The North Star Project, Summer Report Number Thirteen, St. Petersburg, Russia — On History, Architecture, and Monuments
By Marin Ekstrom, St. Petersburg Week #3
I live in the central part of St. Petersburg, which feels like a fairy tale come to life, due to its colorful palaces, swirling onion domes, and location on the glittering Neva. This classicality emphasizes the legacy of the tsars, and since 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, this era has been highlighted more than usual. For example, I regularly encounter monuments dedicated to pre-revolutionary figures, and have noticed the image of Peter the Great featured on countless advertisements. Although I am dazzled by the elegance and rich historical subtexts of this area, it also creates a facade that romanticizes the era of the tsars while minimizing other historical influences. However, a weekend excursion to Novgorod led us out of the bubble of beauty and into a more complete representation of Russia.
We drove to Novgorod by bus, which allowed us to view the outskirts of St. Petersburg. The wondrous palaces transformed into gritty concrete complexes surrounded by graffiti and monuments dedicated to Lenin and World War II. After that, we viewed the Russian countryside, with its blue lakes, mixed forests, and dumps of abandoned vehicles and clods of dirt; I had to pinch myself as a reminder that this was not northern Minnesota. Finally, we arrived in Novgorod, a town that means New Town, but is actually one of the oldest cities in Russia. It was there that we visited the Museum of Wooden Russian Architecture, a charming display of cabins, huts, and churches that represent traditional rural peasant life. We also toured millennium-old Russian Orthodox churches, and while they are whitewashed and crumbling on the outside, the interior is filled with breathtaking Christian icons and golden candles. Finally, we saw the Millennium of Russia monument, a bell-shaped behemoth that encapsulated the historical formation of imperial Russia in tangible form. All of these impressive sights astounded us, and helped us to create a fuller picture of Russian life.
All in all, I enjoyed history coming alive in our trip to Novgorod. The bricologe that is Russian history creates a sense of beautiful chaos, and I am pleased to say that I have a slightly better grasp of that phenomenon by traveling beyond central St. Petersburg.
The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.
Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013
(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.