Summer School 2019

XXII International Humanities Summer School

 School of Philology, Moscow State University

Department of General and Applied Philology, National Research University “Higher School of Economics”

Leo Tolstoy State Museum

Fulbright Program

Mikhail Prokhorov Fund

National Classics in Global Transit: New Challenges for Literary Studies

June 18-21, 2019

“Classics” comprise the most treasured and prestigious part of any national cultural tradition, a nation’s greatest contribution to world culture. But today, world culture increasingly seems less a perpetual abstraction and more a multivocal ensemble that revises itself constantly as we watch and with our participation. In new contexts classical texts are being read in new ways and acquire a degree of mobility unbeknownst to them before: such have been the lessons of cultural history. At the same time sociological studies tell us that the classics are being read most broadly and actively by younger readers—not only as part of required educational curricula, but as part of a conscious investment in their own cultural and social development. Books old and new are coming together to form a global repertoire of reading (as well as viewing and listening), to which young people are far more sensitive than was their parents’ generation.

The 2019 Humanities Summer School will address the journeys of classical texts within and across cultural boundaries. These journeys are negotiated by way of translation, adaptation, and intertextual ties, through channels both educational as well as commercial. As they travel, original texts acquire multiple interpretations and versions—from academic to mass-media, from culturally mainstream to experimental. What is preserved in the original text? What is transformed or lost? Do the trajectories of their movement depend on the qualities of the texts themselves, the composition of the reading public, political factors, market trends, government or private subvention? To what degree is the classical canon determined by philologists and literary professionals, and to what—by “simple readers”? To what do the choices of the former and latter speak?

In the absence of overarching theories in this area we will focus on concrete case studies: for example, on the journeys taken in cultural space by those classics of the nineteenth century whose centennials are occurring in 2019 or recently before: Ivan Turgenev, George Elliot, Walt Whitman, and Herman Melville.

On the basis of these cases we will discuss the varied, at times unexpected, forms of presence Russian classics have acquired on the cultural landscape of Europe and the US, and English and American classics—on the cultural horizon of Russian readers.


Discussion is open (but not limited) to the following questions:

  • How are “foreign” classics received in academic (from school through university) environments and beyond by readers of various generations and, particularly, by young people?
  • What are the criteria for successful cross-cultural transfer? What risks, along with new possibilities, arise along the way?
  • Does literary education today provide the basic competencies required to appreciate the metamorphoses readers’ “native” classics undergo in the global media network—or, at least, sensitivity to those metamorphoses?
  • What challenges have arisen in this regard for educators, teacher-training programs, and teacher retraining? How do we devise educational programs that take into consideration cultural diversity and the innumerable differences among cultures and that develop skills needed for sensitive and responsible discussion thereof?