Backstage in the Borderlands: Problems in the Social History of the Arts

In September – December, 2011, Dr. Mayhill Fowler (Princeton University) tought a course, entitled: "Backstage in the Borderlands: Problems in the Social History of the Arts". This seminar was offered jointly by the Center for Urban History, and the Ukrainian Catholic University.

This course focusesd on the world of the arts by examining its social and political structures. Our case study was the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, places where the arts are generally acknowledged to be "important." We examined how people made sense of art, what function art played in the lives of those making it, those receiving it, and those regulating it. The comparatively late (relative to Europe) development of high culture, the professionalization of the arts, import/export with the West, artistic explosion in the 19th and 20th centuries, imperial vs. national vs. Soviet management of the arts, the changing role of the artist and art in society, the center-periphery dynamic, art and urban development, inter alia, focused our attention throughout the semester.

Our mode of study was cultural history. In other words, tried to understand not only the artistic achievements of Russia and the Soviet Union, but also the world of meanings behind them. This seminar was not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to give you a series of analytic tools with which to approach reading and writing about culture.

This was a one-semester course for undergraduate and MA students of the Ukrainian Catholic University and the MIHuS program. The seminar was also opened for undergraduate and graduate students of other schools. Classes were being held weekly in English.

Mayhill Fowler has a PhD from the Department of History at Princeton. Her thesis was entitled “Beaumond: State and Stage on Empire’s Edge, Russia and Soviet Ukraine, 1916 – 1941”. Fowler has a degree in Russian literature, and an MA in acting.