Week One Journal Entry
My work during the first week was a general exploration of our topic--gathering contextual information about the "theatre" of pre-1750 Russia, from which to begin my research. But I quickly discovered that there wasn't a "theatre" of pre-1750 Russia. Rather, the "theatre," as we would define it, did not begin until 1756. Finding information regarding the "theatre" before this date was a frustrating task, and generally unsuccessful. So, widening my lens on what I would deem to be the "theatre," I began exploring the possible roots of what led to this "beginning" in 1756. Working as far back as possible, I began with the folk traditions of Russia--searching for any sources regarding any early forms of storytelling (folk tales, cave paintings, anything...)--and found very little. There were a few sources referencing folk traditions, but nothing going into specifics. Jumping forward a few years, there was information speaking of theatre being used by Jesuits in schools as a means of educating, counteracting Protestantism, but nothing specific.
Jumping to the end of the 17th Century, theatre from the west began making its way into Russia. I found accounts of instances where German adaptations of English plays were being presented to Russian political powers. This period of sampling seems to have been one of the initial steps in the development of Russian Theatre--seeing theatre of other cultures, and those in power enjoyed it enough to desire the development of the theatre in Russia. Although there wasn't much information to be found, this was fascinating to me. The development of the Russian Theatre from Western European models...what effect did this have on the development of the Russian Theatre? Did its late development contribute to a desire to "catch up," so to speak, to what they were seeing from Western Europe? Did this give the Russian Theatre momentum in its development?
Although there wasn't much more to be found along these lines, this did get me thinking about the nature of imitation in the development of theatre. In these instances where English plays that had been adopted by Germans and then later translated into Russian, what was left of the original English play? Through the act of translation, what is changed? Even if someone is trying his or her best to preserve the integrity of the original content, the act of translation is still an act of creation--something new is formed...
This idea applies to any theatrical performance. An actor may be doing his or her best to most accurately imitate the exact intentions of the playwright for any particular character, but the mere translation from the page to the stage will bring with it the creation of something specific that is unique to that particular actor, space and time. This returns to one of the key aspects of historiographical study: even through the act of examining history, we are altering it.
Week 2 Journal Entry
Having decided to focus our research on religious performance in 17th Century Russia, our group set out this week to expand upon the few sources that we have regarding this specific topic. But, discovering a lack of information to be found, we began exploring the possibilities why there was this lack of information. Focusing in on the political/social climate of Russia at the time, we have been able to gather information on possible reasons for the existence of this hole in the record. I read an article with some useful information on the role of the Tsar within Russian society--and in particular, how that role changed throughout the latter part of the 17th century. I also read another interesting article that spoke specifically of the English perceptions of Russia in the 17th Century, and how and why those perceptions changed. These perceptions seem to have contributed to the lack of information gathered on Russian culture in the 17th century.
The second article (by M.S. Anderson, cited in annotated bibliography) described the disconnect between Russian and English culture beginning in the 1620's, as Tsars Michael and Alexis began seeing the parliamentary regime of the west as illegitimate, finding the "constitutional and religious aspirations which underlay the opposition to the king" as repugnant and incomprehensible. So, trade with England was almost entirely cut off, and with that went almost all communication between the two cultures. So, it is no wonder that there is so little written about the social, political, or cultural climate of Russia at the time; the men that would have been writing about it, were it not for this lack of contact, would have most likely been Englishmen.
The first article (Whittaker, Cynthia) focused on the latter part of the 17th century when the contact between the two cultures began to be re-established. This was mainly due to Peter I, who sought to reform the role of the Tsar within Russian society. The changes he sought to make extended to all aspects of life--economic, social, political, and cultural. He sought to modernize Russia along the lines of Western European society. His reforms got the ball rolling with regards to the "theatrical" developments of Russia. But, it wouldn't be until the reign of Catherine in the 1760's that Peter's reforms, at least in terms of theatrical development would finally come to fruition...(post 1750...)
