Virtual Lectures via Zoom Webinar
Winter Series 2021
The Soviet Experiment – Russia’s Tumultuous 20th Century
Presented by Julia Zarankin
Tuesdays, January 12 to March 2, 2021
10:00 AM to 12:00 noon
Offered as virtual lectures via Zoom Webinar
From the Bolshevik Revolution to Putin, Russia’s history in the 20th and early 21st centuries has been tumultuous.
As the 20th century began, St. Petersburg was the capital of the Russian Empire and 20 years later, Moscow became the capital of the Soviet Union, with St. Petersburg renamed Leningrad. By the end of the century, the Soviet Union crumbled, Leningrad transformed back into St. Petersburg, and Moscow became capital of the Russian Federation with a new, modern-day dictator at its helm.
We will examine how this head-spinning historical trajectory plays out in Russia by focusing on the evolution of Russian culture – including art, music, literature, film and architecture – from Soviet to post-Soviet times.
This course will begin with the 1905 Revolution and explore Stalin’s reign of terror, Khrushchev’s thaw, Brezhnev’s stagnation and Gorbachev’s perestroika in order to make sense of Putin’s current socio-political climate in present-day Russia.
January 12, 2021 – Twilight of Empire
Russian culture at the turn of the 20th century. Cultural splendour in Russia comes hand in hand with imperial decay. Avant-garde movements.
January 19, 2021 – Revolutionary Energy
Russia had three revolutions, the first in 1905 and two in 1917. The end of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. How modern Russian artists, poets, writers and theatre directors embraced the spirit of the Revolution. St. Petersburg renamed Petrograd and the capital of Russia moves to Moscow.
January 26, 2021 – Visions of Utopia and Homo Sovieticus
The formation of the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin, the rise of Stalinism and the Socialist Realism doctrine for the arts. The emergence of a new cultural icon, and a new human being: the invincible Homo Sovieticus. Five-year plans, forced industrialization, Stakhanovites, collectivization. St. Petersburg renamed Leningrad.
February 2, 2021 – “Life has Become More Joyous”
Stalinism in Russia. Terror, the gulag, the purges and the barbaric 1938 show trials of former Bolsheviks. In the midst of Stalinist purges and the terror, musical comedies thrive in the Soviet Union. Propaganda and the creation of an entertainment industry. Dimitri Shostakovich.
February 9, 2021 – The Thaw and De-Stalinization
After the Great Patriotic War and the death of Stalin, Khrushchev’s regime erases the stains of Stalinism and what follows is brief period of reprieve. Russia’s first cosmonauts conquer space. The perils of reform. Joseph Brodsky’s trial and the arts. The end of Khrushchev.
February 16, 2021 – Stagnation and the Ruins of Utopia
Living in the sham that is Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. The Olympics in 1980. Maintaining a façade amid the disintegration and erosion of Soviet ideology.
February 23, 2021 – Glasnost, Perestroika and the End of the USSR
Moving toward a new order. Opening up toward the west, dismantling communism, Gorbachev’s reforms, Yeltsin, and the 1993 coup. Leningrad becomes St. Petersburg again and the Soviet Union collapses.
March 2, 2021 – Beyond Communism
Putin’s Russia and his new cult of personality. Russian nationalism and rewriting of the country’s Communist past. Corruption. Post-Soviet art and literature. Where is Russia headed now? What does it mean to live in Putin’s Russia today? Reflections on the “Soviet Experiment.”
Recently awarded an Excellence in Teaching award from the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, Dr. Julia Zarankin holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University. She enjoys teaching lifelong learners in venues across the GTA, including Later Life Learning at Innis College, Hot Docs Curious Minds, George Brown Seniors and the Royal Conservatory, and was featured as a guest on Michael Enright’s Sunday Edition.
Julia is also the author of the recently published book, Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder, which has garnered praise from Margaret Atwood. Dr. Zarankin’s writing is supported by grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.
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Dr. Anthony Davis
Special Places and Remarkable People
Presented by Tony Davis
Thursdays, January 14 to March 11, 2021
10:00 AM to 12:00 noon
*No Lecture February 25, 2021*
Offered as virtual lectures via Zoom Webinar
As some of you know, I’ve travelled a lot doing field work, teaching and bonding with my two sons. With travel out for most of us during the pandemic, it might be relaxing, entertaining and instructive to revisit some of my destinations, but not as purely a picture show.
By design or accident, each of these places has an attachment to a famous historical figure or cultural group. How to talk about the Galapagos without mentioning Charles Darwin? His picture stands reassuringly on my night table.
How to speak about Pacific travels without invoking James Cook and anti-hero William Bligh? Impossible to talk about North Atlantic islands without reference to the commonly maligned Norse. Even Inner Mongolia has its “famous” connections – with Genghis Khan.
