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Experiences in the Russian Arctic

"You have such an intense program!" - that is what we hear quite often during these two weeks. Our "nomadic" Ph.D summer school "Field Experiences in Northwest Russia" (FENOR) organized jointly by European University at St. Petersburg and University of Vienna is over in just a couple of days, so it is the right time to share a few of first impressions from Arkhangelsk.

FENOR is designed as a traveling training course for Ph.D. students and young researchers and takes place in the Russian North. Senior and early career scholars from Austria, Finland, Hungary, Russia, and the USA are traveling together for two weeks participating in lectures, seminars, excursions and fieldwork. Moving northwards from St. Petersburg to the Arkhangelsk region, we experience local articulations of dwelling in these regions. We started the route from St. Petersburg, passed through Karelia, the Solovetsky islands, and yesterday took a flight to Arkhangelsk.

I would divide our experiences at FENOR into three main parts. First of all, every day we have lectures on various topics related to our common interest - the Arctic. We have discussed the definition of the Arctic as a concept (as it turns out, it cannot be defined objectively), human-animal relations in the North, indigenous communities of Russia, colonization of the North, the problem of Arctic extractive industries and many other relevant themes.

Another important part of the school is practical exercises in anthropological fieldwork. Probably the most notable experience we had was at Solovki (the Solovetsky islands) when we were divided into three groups and were observing various groups of people represented at the islands alongside with several short interviews. Solovki is an interesting example of a settlement which is to a large extent regulated by the famous monastery, and we discussed the interplay of different powers presented at the island.

Moreover, our summer school experience would undoubtedly be incomplete without excursions. The trip to Segezha pulp and paper factory advanced our discussion on industrial development in the North; the visit to a folklore village was important for understanding the processes of ethnocultural revival; while visiting White sea-Baltic Channel we had a chance to think about social memory and interpretations of history.

To me FENOR is a unique experience, as the nomadic format of the summer school allowes us to not only share our previous experiences in the Arctic, but also to learn from the common experience - by travelling together. This mobility means constant new (shared or contested) impressions, dialogues and discussions about the North, allowes comparisons and contrasts. Our travel in the Russian North will soon be over - but our academic journey is so much enriched.

The route of the summer school and some additional information can be found at http://eu.spb.ru/images/et_dep/sever/FENOR_announcement_english.pdf