In fall 2014, SPANners returned from their summertime excursions abroad; one group traveled to Cuba & Puerto Rico, while the other visited Russia. During fall semester the SPANners met regularly to reflect on their unique travel and research experiences and to begin to compile their individual research findings.
Cuba & Puerto Rico
Visit the Facebook site of the 2014 Cuba & Puerto Rico SPAN Facebook Group for a peek at some of the activities SPANners enjoyed while visiting Puerto Rico and Cuba.
The 2014 Russia SPAN group also has a Facebook site; however it is a private site, open only to members of the Russia group; the site is used primarily for internal communications and class reminders.
SPAN scholars presented findings
Three SPANners to Russia shared insights from their travels at The Museum of Russian Art during an Interdisciplinary Student Research Symposium held at the Museum held in February, 2015. The symposium coincided with the Museum’s exhibition, “Life on the Edge of the Forest: Russian Traditions in Wood”. The three SPAN presenters were as follows:
- ***Tim McDonald, University of Minnesota:“Wooden Toys of the Russian North”A curious assortment of archaic-looking wooden figures from the Russian North provokes an array of questions. Were these “northern toys” indeed toys? Is their primitive style deliberate or incidental, utilitarian or symbolic? What do they tell us about the peasants who made them? This paper explores speculations posed by leading Soviet and Russian academicians regarding the toys’ significance and comments on the sacred relationship with nature they suggest.
- *** Kate Lundell, University of Minnesota:
“Experiences of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Reforms by Youth in the USSR” In March 1985, at the young age of fifty-four, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev rose to the office of General Secretary of the Soviet Union. Unlike his elderly predecessors, Gorbachev was full of vitality and grandiose ideas. He was determined to be a great reformer, putting the Soviet Union back on the trajectory he believed the venerated Vladimir Ilich Lenin had intended – a path toward a humane socialism. His policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost(openness) were the avenues by which he hoped to realize his dream. Indeed these policies revolutionized the Soviet Union, but Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost ultimately became the catalyst for the dissolution of the USSR. Initially, for the Union’s youth, as well as the rest of society, Gorbachev and his reforms brought excitement and promises of a better life. Many Soviet people experienced an insatiable appetite for knowledge as glasnost allowed previously banned literature, discussion, and investigation to emerge. There were widespread notions of utopianism as perestroika promised to usher in a new age of wealth and prosperity; but the Soviet people eventually became disillusioned with the Communist Party and disenchanted with perestroika. It failed to bring the hoped for prosperity, but rather ushered in the chaos of the 1990s.
- ***Mary Webber, University of Minnesota:
“Contemporary Agriculture in Russia” The food production system in the Russian Federation is a relatively unchanged system from the one found in the late Soviet Union; it is mismanaged, underproductive, but despite this has the possibility for much more. Structurally, the system is surviving on the skeleton of the former Soviet system— it has seen low amounts of research and development, low levels of inputs such as the use of fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, and despite holding the greatest amount and a portion of the most fertile soil of any country in the world it continues to be well below expected production levels. In spite of setbacks due to the history of the Soviet Union and their effects on the current system, the Russian Federation has the potential to be a global powerhouse in agricultural production.
SPANners heard top Cuban diplomat on Cuban and U.S. relations
SPAN and SPAN alumni listened to Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez, Ph.D, discuss the prognosis for normalized U.S.-Cuban relations at a forum at the University of St. Thomas in October, 2014. The forum was sponsored by the Minnesota International Center.
2014 Russia SPAN Facebook Group This is a private site open only to members of the 2014 group and those affiliated with SPAN.