the duality of body and soul, the interplay of imagination and reality, the function of literary metaphor, and the art of composition.
Readings and discussion in English.
Multicultural Soviet Literature (TR)
RSEE 265, RUSS 265, MMES 265
If you look up “Soviet literature” on English-language Wikipedia, you are automatically redirected to the article on “Russian Literature.” But for the entirety of its existence, the Soviet Union promoted a system of multinational literary production, spanning from the traditionally Muslim communities of Central Asia and the Caucasus, to the native peoples of Siberia, to the nations of the European borderlands. This course examines Soviet literature in all its diversity. You’ll encounter Persianate lyric about the Russian Revolution, a Georgian historical novel, Ukrainian war poetry, a Kyrgyz take on magical realism, and much more. Questions to be discussed include the adaptation of pre-Soviet literary forms, the politics of translation, literary constructions of gender, the propaganda value of Soviet multiculturalism abroad, the dynamics of censorship and critique, and the role of literature in imagining Soviet communities and shaping national/ racial hierarchies. Along the way, you become familiar with some of the major trends of Soviet literature more broadly, from proletarian literature to village prose.
Nostalgia for Socialism in Postsocialist Societies
Nostalgia for socialism is one of the most unexpected social, cultural, and political phenomena that appeared in post-socialist societies. It acquires very different characteristics in different countries, for different groups of people and for different reasons. The course focuses on the question why nostalgia today appears in most different fields of social life of the post-socialist Eastern Europe: in popular and consumer culture, as part of personal and collective memory, in political life, among collectors of memorabilia, at different social events, in art, aesthetics and design. Particular emphasis on specific forms of nostalgic reminiscences common among very young generations without first-hand experiences of socialist decades. Taught in English.
Party Politics and the Media in Russia
RSEE 379, PLSC 379
The course covers critical junctures in party and media systems development in Russia, discusses the choices made by elites and their consequences for shaping the party and media systems, and unpacks the strategic considerations behind these choices. It also tackles the issues of party and media system regulation, restructuring, alongside the electoral performance of the ruling and opposition parties. Proficiency in Russian language is not required.
Performances of Resistance
RSEE 381, THST 342
Thirty years after the dictatorial regimes collapsed in Central and Eastern Europe, performances of resistance have recently gained a new momentum, both in artistic venues and at public spaces. In the now ‘illiberal democracies’ of the region, expressions of dissent and the mobilization of the suppressed opposition have become increasingly important to protect human rights, freedom rights, and the civil society. This course sets out to study the genealogy of artistic and political resistance in the region: first, we consider the many genres, including radical performance art, rock concerts, and banned theatre events, and themes through which Central Eastern European artists covertly, and later overtly, expressed their oppositional views during state socialism. Then, building on our analyses of these political performances of the past, we turn to the present and discuss recent and contemporary artworks and protest-movements that advocate for resistance in the ‘illiberal democracies’ of Hungary, Poland, Serbia, and Macedonia. To initiate a transnational and trans-continental discussion, some of the readings center on Latin American artists, whose underground artworks critiqued the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s or challenges the authoritarian regimes of the present.
Polish Theater and Its Traditions
PLSH 248, THST 370
Exploration of the rebellious, defiant, and explosive nature of Polish theater, including ways in which theater has challenged, ridiculed, dissected, and disabled oppressive political power. Polish experimental and absurdist traditions that resulted from a merger of the artistic and the political; environmental and community traditions of the Reduta Theatre; Polish-American theater connections. Includes attendance at live theater events as well as meetings with Polish theater groups and actors.
Politics on the Walls: Central-European Political Graffiti in Comparative Perspective
The course critically examines one of the most vibrant, controversial, and multi-sided urban cultures: political graffiti and street art. While focused on contemporary Central-Europe and the Balkans, the course positions this complex visual production in a global perspective, as part of wider political developments and cultural processes. Sprayed, written, glued on, painted, or scratched graffiti from post-socialist Central Europe and the Balkans is compared with that from other parts of the world. Students learn to use different methods of researching this particular visual creativity, such as compositional interpretation, content analysis, visual semiology, and audience studies. Taught in English.
Russia and the Eurasian Steppe
RSEE 222, HIST 222J
A study of Russia’s interaction with the nomads of the Eurasian steppe. Topics include the Mongol invasion, the Mongol Empire in Asia and the Golden Horde, Islam, nomadic society, and the Russian state. Focus on conquest and settlement.
