Private support funds teaching of democratic change in Russia

by Ashley K. Speed

How do locals and tourists interact with the Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great in comparison to monuments constructed hundreds of years later — after the fall of the Russian and Soviet Empires? Why does the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building look so similar to the dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia? What is the role of jazz in the cultural history of St. Petersburg?

These are just three of several research topics that 10 William & Mary students will tackle this summer during a six-week trip to St. Petersburg, Russia in the course, St. Petersburg on Reel: Democratic Change in Imperial Capital. Their work will expand beyond a research paper to the production of short documentaries to give a real-life glimpse into the city’s transition to democracy.

The course is a collaborative undergraduate research initiative between William & Mary’s Russian Program and William & Mary Libraries. The course will be led by Sasha Prokhorov, associate professor of Russian, and Cindy Centeno ’16, a media specialist at Swem Library. Prokhorov and Centeno said that the collaboration would not be possible without the generous support of Professor Ann Marie Stock, Director of the Reeder Media Center Troy Davis, the W&M Film and Media Studies Program, and the university’s Center for Liberal Arts.

“My role is to mentor and supervise the students on how to best create short documentaries,” said Centeno, whose trip to Russia is funded by private donors. “This means getting them to think about documentaries much like writing a paper. What is their argument? What kind of point do they want to make and showing them how they can do this through visual media.”

The visual content and course projects will be exhibited to the William & Mary community in the fall of 2017.

“The multimedia projects will use written, audio and visual media to articulate visual and verbal narratives about urban environments of St. Petersburg as well as their significance for the city’s history and present-day negotiations between the autocratic state and emerging civil society,” Prokhorov said.

Private donors also support several of the student’s trips. The Tepper Fund supports three students going to Russia this year. Other donations by W&M alumni supporting the Dobro Slovo Scholarship provides opportunities for two more students to attend.

“The funding we have received doesn’t just allow me to tag along and help the students, it also provides for the tools that we need in order to create these short documentaries,” Centeno said. “It helps ensure that projects like these are successful. Even if it’s $100, it makes a difference.”

Centeno will also create a short video encompassing the students’ trip and experiences in Russia.

“Our program is very important because students learn about the world outside the United States,” Prokhorov said. “What is also great about our program is that it is not passive, but active learning. While students are in international environments, they are engaged with culture through their research projects. Inquiry-based documentary production creates a unique experiential learning opportunity for William & Mary undergraduate students.”

Once completed, their projects will be added to the research portal of the Petersburg Study Abroad program at http://petersburg.blogs.wm.edu/

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