History of the Faculty

History of the Faculty

Faculty of HistoryInitially, the so-called “History Faculty” did not exist. Training of specialists in humanities was carried out at the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS). The Faculty was run by Vsevlod Ignatovsky - the Chairman of the FSS Presidium, a well known historian and statesman (Commissioner of Public Education, the first President of the Academy of Sciences of the BSSR). Among 50 professors who came to work in Minsk were mostly historians, lawyers and physicians (the Medical Faculty was founded along with the Faculty of Social Sciences).

The department at that time was not a separate entity, but was represented by a professor giving the corresponding course. So, the Russian History Department was represented by Dmitrii Zharinov, Alexandr Savich and Vladimir Picheta; the Belarusian History Department – Vsevlod Ignatovsky and F.F.Turuk, the General History Department – Dmitrii Konchalovsky, Vladimir Djakov and Vladimir Pertsev; the Department of the History of Religion – Nikolai Nikolsky. Workshops and work in groups were practiced because of the absence of a full set of curriculum and lack and rotation of lecturers. The process of Belarusization (1924-1928’s) played a significant role in the development of historical education. It promoted not only organization of the educational process in the Belarusian language but also improvement of the forms and methods of teaching.

However, the process of Belarusization was quickly ceased and since the late 1920’s teaching of the history of the Party and Leninism was brought to a focus. The leading professors together with Rector Vladimir Picheta were subjected to repressions. Reorganization of the BSU in 1931 promoted the development of universities in Belarus, but at the same time hampered the activity of the BSU.

The Decree of the CPC of the USSR and the Central Committee of the Communist Party (bolsheviks) “About teaching of the civil history in the USSR schools” was published on 16 May 1934. It started a new phase in the development of historical education and science in the country and it noted that “teaching of the history in the Soviet schools is unsatisfactory. Textbooks and teaching itself are very abstract and schematic in nature. Instead of teaching the civil history in a lively and interesting form with presentation of the major events and facts in their chronological order and characterization of the historical figures, the students are presented abstract definitions of the socio-economic formations. So, a coherent teaching of the civil history is substituted by abstract sociological schemes”.

As in 1921, the revival of the historical education in 1934 gave impetus to the development of the Belarusian State University as a whole. According to the decree of the CPC of the BSSR of 24 May 1934 “About the work of the Belarusian State University” the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics, the Faculty of Biology, the Faculty of Chemistry, the Faculty of Geology and the Faculty of Geography were organized along with the History Faculty in the BSU. Five year period of education with specialization from the 3rd course was established. It was offered to fulfil the plans and programs of the Moscow and Leningrad universities and provide teaching of not less than two foreign languages. A special Decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) “About the revival of the History Faculty of the BSU” was adopted on 11 June 1934. In accordance with the decree Vasilii Shcherbakov was appointed Dean of the History Faculty. After the formidable test 60 people were admitted to the first course. Among the educational priorities of that time were the Historical Materialism in relation to Dialectical Materialism, the History of the Ancient World and the Middle Ages, the History of the USSR, the History of Belarus, a general course on Historiography, the Source Study (the “Source of Data”), the History of Rzecz Pospolita, the History of the Church, the Belarusian Archeology, Ethnography, Numismatics and Metrology, the History of Ukraine, etc.

Creation of the History Faculty at the universities of the USSR was a vivid manifestation of the reaction of the leaders of the country to the necessity of understanding by the younger generation of new realities, understanding of the causes and contents of the changes on the base of the historical past for the systematic study of the problems of the present and the future. For Belarus where in the late 1920’s the process of Belarusization started to cease and the repressions of the scientists-historians began, the establishment of the History Faculty was an important step in the process of identification and concentration of scientific staff by the creators of new scientific schools, especially on the General History (Nikolai Nikolsky, Vladimir Pertsev, Lev Shneerson, etc.).

