Africa Forum

Shubin, Vladimir. "African Studies in Russia"

African Studies in Russia

Vladimir Shubin
Deputy Director, Institute for African Studies
Russian Academy of Sciences
Moscow, Russia

12 January 2001

(N.B.: H-AFRICA is pleased to present the second in the 'African Studies in ...' sub-series, part of the AFRICA FORUM series of specially commissioned essays by prominent Africanists around the world. Further essays on other places will soon be published--P.L.).

The history of African Studies in Russia goes back to the 19th century. Traditionally two fields were most developed - Egyptology and Ethiopian Studies. Several Russian explorers travelled to East Africa and the Horn of Africa at the end of that century. After the 1917 revolution, more attention was paid to the anticolonial struggle of the African peoples and the workers' movement.

The first centres of African Studies were created in the early 1930s in Moscow as an African cabinet in the short-lived Scientific Research Association of Study of National and Colonial Problems and the African Section of the so called Communist University of the Toiling Peoples of the East. In 1945 the Department of African Languages was founded at the Leningrad (St Petersburg) State University, followed by the African Section in the Institute of Ethnography and the African Department in the Institute for Oriental Studies.

The process of rapid development of African Studies in the then USSR in the 1950s when the African continent was coming to the forefront of international politics culminated in the creation of the Institute for African Studies (a more exact translation of its name from Russian would be the Africa Institute) in 1959 within the system of the USSR/Russian Academy of Sciences. It was prompted by the meeting between William Du Bois and Nikita Khrushchev.

In spite of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the hard times that followed it, the IAS, headed from 1992 by Prof. Alexei Vassiliev remains apparently the biggest centre of African Studies in the world with the staff of 160 including about 120 researchers, most of whom have Ph D degrees. The IAS's academic structure consists of the following centres:

The IAS houses also the Centre for Civilisation and Regional Studies headed by Prof. Igor Sledzevski, which is attached to the International Relations Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This Centre works both on African problems and problems of Central Asia and Caucasus, as well as regions of the Russian Federation.

Apart from the IAS, African research is conducted at the African Studies Centre of the Institute of Universal History, Institute for Oriental Studies (mostly on Northern Africa), Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Institute of World Literature, Institute of Linguistics, Institute of State and Law (all in Moscow) as well as the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (in St. Petersburg). The peculiarity of the Soviet/Russian system is that all these institutions and most others are attached to the Academy of Sciences and training of Africanists there is limited to Doctoral studies.

As to the training at the graduate level, it is conducted at several universities, such as the Institute of Asian and African Countries of the Moscow State University; Peoples Friendship University of Russia, Moscow State Institute of International Relations; and St. Petersburg State University. Course in African and Asian History are taught in all other Russian Universities and Pedagogical Institutes. Naturally, the staffs of the aforementioned training establishments are also involved in Research; thus, there is a Centre for African History in the Institute of Asian and African Countries.

Although a concentration of African Studies in the capital is another distinct feature, there are African scholars in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Kazan, Kirov and several other Russian cities.

African Studies in post-Soviet Russia are conducted under rather difficult conditions. As other fields of humanities and sciences, they suffered from several budget cuts during nine years of the IMF-inspired 'reforms'. The funding from the state budget to the Academy institutes is a meagre 15% of the 1990 allocation. If in general the standard of life in Russia dropped by 50%, it dropped three or four times for academics. The allocations for international travel and field studies are extremely limited. Nevertheless, Russian Africanists continue their activities and even expand in some fields.

In 40 years of its existence, the IAS has published over 800 books and brochures. The scope of African Studies in Russia can be illustrated by some titles of 42 books and brochures published by the IAS scholars in 2000:

Jointly with the Institute of Oriental Studies, the IAS publishes a monthly journal Asia and Africa Today and a quarterly, Vostok-Oriens (both in Russian). The state and prospects of African Studies in Russia is reviewed regularly at the Conferences of Africanists. The latest conference of that nature was held in Moscow in September 1999 under the title 'Africa on the Threshold of a New Millennium', and the next, 9th, conference is scheduled for May 2002. The conference working languages will be Russian and English, so, apart from its academic importance the conference should facilitate contacts between the Russian and foreign researchers. Unfortunately, these contacts are hampered by the fact that most of our publications are in Russian. To cope with the situation, the IAS publishes the abstracts of all the papers submitted to the conferences and the summary of proceedings in Russian and English. Besides this, the Institute also publishes African Studies in Russia yearbooks in English and the IAS Newsletter, both in English. The Institute has contacts with many research institutions in Africa, Europe, Asia and America. It has agreements if cooperation with some of them, like the Africa Institute of South Africa, the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), the Institute for Africa of Cairo University and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

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First Online Edition: 12 January 2001
Last Revised: 5 February 2001

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