In June of 2019, the Carmel Institute sponsored a ten-day class-trip to Russia for ten students from American University, Georgetown, and George Washington University. It commemorated the 220th anniversary of the birth of Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin.
“Pushkin’s Russia: Literature and the Birth of National Identity” used Suzanne Massie’s Land of the Firebird as a general introduction to Russian culture, but focused on Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin as the central text, both of which the students read before the trip. The class combined discussions of the books with visits to museums, art galleries, and concerts in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Pushkinskie gory in the Pskov Region. In the process, students explored the formation of Russia's national identity through Alexander Pushkin's poetry in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, European imperialism, and the era of Romanticism.
Carmel Institute director and professor of history Anton Fedyashin guided the students through museums and urban explorations, and led daily seminars based on the readings. The class also attended musical performances. In the process, the students learned to contextualize written texts through museum exhibitions, artistic representations, and the interpretation of musical performances. The urban tours related architectural styles to literary and artistic trends. The class also introduced students to the impact of deep cultural structures on visual and audio expressions of Pushkin’s time as well as later interpretations.
The first full day of the trip began with tours of Moscow’s Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Alexandrovsky Garden, and Tverskaya Street. On day three, Dr. Fedyashin gave the students a guided tour of the “old” and “new” Tretyakov galleries. A dinner at Beloe solntse pustyni restaurant introduced the class to Uzbek cuisine before an evening concert of works by Sergei Rachmaninov and Piotr Tchaikovsky at Moscow’s brand new Zaryadie Concert Hall. On the fourth day, Dr. Fedyashin guided the students through the State Historical Museum after which everyone lunched at the historic GUM mall and then strolled over to The War of 1812 Museum. After a historic tour of the Bolshoi Theater, the class closed out the day by exploring Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian cuisine at the Strana kotoroi nyet restaurant. The students started the fifth day touring the Kremlin Armory and Kremlin Cathedrals. After lunch, Dr. Fedyashin guided the group through the Pushkin Museum on Arbat Street and then gave the group a historical tour of this historical thoroughfare, complete with visits to the multiple souvenir shops for which Arbat is famous.
The sixth day started with an early departure from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the high-speed Sapsan train. And upon arriving in Russia’s northern capital, the group had lunch and toured the Pushkin Museum on the Moika River—the apartment where Pushkin died after his injury in a duel in 1837. The students tasted traditional and modern Russian cuisine at Syrovarnia restaurant and then attended the “New Silk Road” concert featuring Russian and Chinese ensembles playing national instruments at St. Petersburg’s Philarmonia Hall. The class spent the seventh day touring the Catherine Palace and the Lyceum at Tsarskoe Selo outside of St. Petersburg where Pushkin received his first-class education. On the eighth day, Dr. Fedyashin gave the class a tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress and then the group crossed over to the Petrogradskii side of the city to explore the Museum of Political History. That evening, the class took in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanta at the Mariinsky Theater.
The students left the hotel early the next day for a tour of the Hermitage Museum and the historic building of the Winter Palace in which it is housed. They explored Georgian cooking for lunch at Khochu Kharcho restaurant. And after packing their things, the class left the northern capital for a four-hour ride to Pushkinskie gory—the museum complex that includes the Pushkin family estate—in the Pskov Region. Upon arriving there, they had a traditional Russian dinner at Korzinochka café. The students spent the last full day of the trip touring the Mikhailovskoe Museum where Pushkin wrote Eugene Onegin. They also visited the historic post-office in Bugrovo village and then paid their respects to Pushkin’s grave at the Sviatogorskii Monastery. After a traditional Russian banya and a seminar over dinner, the class took stock of their experiences and how they relate to Pushkin’s art within the context of the post-Napoleonic era of Romanticism. Dr. Fedyashin also gave the students the guidelines for their final papers. Late that evening, the class left for its overnight drive to St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport from where the students began their journey back to the US.