The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded competitive grant funding to two Ferris State University faculty members, who will lead a summer institute on the history of U.S.-Russian/Soviet relations.
Twenty-five high school educators will be selected from a national applicant pool for “War, Revolution and Empire: U.S.-Russian/Soviet Relations, 1776-present”, as Co-directors Christian Peterson and Tracy Busch welcome those participants to Ferris, July 6-30, 2016.
Guest speakers, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle, field trips and cultural activities are highlights of the institute’s agenda. The NEH Summer Scholars will be asked to complete projects that improve their ability to incorporate Russian/Soviet history and U.S.-Russian/Soviet relations into their curricula.
Peterson said that they expect participants will come away with a broader perspective of Russian culture and politics, as well as a better understanding of U.S. diplomacy.
“There’s not one major issue that the U.S. has to deal with in the world where Russia doesn’t come into play,” Peterson said. “Everything from poverty to oil, Russia is there and we’d like it to act in the ways that we think make the world a better place, but Russia doesn’t always see things that way.”
Peterson said at many points in history, U.S.-Russian/Soviet relations have been strained and competitive, with Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 presenting the most recent chapter in this struggle.
“To understand why Russia and the U.S. are constantly clashing, you’ve got to understand Russian history, the evolution of the Soviet Union. Why Vladimir Putin behaves the way he does is very much rooted in the past.”
Peterson’s extensive background in U.S. foreign relations is supported by his peer Busch’s expertise in Russian history. Busch said Russia is not easily defined geographically or culturally, but it’s clear to her that Russians fear what they perceive as a challenge from western nations.
“When I was last in Russia doing research in 2013, 14 percent of Russians held a negative view of Americans,” Busch said. Today, it’s something like 83, 84 percent. Something big has happened in these past two years. We need to have a deeper knowledge of Russians and their history in order to be competent.”
The Humanities professors plan to develop a social media presence for their institute and pursue continued NEH funding. Peterson said they hope the institute can progress and become a hub for consideration of U.S.-Russian relations, and serve as a possible student recruitment tool for the University.
PHOTO CAPTION: Pictured is Christian Peterson, visiting assistant professor, and Tracy Busch, assistant professor of Humanities.