By Victoria Juharyan
Victoria Juharyan is a PhD Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University (Lecturer at Dartmouth, during AY 2016-17).
On May 26th, 2017 Dartmouth College hosted a conference on Tolstoy. This was an unusual conference. Dartmouth College is an undergraduate institution and has only two masters programs in humanities and no PhD programs. The presenters of this conference were undergraduates. Here is how Victoria Somoff, Associate Professor of Russian at Dartmouth described the conference to one of the college newspapers: “We have very intelligent students who can handle graduate level research. For instance, we have a visiting scholar at the Russian department this year, Victoria Juharyan, who is teaching a course on Tolstoy, and she’s implementing a terrific initiative: at the end of the course, when students usually submit papers, there will be a conference where students will present their research. There will be small panels, professors will serve as discussants, and there even be an invited keynote speaker. This is a format of an actual professional conference and usually only graduate students participate in such events. This is just one example of how we could offer more opportunities for undergraduate research in the humanities bringing it to a graduate level.”
The key note speaker was the former editor of Tolstoy Studies Journal and a Professor of Russian at Stetson University, Michael Denner. He gave two talks, one for the concluding class and one for the conference. He spoke to the class on Tolstoy’s notions of the afterlife and gave a lecture on Tolstoy’s moral philosophy. The faculty responding to the students’ papers were Victoria Somoff, Lynn Patyk, and Ainsley Morse. The conference format for their final projects allowed me as instructor to give students several rounds of feedback on their papers. They submitted the first draft before the conference, then got extensive comments from other faculty on their edited version, and submitted to me a final version, incorporating those comments. But most importantly, I wanted them to understand that final papers are not mere course requirements, but their intellectual work and they can do something with it beyond the classroom, present at conferences or produce creative work.
The paper topics included Tolstoy’s notions of happiness, the structure of revelation, Tolstoy’s use of space, freedom and necessity, his notions of free will and philosophy of marriage. The course on Tolstoy is offered regularly at Dartmouth and, after Merezhkovsky famous formulation, is titled “The Seer of the Flesh: Tolstoy’s Art and Thought.” The conference, inviting a reconsideration of the dichotomy, had intentionally altered the title, changing it to “Spirited in Flesh.” Michael Denner said that he will try this conference format for his own undergraduate classes as it was a huge success.
Photos from the event: