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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
December 10, 2016
Canadian Excellence



Faculty of Arts

Laurier History Students travel to Russia in 2012 as part of their 4th Year Seminar

Mar 22/12

15 History students at Laurier will participate in the learning experience of a lifetime when they travel to Russia this June as part of an exciting fourth-year reading and research seminar offered at Laurier.   

The seminar (HI411) – entitled “War and Memory in the Twentieth Century” – owes a great deal to retired History professor Terry Copp, current Director of the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies.   Last fall professor Copp successfully applied to the university’s Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) to support the delivery of this seminar.  As a result, students who participate pay only a modest portion of their overall costs. 

In the words of student participant Jordan Burrows:  “This experience promises to be an incredible opportunity for me and for the others who have been selected to go.  It will most certainly be the defining moment of our undergraduate studies at Laurier.”

This year’s seminar will be taught by Dr. Len Friesen, Russian historian in the Department of History.   The course will be taught at the Waterloo campus of WLU, and on site in Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow).  It explores two of the most intriguing and controversial topics in modern history: war and memory.

HI411 will focus on events ranging from the Great War (World War I) to the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet designation for World War II) and the onset of the Cold War.  At the same time, students will also be encouraged to consider how the historical development of urban space in both Moscow and St. Petersburg reflects a centuries-long engagement with war and memory, including the Mongol (13th century) and Napoleonic (1812) invasions and above all the Petrine creation of a modern military state in the early eighteenth century.  Even the Soviet war on peasants under Stalinism will be put under the microscope.

Student participant Jessica Oosterhof speaks for many in the seminar when she says:  I am thrilled that I have been given the opportunity to participate in HI 411. I am eager to learn how past wars have been memorialized in Russia, and to think about how we have done the same thing in Canada.  I also cannot believe that I’ll have the opportunity to travel with my professor to two of the world’s great cities:  Moscow and St. Petersburg.  I can’t wait to see history come to life before my eyes.” 

Professor Friesen considers Russia to be an ideal place to study war and memory in the twentieth century.  “After all”, he observes “more than 23 million Soviet citizens lost their lives in World War Two alone.  That’s more than a third of all casualties.  So we have much to consider, including the remarkable events of the 900 day siege of Leningrad from 1941 to 1944 when more than a million civilians perished under terrible conditions.  Along the way we will pay careful attention to how the Soviet Union survived the war, and how it sought to memorialize a victory that came at great cost.”

There is a larger story to be told here as well.  HI411 reflects Laurier’s growing commitment to the internationalization of the student experience; what the university calls “Global Citizenship formation.”  Laurier students who have experiences like these will reap dividends for years to come as they continue on in their studies or begin their careers.   It prepares them for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Jordan Burrows concludes:  Although there are many exciting things to look forward to on this trip, the thing that most appeals to me is that it really will lift history off of the pages of a textbook; one can only attain so much knowledge of a given culture by reading about it. To be immersed in the language, the culture, and the society by which I find myself most fascinated is an opportunity of a lifetime, and one I trust I won't soon forget.”

Students will participate in a weekly reading seminar for the month prior to their June departure, and will follow-up their trip with an intensive research seminar in the Fall Term of 2012.  By that time everything about their understanding will have been enriched and transformed as the history of the twentieth century comes alive before their very eyes.  It will indeed be the learning experience of a lifetime.

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