The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-One — St. Petersburg, Russia, Museum Mania in St. Petersburg

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-One — St. Petersburg, Russia, Museum Mania in St. Petersburg

By Marin Ekstrom, Museum Mania in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is a Mecca of museums, and the exhibitions range from everything from bread, chocolate, vodka, hygiene, communication systems, military weaponry, cats, erotica, religion, art and more. In other words, if any random concept pops into your head, there is most likely a museum dedicated to it somewhere in the city.

While I only explored a fraction of the museums available in St. Petersburg, here is a little “taste test” of what there is to discover here:

1)The Kunstkamera

One little tidbit about Tsar Peter the Great: he was a REALLY weird guy. Look no further than the Kunstkamera, his own little “cabinet of wonders.” The museum offers five floors of eclectic offerings: the first two floors are anthropological displays, highlighting the various ethnic groups and customs of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. The third floor features various artifacts (i.e. laboratory equipment, desks, letters) from the era of Mikhail Lomonosov and the Academy of Sciences. The fourth floor, an astronomical observatory, displays tools related to this branch of study, and fifth level holds the Great Gottorp Globe, one of the world’s first planetariums.


The crowning achievement in the museum’s bizarreness, however, lies on one of the second floor’s wings. This section demands a stomach of steel, as it includes: sets of teeth that Peter the Great pulled out (he had a bit of a dental fetish), a taxidermy two-headed cow, and the skeleton of Peter the Great’s gigantic servant, and displays of malformed babies pickled in glass jars. Yeah- it’s quite a sight.
2)The Zoological Museum

In the grand tradition of Peter the Great’s…”uniqueness”, the Zoological Museum was formed as an extension of the Kunstkammera’s zoological collection. The museum exhibits a huge array of taxidermies, life-sized models of animals, and various other exhibits dedicated to the animal kingdom. I personally considered the mummified mammoths, the whale skeletons, and the extensive butterfly collections as the standouts of the museum.


While this museum is heaven on earth for biology/zoology majors, anyone can find something to enjoy here, and will walk away with a greater appreciation for our critter friends.
3)The Museum of Dolls

Admittedly, a combination of my inner child and incurable nerdiness drew me here. Despite these less than sophisticated reasons, it turned out to be a great decision! Stepping inside of the museum immerses you into a dreamscape, filled with fantastic dolls and puppets of all varieties. The wings featured everything from the fantastical (“Fairy Tales”, “The Enchanted Forest”), the international (Spanish flamenco dancers, Italian Carnival-ers, French dolls with enormous white bouffants, Indian deities, Persian marionettes of camels and shahs, etc.) the historical (Muscovite defenders, Red army soldiers, the tsars) and the traditional (Baba Yaga, dioramas of Maslenitsa and other colorful folk celebrations, etc.).


I not only liked the museum for its whimsical, imaginative atmosphere, but also its emphasis on how dolls and puppets serve as anthropological tools that represent complex cultural aspects.

4) The Sergei Kirov Museum

A little primer on Sergei Kirov, the namesake of this museum: he was a major Soviet political figure from 1918-1934, and at his pinnacle of his career, he served as the First Secretary of Leningrad and potential contender against Stalin. He was assassinated in 1934, which helped catalyze the Great Purge and the show trials (though according to rumors, Stalin himself ordered the execution).


The museum, renovated from the former residence of Kirov, details the very aspects of Kirov’s life and character through the various rooms of his house, such as his love of hunting, his hobby of making and rearing shoes, and the gifts he received from factories. It also features halls dedicated to what Soviet life in the 1930s-1950s, which includes a children’s wing (complete with creepy 50’s toys and Young Pioneer memorabilia) and a visual display of food rations based on career status. Some of the most interesting highlights of this museum include: Kirov’s personal letters, Russian versions of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, the outfit that Kirov was assassinated in, and countless portraits of Stalin scattered throughout the museum.

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.


Filed under Marin Ekstrom, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

2 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-One — St. Petersburg, Russia, Museum Mania in St. Petersburg

  1. Jonia G.

    Museums are one of my favorite activities when on vacation and reading about your experience sounds amazing. Though I lack knowledge about Russian history – I would still love to see the many museums it has to offer. However, I would avoid the doll museum at all times – I fear them; a sad fear. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Morgan Young

    This is awesome, I’m so glad you shared! Museums are one of my favorite places to visit! I love to learn new things, especially about zoology, culture, and history, so I’ll definitely be writing these museums down!

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