January 14, 2021 – Darwin, Evolution and the Galapagos
Like all oceanic islands, the Galapagos Islands have a peculiar suite of plants and animals. Endemic animals include flightless cormorants, marine iguanas and Darwin’s finches. Notable among plant endemics are prickly pears and tree daisies. Although Darwin’s finches get the main billing, it was the Galapagos mockingbirds that first caught his attention. The islands were not discovered until 1535, and not settled until the early part of the nineteenth century. Now, increasing tourism and the impact of introduced species has the potential to destroy what is still a largely pristine biota.
January 21, 2021 – Genghis Khan, the Yellow River and the Loess Plateau
This area in north central China is known as the Cradle of Civilization. The earliest dates for agriculture in China come from the middle section of the Yellow River. Xian, the largest city in the region, was the first capital of a unified China. The region became a battleground for the Han and the Mongols. Genghis Khan made major inroads and grandson Kublai Khan briefly occupied the whole of China. The yellowness of the river stems from the huge amounts of silt flushed into it as it crosses the Loess Plateau. The region is being rapidly desertified. Erosion creates spectacular landscapes and impoverishes agriculture. Frequent and massive flooding downstream has earned the river its “China’s Sorrow” tag. Rapid industrialization adds to the region’s environmental problems.
January 28, 2021 – El Nino and Pre-Columbian Societies in South and Central America
Central and South America produced a series of spectacular and generally short-lived cultures characterized by large settlements supported by intensive agricultural systems, massive architecture, huge earthworks and complex societies. Some became victims of European exploitation but most became increasingly susceptible to environmental calamity. The major culprit seems to have been El Nino, the Boy Child. In some places, repeated flooding was the major cause but in central America, drought appears to have been the driver.
February 4, 2021 – Chasing Captain Cook – 1 – New Zealand
James Cook (1728-1779) made three round-the-world voyages. He had a strong Canadian connection. Besides mapping the west coast during his first global voyage, he spent summers between 1759 and 1767 mapping the coast of Newfoundland. On his trips to New Zealand he took with him two famous naturalists: Joseph Banks, later to be the first President of the Royal Society, and Daniel Solander. In New Zealand, Cook’s main task was mapping the coast. What did he see? How different was his New Zealand from that of the present day?
February 11, 2021 – Chasing Captain Cook – 2 – French Polynesia and Hawaii
On his third voyage, Cook explored the west coast of Canada and attempted to find the Northwest Passage. He visited Tahiti, Moorea and some of the other Society Islands. With him was William Bligh, later of the Mutiny on the Bounty infamy. The breadfruit story starts here. Cook was killed on Hawaii in 1779. What was Cook’s Hawaii like? Polynesians had been there for a thousand years before his arrival. What impact had they had?
February 18, 2021 – The Viking Realm – 1 – Erik the Red, Iceland and the North Atlantic
During the tenth century, the Vikings expanded across the North Atlantic, through the Baltic and the Mediterranean into the Black Sea and the Caspian. The reasons are unclear. Most of this movement involved colonization rather than plunder. Iceland was settled from 874 CE. The population was always small and subject to the threats of the Icelandic environment, particularly its volcanism. Erik the Red was exiled from Norway to Iceland, but was soon in trouble there, too. In 986 he established a colony in Greenland. Why was life so difficult in Iceland? Why was the Greenland settlement doomed?
March 4, 2021 – The Viking Realm – 2 – Vikings in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
In the late eighth century, early in the age of expansion, Vikings occupied the northern isles of Scotland (Shetland and Orkney), the Hebrides, the region around Dublin and the northeastern part of England centered on York. The settlement involved the establishment of several kingdoms and earldoms. We’ll look at the nature of their settlement in the northern and western islands of Scotland. How did they occupy their new realm? How did they make a living in what today seems like a forbidding environment?
March 11, 2021 – Life on the Fringes of the Emperor Hadrian’s Empire
The Roman Empire reached its maximum extent during the reign of Hadrian. Life on the fringes had many of the trappings of normality – impressive cities and fortifications, etc. – but it was unpredictable. In England, Roman Britannia, life at the edges is well documented at Hadrian’s Wall. In Jordan, the spectacular ruins of two cities, Jerash, north of Amman, and Petra in the south, attest to the scale of Roman commitment. Both were thriving trade centres until routes shifted and both declined. An earthquake near Petra in 363 CE destroyed many of the buildings and the complicated irrigation system on which the city depended. Volubilis in Morocco was a thriving Roman city for about 200 years. Its fortunes were based largely on olive oil. It fell to local tribes in 285 CE and was never reoccupied.
Tony Davis is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Geography, University of Toronto. Although his official appointment was as a biogeographer, he considers himself an environmental historian.
Tony’s research focused on the reconstruction of past environments using pollen analysis, but teaching has always been his passion. Increasingly this shifted to an emphasis on human-environment interactions in both his undergraduate teaching and in his presentations for lifelong learning groups. Tony’s involvement with the latter started with Learning Unlimited Etobicoke more than two decades ago, but since his retirement has extended to groups throughout the GTA and most recently to Burlington, where he now lives.
This will be his fourth series for Lifelong Learning Mississauga.