The History Student, admitted to Rice
Why in the world do you want to become a historian? Heaven knows Russia doesn’t need professional historians! » Having studied for five years at the department of history at Moscow State University, I was constantly surprised by how frequently I have been asked that particular question. Many have urged me over the years to make a change, to align my career with more basic interests. Unlike these people I have a firm believe that every person can create his happiness with his own hands, and my happiness is in history.
An intense interest in history has always been a trademark of mine. I grew up in a family of historians, so since early childhood I got used to the sounds of disputes in history, in which later I took part myself: Some day I grew to challenge my parents and win, using my own rules of logic and argument, in spite of their influence on my theories about history.
It was time when the USSR began its painful transformation into the new Russia; the time, full of revolutionary events and ideas, hopes and expectations for a new life after crush of communism. Conceptions, opinions and ideas, freedom of speech and opening of archives created favorable mental atmosphere, which inevitably stimulated my interest in history and aspiration for cognition. When I read books of Walter Scott, I was fascinated by Scotland. Soon my interest of Scotland became more concrete — I tried to examine actual resources of economic growth and rapid formation of capitalist system in XVIII century Scotland in order to find «remedies» for the diseases of Russian economy. My decision to become a historian followed logically the desire to grasp the meaning of the present and the perspectives of the future through understanding of the past.
Entering the department of history at Rostov State University (in my native city) was the first important step in my life. But after the first year of studies I realized that Russian «wind of change» didn’t influence «soviet» ideological approach to history, at least in the Russian province. At this time I have chosen the opinion of English philosopher Joseph Priestly as my motto: «We have to make our lives ourselves.» Inspired by the idea, I decided to do the next important step in my career: to change the kind of education and the way of life. I transferred to Moscow State University, the best institution for getting education in history in Russian Federation.
This year I graduated from Moscow State University and faced the dilemma of choosing the best way to continue my education. Today, standing on the threshold of the next vitally important period in my life, I am going to follow my principle in shaping my own life.
To help you understand my current goals better, I would like to explain my educational experience up to this point. While studying I was interested in modern British history, my research work was devoted to the British Enlightenment. The first course paper with the title «Political ideal of Joseph Priestly» had won recognition as one of the three best student’s works of the year at the department. Later I narrowed my focus to a particular problem of the Scottish Enlightenment, because my early interest to the Scottish Enlightenment was born of passion for Scotland. So in my next written works I investigated a contribution of Adam Ferguson, a famous Scottish philosopher, to development of political economy. The graduation paper had the title: «Social and economic thoughts of Adam Ferguson» and it took its place in the department’s library of the best graduation papers.
During educational process I had different experiences connected to history. For some time I was lucky enough to teach at school and work in archives and libraries (see attached Student report summary of academic records). Also my educational background and scientific importance of the theme helped me publish articles in historical magazines and to take part in conferences.
In terms of career, my goals are to teach history, conduct research projects, and publish results of the projects. To achieve my aims means to become a specialist with high qualifications. Unfortunately, the latest changes in Russia brought about not only positive democratic reforms and political freedom but also reduction of employment possibilities for scientists and curtailment of stable government subsidies for scientific projects. As a result, history suffers from this situation as all other fields of science do.
To my mind it is of key importance to have possibilities to obtain excellent education and to conduct certain research projects independently that is why I consider doctoral studies at Princeton University as the next professional stepping stone in my career. First of all, teaching assistantship program could provide me with the practical teaching experience. My desire is to learn in practice how to guide others in their explorations of the world through history, to encourage them to see in history all I see in it: the whole of human experience and the power of human intellect and imagination.
Further, earning a Ph.D. in history would advance my other goals by adding to my creative and analytical skills in history as well as in working with language. Development of history as a science in Russia depended on ideological strategy of the only ruling political party for the last seventy years. Inevitably it left traces on the main approach to history. With certainty I can assert, that manifestations of such approach are still very powerful in historical education in Russia. Apparently, we should take not only external democratic institutions, but rather change our approach to life, which can affect our approach to history. However it may be, Russian historians should use experience of colleagues from the countries with democratic traditions. I still feel I have so much more to learn about different approaches to history.
Taking all the circumstances into consideration, I came to the conclusion, that the best opportunity to pursue my «chosen path» would be to continue my education as a graduate student at Princeton University. The facilities, scholarship, and traditions of your university, combined with the caliber of the student’s body, make me confident that I will be stimulated throughout the course of my studies. Upon graduating from your program, a variety of options are available for pursuing my objectives.
In conclusion I must say that I would regard my being admitted to the graduate program not only as a great honor but more as a high responsibility and obligation of hard work.