Marking 100 Years Since the Russian Revolution

UW-Madison hosts a summer workshop for Wisconsin educators.

On July 24-28, educators from around the state gathered in Madison to discuss the causes, consequences, and global impact of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Teachers examine Slavic source material at Memorial Library
Wisconsin educators explore source materials at Memorial Library (Photo credit: Kelly Iacobazzi)

The workshop, entitled Ten Months that Shook the World: Russia’s Revolutions in a Global Perspective, further familiarized educators on the legacy of the revolution and aimed to help them incorporate new information into their current and future lesson plans. David McDonald, the Alice D. Mortenson/Petrovich Distinguished Chair in Russian History at UW-Madison and a specialist on the history of Imperial Russia, led the workshop. He was joined by Francine Hirsch, professor of history at UW-Madison, and by visiting professors from the University of Warwick, Clemson University, and Austin Peay State University.

The workshop participants—17 in total—similarly arrived in Madison from a variety of locales. While some educators were from as close as Madison West High School, others arrived from as far away as the town of Maple, located just off the shores of Lake Superior. The 12 high school teachers, four community and technical college instructors, and one librarian spent five full days at the Madison Concourse Hotel attending presentations, building lesson plans, and becoming familiar with the abundance of primary source materials available at UW-Madison. This included outings to the UW-Madison Cooperative Children’s Book Center and the Department of Special Collections at Memorial Library.

Another high school teacher remarked that it was “one of the most intellectual workshops I’ve ever attended.”

Despite its overall focus on the historical legacy of the Russian Revolution, the workshop was intended to appeal to educators of a variety of subjects, such as social studies, geography, politics, communications, and language arts. Steven Marks, Alumni Professor of History at Clemson University, gave a lecture on the development and use of Russian avant-garde art in the formative years of the Soviet Union. Educators also attended a showing of Elem Klimov’s Agony, a 1985 film that vividly portrays the monk Rasputin and his influence on the Imperial family in the final chaotic months of the Russian Empire.

Steven Marks lecturing in front of examples of Avant-Garde Soviet art
Alumni Professor of History at Clemson University Steven Marks (Photo credit: Kelly Iacobazzi)

Throughout the workshop, which was organized by Nancy Heingartner in the Institute for Regional and International Studies and by Kelly Iacobazzi in CREECA, the speakers challenged educators to find creative ways of bringing the presented lessons back to their students. Instrumental in this effort was Bill Gibson, a teacher in the Social Studies Department at Madison East High School and teacher facilitator for the workshop. As the leader of the daily breakout sessions for participants, Gibson emphasized the importance of using a mix of visual media, references to contemporary popular culture, and the connections between historical events in space and time as a means of keeping children and young adults interested in the material. Gibson, according to Iacobazzi, “really found fun and engaging ways to include the Russian Revolution in the classroom. We were so lucky to have him.”

As the workshop came to a close, the educators were optimistic about implementing new insights into their lessons. “It was a grand workshop: rich, fun, and collegial,” Gibson said. “I give it an 11 out of 10. I’m glad my colleagues found the breakout sessions helpful.” Another high school teacher remarked that it was “one of the most intellectual workshops I’ve ever attended.”

Due to the overwhelmingly positive responses from participants, plans are already underway for a similar event next year. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Prague Spring, CREECA is partnering with the National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to hold a three-day workshop for educators titled 68.77.89: Czechoslovakia from Invasion to Revolution. The tentative dates for the workshop are July 11-13, 2018. Educators are encouraged to contact Kelly Iacobazzi for more information.