Material Witnesses in Moscow
Project Director: Julia Chadaga, Russian Studies
Part of our 2021/2022 DLA Faculty Fellows Cohort
2023 Project Update (available to Macalester community)
This year, I will develop Material Witnesses in Moscow, a web-based resource that enables visitors to learn about Russian culture through things. This website presents a virtual exhibit of objects accompanied by essays that reveal these objects’ links to culture, history, and politics. Our site is devoted to illuminating the lives that these objects touched in historical context and exploring how the past manifests its presence through material and visual culture in the Russian-speaking world today. I am collaborating on this project with Professor Julie Buckler at Harvard University and Anna Ivanov ’18, a doctoral student at Harvard.
From the start, students at Macalester have contributed to Material Witnesses as content creators, and developing the website with the support of this fellowship allows me to continue providing students with opportunities for collaboration. I would also like to integrate work on the website into my teaching via project-based learning, the benefits of which I have seen when my students created an online Twin Cities Guide for Russian speakers, and when I incorporated an oral history project into my Senior Seminar.
Some of the most meaningful work that I have done at Macalester has involved serving the broader Twin Cities community in which we are situated. My partners and I are eager to create materials that K-12 teachers can use to help introduce elementary school students to culture through artifacts. For us, this form of engagement resonates with our commitment to cultural diplomacy that has shaped our project from the beginning. We find inspiring the idea of getting young children to think about what makes world cultures distinctive, as well as what connects all human beings across differences. Also key for us is engaging with the public by inviting them to be not just consumers but also creators of content. For example, we hope to connect with Russian-speaking emigres, including retirees who can speak to us about beloved objects that they have brought with them from the former Soviet Union. From schoolchildren to seniors, we thus strive to use our website to foster multi-generational engagement.