Development of scientific traditions and teaching were closely linked with the formation of the ideology of the Soviet state, where the History Faculty was given priority. At that time the insecure tendency to absolutization of “the Short Course of the GCP (b)”, dogmatism and conservatism was emphasized. This predetermined the conflict between the content and the subject matter of the historical education. The decrees published in May and in June 1934 were intended to encourage integrated, systematic study of the history, but essentially they were a set of methodological and instructional templates aimed not at understanding but at studying of the material. Characterising unfavourable terms of formation of the History Faculty, it should be noted that at that time specific organizational forms of science and education, some of which exist even today, were formed. The plan of postgraduate studies at the BSU on the specialty “History” was developed in January of the 1934/35 academic year. The Decree “About the scientific degrees and academic ranks”, which introduced the degrees of “Candidate” and “Doctor of Science”, as well as academic ranks of “Junior Scientist” and “Professor”, was adopted.

In accordance with the rules of admission to the BSU in 1936/37 academic year, five new specializations were open at the History Faculty: the History of the Ancient World, the History of the Middle Ages, the Modern History, the History of the Peoples of the USSR and the History of Belarus. Initially, the curriculum comprised 13 subjects but their numbers was increasing all the time. However, full-scale fulfilment of the curriculum was impossible. Part-time employees were invited from the Academy of Sciences of the BSSR because of the lack of the teaching staff at the BSU. Only since the late 1930’s the course on the formation of a permanent staff of qualified professors and assistant professors for all courses in accordance with the curriculum has been taken.

The real achievement of the History Faculty was creation of the historico-archaeological museum. Established on the basis of copies of sculptures from the collection of the Hermitage in 1927 at the Pedagogical Faculty on the initiative of Nikolai Nikolsky, the museum resumed its work in 1940 due to the future Dean of the Faculty Vladimir Shevchenko (1943/44 academic year). At that time and today the museum of the History Faculty allows combining pedagogical, educational and research activity. Annually, the museum is replenished with new exhibits after new archaeological and ethnographic expeditions. The famous part of the museum is numismatic collection which was presented to the BSU by Professor Valentin Ryabtsevich in 1980.

The structure of the Faculty departments started forming in the 1930’s. In 1934 the History Faculty included 3 departments: the History of the USSR and the BSSR, the History of the Ancient World, the History of the Middle Ages. The specialized Department of Modern and Contemporary History was not created at once. Only in 1936 Academician Stanislav Matulaytis agreed to become Head of the Department, but he could not because of the arrest. On 29 October 1937 the order confirming Lev Shneerson’s appointment as Head of the Department was singned. He was a young post-graduate student from Leningrad and he was in charge of the department till 1989 (52 years). In 1937 the Committee for defence of dissertations on historical sciences was created at the BSU.

Most students and lecturers of the Faculty volunteered for the army from the first days of the war. Ivan Chimburg – Dean of the History Faculty and the future Rector of the BSU was among them. With numerous awards and medals returned post-war Deans of the History Faculty – Aleksei Sidorenko and Petr Savochkin. After the war a student-Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitrii Zhmurovsky was among the teaching staff of the Faculty. For many soldiers from the History Faculty the war was not finished after the Victory day. Thus, in 1937 against the Japanese warlords was the student Lavrentii Abetsedarsky – the first scientist from the university who was elected Corresponding Member of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR. Not everyone returned from the front: while defending Moscow the secretaries of Komsomol organization of the History Faculty I.Rybakov and A.Ferder were killed. Releasing native Belarus the students-historians paratroopers N.Bobchinsky, A.Nalivajko, Associate Professor Iosif Lochmel and many others were killed.

Those students and lecturers who had been unable to evacuate, continued to fight in the rear of the Nazi troops. For example, the future Professor, Head of the Department of the History of the CPSU and Rector of the BSU Vsevolod Sikorsky during the war was the Deputy Commissioner of the guerrilla brigade “Red Flag”, one of the organizers of the Komsomol underground in Vitebsk region (since 1943 - Secretary of the underground regional committee of Komsomol). The student and future lecturer A.V.Tsaryuk took active part in the guerrilla struggle.

Academician Nikolai Nikolsky who had failed to evacuate, in hunger, wrote the monograph “Sketch on the history of Phoenician communal and agricultural cults”, which was published after the war. A bright page in the life of the Belarusian State University was the reactivation of the History Faculty at Skhodnya station near Moscow (now in the city). During the cold winter of 1943-1944 the students worked and studied. Dean of the History Faculty of that period was Vladimir Shevchenko who defended a Candidate’s thesis on ancient history in 1943.