But, the question that rises within me out of an examination of these two articles is why; why was Peter so motivated to enact such intense reforms? What went on from the 1620's to the 1680's that spurred such reforms upon Peter's ascension into leadership? After almost entirely cutting itself off from England for over 50 years, did Russia suddenly realize that it had some catching up to do? The Anderson article mentions a Russian ambassador to England having a great interest in a production of Shakespeare's Tempest... What would his reaction have been to this foreign convention? Did his interest in the production spawn from a realization of the potential power of the theatre? This power would have no doubt been expressed through the work of Shakespeare. What would his account of the performance have been to Peter upon his return? Could the power of Shakespeare observed by that ambassador have been a spurring factor for the intense reforms enacted by Peter? Things to consider.
Although they do not directly relate to our focus on the religious theatre of the 17th century in Russia, the Anderson and Whittaker articles help to create a frame for this period of time--this hole, which our research is focused on. This project has forced me to research in a different, more active manner. I am constantly asking myself why one thing might have lead to another, instead of just blindly waiting for the comprehensive list of what happened to appear. This research has lead to some interesting discoveries, even if they do not end up in our final presentation. In particular, I find this idea of the Russian ambassador viewing a production of the Tempest quite fascinating. It would have been very interesting to hear what he would have reported back to his Russian buddies.
Journal Entry 3 (Pre-Presentation)
Having completed and assembled our research, I am excited to share what we discovered with the class. I feel as though our research process was quite different than that of the other groups, and I think that the way that we have decided to present our information highlights our unique process. We have decided to frame our presentation by using the route that our research took us on... Beginning with initial frustrations at not being able to find material to draw from, to our questioning of WHY the lack of information existed, and finally to the part where our real research began: looking at contextual historical/political/religious/cultural clues to uncover why this "hole" was there.
Up until this point in our research, I had been a bit frustrated at the lack of information. But once it became more of a mystery to be unraveled, then I began to be more absorbed by our research. Unlike research processes I have previously been involved in, I felt as though the work we were doing was a process of uncovering things that had not previously been uncovered... The ideas I was forming were my own, based on the research I had done myself, as opposed to a compilation of the published ideas of others...
It was this process of solving the "mystery" of this missing information that made the research interesting. It was then that I began finding information that sparked my interest in the topic and in complementary topics that unfortunately could not end up being a part of our final presentation. This research has sparked my interest in the theatre of Russia, and has inspired continued exploration of the subject; I hope it will inspire the same for those we share it with today.
Journal Entry 4 (Post-Presentation)
The process of this project has been very unique in comparison to other research work I have done in the past. I have learned a lot about the concealed roots of the Russian Theatre, and about the nature of the excavation and examination involved in the historiographical research process. Having the opportunity to compare our process and presentation with those of other groups has been fascinating. Even with those groups where the information available for examination is abundant, the historiographical question is still present: why that (much or little) information exists, and how an examination of particular information affects the information itself and what is said about the topic as a whole. At first, I was frustrated to have a topic with such a scarcity of information. But as the process went on, this proved to be more of a gift. This project has been one of the only instances as a student when I felt as though the analytical work I was engaged in was my own; it felt fresh, not just the regurgitated ideas of others. The search for information to explain why there was such a lack of information was very engaging. By using an outline of our process to frame the information we found, we hoped to inspire a similar engagement through our presentation. Unfortunately, it isn't easy to bring information from journals and articles to life. We had no sections of dialogue to be read, and the pictures that could be found were limited. Therefore, I felt as though the only way for me to keep students engaged with the information I hoped to communicate would be to explain the information as I had come to understand it in my own words, limiting large sections of text displayed on the power point, and using as many pictures as possible.
My issues with the project all stem from the difficulties of group projects in general... There have been moments when I felt as though the amount I was contributing was not matched by others in the group, and moments when I felt guilty at not having the time necessary to devote to the project. I only wish, as always, that there had been more time to spend in the room with my group working on research and rehearsing our presentation.
Overall, this project has changed my attitude towards the process of research, and the way in which I will go about engaging in future research. Through this project I have found that as long as the historiographical question is kept in mind throughout the process of research, it is impossible for the research not to be engaging...because even if there is no information to be found, the question of why will always lead somewhere.
Also, it was very interesting watching the Senior BFA "Three Sisters" production having just completed this research...