May count toward either European or Asian distributional credit within the History major, upon application to the director of undergraduate studies.
Russia in the Age of Peter the Great
An introduction to the principal events and issues during the transformation of Russia in the years 1650 to 1725. Topics include political change and the court; Russia in Europe and Asia; religion and the revolution in Russian culture.
Russian and Chinese Science Fiction
RUSS 025, EALL 025
What can we learn about Russian and Chinese cultures through their fantasies? How do Russian and Chinese writers and filmmakers respond to the global issues of animal ethics, artificial intelligence, space immigration, surveillance, gender and sexuality? How are Russian and Chinese visions of the future different from and similar to the western ones? This course explores these questions by examining 20th-21st century Russian and Chinese science fictions in their cultural, historical, and philosophical contexts. All readings and discussion in English. Sci-fi authors and translators will be invited to give guest lectures.
Russian Style: Material Culture and the Decorative Arts in Imperial Russia
HSAR 535, RUSS 655
This seminar examines the historical development of a national style in Russian decorative arts and material culture from the eighteenth century to the early twentieth. Although known for borrowing liberally from western European artistic traditions, Russian imperial culture—from the baroque and neoclassical courts of Elizabeth and Catherine to the exported “native” imaginaries of the Ballets Russes—also sought to distinguish itself in design, scale, manufacture, and style. Structured around a series of case studies, this seminar considers highlights from the history of Russian decorative arts, all while exploring broader questions about the transnational movement of style, the intersection of nationalism and design, the invention of “native” cultures, and the materialities of empire and modernity. Topics include the branding of Catherine the Great; Russia’s natural resources and trade networks; consumer culture in St. Petersburg; the materialism of realism; the Abramtsevo artists’ colony and the discovery of folk art; russkii stil’ (Russian Style) at the World’s Fairs; curating ethnographies and archaeologies; and the “relics” of the Romanovs. Organized as an intensive research seminar, this course brings the central conceptual and theoretical concerns of visual and material culture studies (e.g., materiality and thing theory, ornament and the decorative, the socioeconomics of taste) to a historical and object-based consideration of Russian style. Significant use is made of the museum and library collections at Yale and nearby.
The Politics and Culture of Russian Sacred Art
RUSS 627, REL 992
As devotional, material object, political symbol, and art commodity, Russia’s sacred art—the icon—has been revered as sacred, vilified as reactionary, embraced in revolt, displayed as masterpiece, discarded as obsolete, and destroyed as dangerous. Engaging the fields of religion, material and visual culture, ritual studies, and politics, this course examines the complex and multifaceted world of the Russian icon from its Byzantine roots to its contemporary reemergence in post-atheist, post-Soviet space. Themes include: diverse meanings and functions of sacred imagery; iconographic vocation and craft; beauty and the sacred; devotions and rituals; political theology and national identity formation; the icon and avant-garde art; controversial images and protest culture. In addition to art and icons, sources include historical, devotional, theological, philosophical, and cinematic materials. Undergraduates are welcome.
Tolstoy's War and Peace (TR)
RSEE 312, LITR 253, HIST 260, RUSS 312, HUMS 255
The course is a semester-long study of one big Russian novel–Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace (1865-1869), about Napoleon’s failed 1812 campaign against Russia. War and Peace is a sweeping panorama of nineteenth-century Russian society, a novel of profound philosophical questions, and an unforgettable gallery of artfully drawn characters. Reading the novel closely, we pose the following questions: In what ways is it a national and an imperial novel? What myths does it destroy and construct? What is the relation of fiction to history? And what forces drive history, as it unfolds in the present? To what extent do individuals control their own lives and, if they’re emperors and generals, the lives of nations? Finally, how does one live a meaningful life as a private person and as a member of a society? We explore these questions while refining our tools of literary analysis and situating the novel in its historical context. Secondary materials include Tolstoy’s letters, contemporary reviews, maps, historical sources, political theory, and literary criticism. All readings and class discussions in English. No prerequisites.
Truth & Post-Truth
This European intellectual history seminar explores the epistemological question in philosophy: does the world really exist? How do I know it’s really there and not just a projection of my consciousness? is there such a thing as truth? We begin with European philosophy, moving through Descartes, Kant and Husserl and through the role of ideology and lies in 20th century totalitarianism, then to dissident thought in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, and finally to the emergence of “post-truth” in the 20th century and its implications in both philosophy and life. Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-Year Seminar Program.