Victoria Zhuravleva – We Need to Understand Other Countries On the Basis of Empathy




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Feb 04, 2019
by Oscar Tollast
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Victoria Zhuravleva – We Need to Understand Other Countries On the Basis of Empathy

Professor of American history and international relations from the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) discusses American Studies in Russia Victoria Zhuravleva at Salzburg Global Seminar

To say Victoria Zhuravleva is knowledgeable on the relationship between the United States of America and Russia is an understatement. The professor of American history and international relations at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), Moscow, Russia has dedicated much of her life to understanding the topic through research, conferences, exchange trips, and writing various publications. She is now working hard to provide others with similar opportunities.

Zhuravleva’s field of research concerns American history with a specialization in Russian-American relations and US foreign policy. The existing relationship between the United States and Russia is complicated, and Zhuravleva believes there is an “urgent necessity to create a multi-level, multi-faceted knowledge” about both countries.

“Those who will be specialists on another country in the near future should understand that they can’t have the opportunity to follow a one-dimensional vision: a black and white, dichotomous vision… We should understand another culture inside – through the position of Americans or through the position of Russians. This [approach] is a very important instrument for a better understanding of the political culture of another country,” Zhuravleva adds.

Zhuravleva first became interested in studying Russian-American relations toward the end of the Cold War. It was during perestroika new possibilities began to become available for her research of Russian-American relations with a specific focus on images and myths about Russia in the United States. 

“So I started to study Russian-American relations from different perspectives,” Zhuravleva says. “And thanks to the exchange program between RSUH and University of Michigan, to the Fulbright Program and to the Kennan Institute Program, I received the opportunity to stay in the United States, to visit different courses of American colleagues, to do my research at the Library of Congress, at the historical societies of different states, and at the National Archives and Records Service.”

The fall of the Iron Curtain, Zhuravleva says, “created new possibilities for those who would like to know more about the United States.”

In addition to her role as a professor, Zhuravleva is also chair of her university’s Department of American Studies, which was founded in spring 2018. It is one of two university American Studies Departments in Russia; the other one exists at Saint Petersburg State University. RSUH’s Department of American studies is now teaching 25 courses on the United States, Latin America, and Canada.

Zhuravleva believes in the power of exchange programs and academic mobility, which can act as “some kind of holiday for both sides.” She says, “This is a very important experience for students who can take aside their stereotypes, their misunderstandings, and to talk with different people on the other side.”

Unfortunately, the cost of these programs remains too high. For now, Zhuravleva emphasizes, they rely on partnerships with other US-based universities for this type of academic exchange to take place. She says, “There are agreements between RSUH and different American universities: they send students to us, we send students to them without paying the tuition. But unfortunately, it works only in two cases. Usually, our students have to pay the tuition, and it is incredibly expensive.”

Zhuravleva suggests she faces a problem when organizing international conferences on American Studies. She knows she can apply to the Fulbright Program, the Kennan Institute or the US Embassy in Moscow for grants, but grants of this nature won’t otherwise be available in Russia. In her opinion, “Without the exchange of ideas between specialists on American Studies from the United States and American Studies specialists in Russia, you can’t understand the real state of this sphere or refer to this sphere of study.” Another problem, from Zhuravleva’s point of view, is there are not special Russian state grants for those who would like to study the US, to visit this county or to do research there such as the Title VIII Program or Title VI Program, which exist in the US for those who are studying Russia.

In 2012 Victoria Zhuravleva published her fundamental book, Understanding Russia in the United States: Images and Myths. She was also editor and co-editor of several volumes on the US history and Russian-American relations such as Abraham Lincoln: Lessons of History and the Contemporary World; War in American Culture: Texts and Contexts; Russian-American Relations in Past and Present: Images, Myths, and Reality; Russia and the United States: Mutual Representations in Textbooks; Russian/Soviet Studies in the United States, Ameriksnistika in Russia: Mutual Representations in Academic Projects.

She evidently is interested in the study of the US, but why? Zhuravleva says she can retrace the history of a multifaceted society, a society with great achievements but with many problems as well, a society that is ready to recreate itself. She adds, “For me, this is a very important way for development, for progress, for [a] better understanding of yourself and the world.”

Victoria Zhuravleva was a speaker during Understanding America in the 21st Century – Culture and Politics, part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on Twitter by following the hashtag #SSASA.