In the post-war period the History Faculty not only regained its activity but, thanks to truly heroic work of the teaching staff, broadened and deepened its activity. Admission to the History Faculty was the most prestigious for university entrants.

After the war the BSU was led by Rectors historians Ivan Chimburg and Vsevolod Sikorsky. The first Pro-rector of the BSU was historian Petr Brigadin – the future Minister of Education of Belarus. Historians were surrounded by not only the attention of the leaders of the BSU - Dean of the History Faculty was part of the nomenclature, and his appointment was authorized by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus. It should be noted that under the charter of the United Nations Organization was the signature of Professor of the History Faculty Vladimir Pertsev, who was a member of the Belarusian delegation in 1945.

Rapid development of the Faculty led to the fact that at the turn of the 1970 – 1980’s its Department of Philosophy and Department of Political Economy were identified as new departments - the current Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences, and the Economy Department.

The Department of the CPSU History was established in the 1980’s. This step had to formally confirm that the History Faculty was indeed the “forge of the CC personnel”. Most of the students of this department were envoys from the Soviet republics. Some of them graduated from the university in 1993-1994 when neither the Soviet Union nor the Communist Party of the Soviet Union existed.

During the 1950-1980’s the History Faculty developed rather rapidly. The department structure of the Faculty was formed. By 1991 the Faculty included: the Ancient and Medieval History Department, the Department of Modern and Contemporary History, the Department of the USSR History of the pre-Soviet time, the Department of the USSR History of the era of socialism, the Department of the BSSR History, the Department of Ethnology, Ethnography and Special Historical Disciplines. The Faculty employed 62 lecturers (including 9 Doctors and 42 Candidates of Sciences).

During this period the scientific schools on the History of Religion (Academician Nikolai Nikolsky), on the Medieval History (Academician Vladimir Pertsev), on German Studies and International Relations (Professors Lev Shneerson and Grigory Truhnov) were formed.

In the awakening period of political activity (the second half of 1980 - early 1990’s) the teaching staff tried to adhere to the principles of scientific work and democratization. This approach was embodied in the fact that the classes were full of rich factual material, rather than political campaign, despite the fact that the control of the party organs was very strong until the early 1990’s.

In the post war years the Faculty was headed by Luka Shashkov (1944-1947), Fedor Nechay (1947-1953), Aleksei Sidorenko (1953-1955), Petr Savochkin (1955-1973), Iraida Tsaryuk (1973-1986), Eduard Zagorulsky (1986-1991).

Belarus gained the status of an independent sovereign state and historians faced the necessity to solve a number of complicated and responsible tasks in the field of historical science. It was necessary to overcome outdated stereotypes and simplified one-sided Marxist methodology. “White spots” in the native history were clearly indicated. The teaching staff of the History Faculty (Deans Petr Shuplyak and Oleg Yanovsky) faced complex and responsible, but at the same time interesting and creative tasks. These tasks were successfully solved.

Active participation of the Faculty staff in the updating of historical education contributed to the creation of national textbooks on history for secondary school. A new concept of the national history was formed; lecture courses and the subject matter of term papers, degree works and dissertations were updated. Periodization of the Middle Ages and Modern time was seriously reviewed. Need of specialists for museums and archives in Belarus gave rise to the appearance of new specialties. The increased interest in the history of religion and computer technologies led to the appearance of new specializations. New Departments were created: the Department of Ancient and Medieval History of Belarus, the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of Belarus, the Source Study and Museology Department. Several departments were reorganized. The Department of the USSR History of the soviet period was reorganized in the Department of Contemporary History of the Slavic Countries (1991), and then in the Department of the Southern and Western Slavs’ History (1998); the Department of the USSR History of the pre-Soviet period was reorganized in the Russian History Department. New training laboratories were established. The work of the Faculty museum was activated. Teaching was carried out in two languages: in Russian and in Belarusian. In 1992 the History Faculty moved to the building known as the House № 1 of the BSU.

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