International Scholarly Conference for Young Researchers "Exploring the Past: New Social History at the Crossroads of Methodological Trends" was a nice opportunity for me and other young researchers to present and discuss our research within an interesting and promising academic programme. This academic event was held for three days between 22nd and 24th March 2018 at the main Campus of the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” in the Ukrainian capital - Kyiv.
After the excitement of being selected for the conference, a wish to enrich my research and a hope to find compelling materials in Ukraine were followed with an opportunity to spend some time in Kyiv. As it is required, an intensive preparation for the conference and research at the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” and the National Library of Ukraine. As my research is on the cross-national sources in Slavic languages, with special attention to Russian sources, I hoped to discuss my research with an opportunity to bring new ideas and perspectives to my work, and at the same time, to find some interesting sources on the European urban planning history in Ukrainian and Russian languages in Kyiv.
In my section “Historical Urbanism: What cities can tell and what they are silent about?”, my presentation provoked interest and the engaging discussions. The moderator - A. Kyrychenko and Prof. O. Betlii with other scholars and researchers asked significant questions and gave essential comments on my research project after the presentation. Special attention was given to my main research questions and the influential role of Russian sources with their role and impacts on modern academia.
As known and discussed at the conference, Russian academic debates have shifted a consideration of diverse historical fields in Ukraine and Belarus, such as the 20th century economic, political, architectural and urban history. Diverse representations of Russian domination were incorporated into academic debates with some Soviet relics, in which Ukraine, and Belarus, were seen through the prism of Moscow impact. Due to these facts, Russian language used to and still plays a significant role in the former USSR counties' academia.
Even though there were attempts to reduce Russian impacts, Soviet and contemporary Russian sources are used and play an essential part in education at the leading universities in the diverse fields, such as arts, architecture, urbanism and etc. As a result of this, some of my free time, out of the conference programme, was dedicated to «hunting» for books and publications in Russian and other eastern Slavic languages, such as Ukrainian, Polish and Belarusian at the university and national libraries. Special attention was paid to the fact that the research of these sources has actuality in the different parts of Europe but its purposes and actuality are different in the west and east of Europe.
The time in Kyiv with interesting programme and fruitful discussions was limited. The engaging discussions brought compelling insights from other researchers. In addition to the intensive programme, some time was dedicated for cultural visits of the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” Museum and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Saint-Sophia Cathedral and Related Monastic Buildings with Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
Moreover, I found a bit of free time for significant visits of few main libraries in Kyiv. I visited the library of the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, National Technical University of Ukraine “Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute” and the National Library of Ukraine. A reasonable visit, as it is the country’s largest library in terms of its sources and area. It made me realize that not only the capitals’ research centers and Russian sources play a significant part in today’s academic debates on urban history but also another research center in Lviv, as it is the second largest city and it has two important centers for architectural and urban history studies. One of them is the Center for Urban History of Eastern Central Europe and the other is Lviv Polytechnic National University, which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year. These academic and research institutions had published some interesting studies on urbanism, spatial representations, urbanistic anthropology, mass-houses, Soviet housing estates and other related subjects to an architectural and urban history of Ukraine, Europe and wider.
The necessity of finding those sources is one of the essential next steps for my research. It is necessary to compare how similar and how different the consideration of European architecture and urban planning in the 20th century history was and still is impacted in Russia and some other Slavic post-Soviet countries with a long domination of the Soviet Russian academic sources. The first countries for the analysis are Belarus and Ukraine, as these were parts of the USSR. The states, which had incorporated Russian perspectives before the 1990s and later, wrote their own European urban history of the 20th century.
The prominent conference programme, fruitful discussions, and essential fieldwork in Kyiv became a confirmation for me. They confirm that some of the fragmental studies with cross-national perspectives on European urban planning in 20th-century history exist but those sources have not been widely analyzed yet. They can bring interesting perspectives to my research analysis. These perspectives can be included later in the pan-European historiography of European urban history in the 20th century. In addition, later studies will show if there are names and projects in those sources of the most influential and leading urban planners and architects in the 20th century worthy of the attention for Eastern and other parts of Europe.
Text and photo: Aliaksandr Shuba