St. Petersburg: Culture, History and Empire

Seminar Quick Facts

St. Petersburg and Novgorod, Russia
Tallin, Estonia

Faculty Leaders
Nancy Kollmann, History
Jack Kollmann, Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies

BOSP Special Programs Coordinator: Morgan Kapinos

Arrival date in St. Petersburg, RussiaAugust 1, 2019

Departure date from St. Petersburg, Russia: August 22, 2019

Information Session: Watch Information Session

Academic Prerequisites: Students are required to participate in a one- or two-unit class in Spring Quarter 2019. Students that will be off-campus in Spring Quarter may still enroll in the prerequisite course and should make arrangements with the faculty to complete the course remotely.

Additional Program Requirements
1) Ground Rules - In order to optimize safety during the program, students will be required to agree to and sign Ground Rules that may restrict behavior throughout the program. These Ground Rules are in addition to the BOSP Participation and Assumption of Risk, Release of Claims, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement that all students sign and agree to at the time of program application. Students’ parents/families will also need to sign these Ground Rules to confirm that they acknowledge the specific dangers of travel to the program location.

Activity Level
Light/Moderate: Activities may include city walking tours, easy/short hikes, museum and other site visits as well as an occasional physical activity such as snorkeling, hiking, or kayaking. For a full list of program activity levels refer to the Overview page.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Health Information for Travelers to Russia
Health Information for Travelers to Estonia

US State Department Country Information

Visa Information
Consulate General of Russia
Consulate General of Estonia

General Information: Visit the Overseas Seminars/Faculty-Initiated Programs Overview page

Application Deadline: October 28, 2018

General Description

  • This seminar immerses students in three urban environments to explore main themes in Russian history -- government by autocracy, the nature of empire, the relationship of Russian national tradition and European culture.
  • We see Russian imperial history through the lens of the history and built environment of St. Petersburg, Russia’s new capital founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter I (“Peter the Great”) on the model of European centrally planned cities. A showpiece of baroque and neoclassical architecture, St. Petersburg stood in sharp contrast to Russian tradition.
  • We visit Novgorod, founded by the ninth century, a gem of medieval Russian city design and Orthodox church architecture. In addition to an eleventh-century cathedral and myriad medieval neighborhood churches, Novgorod also features an “open-air” museum of peasant architecture, exposing us to Russia’s history of serfdom and agrarian economy.
  • We visit Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, conquered by Russia in 1710, to address the issue of Russia as empire, and to explore Estonian history in particular.
  • Outcomes: Students will learn a survey of the history of the Russian empire, with an emphasis on culture, from the earliest times to the twentieth century. They will explore a topic in depth for their personal project.
  • Students will complete a one/two-unit course with a 6-8 page paper outlining a research project; the project will be completed by blog posts during the seminar as the students pursue their topic experientially in the city/cities we visit.


This 3-week seminar takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia, a 3-day side trip to the ancient town of Novgorod and a 2-day trip to the capital of Estonia, Tallinn. We will visit museums, palaces, monasteries, fortifications, and walk the urban landscapes. We will give short lectures in our hotels almost daily to set the context; we will gather regularly for discussion sessions and we will hear lectures by professors from the European University in St. Petersburg.

Living and Travel Conditions

Participants in this seminar will be staying in a modest mini-hotel (bed & breakfast) in St. Petersburg in double and triple rooms, each room with a small private bathroom. There is no elevator in the hotel; our rooms will be a 2nd or 3rd-floor walkup. In Novgorod we stay in a modest hotel in double rooms, each with private bathrooms; similar accommodations in Tallinn; these buildings should have elevators. Internet should be available in the hotels in public spaces if not in rooms, but connections might be unpredictable.

In all three cities we will do a lot of walking every day and take public transport frequently. Weather in August averages around 69F high, 55F low; expect light rain an average of every other day.


If such conditions are likely to present a challenge, you are encouraged to contact BOSP well in advance: accommodations will be made to the extent possible.


  • Jack and Nancy Kollmann are both historians of Russia. Jack’s focus is the history of Russian Orthodoxy and the history of Russian art and architecture from earliest times to the many manifestations of modernism of the twentieth century. Nancy’s focus is on political, legal and social history; her most recent books are Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia (2012) and The Russian Empire 1450-1801 (2017). Nancy is a Professor in the History Department and Jack is a Lecturer in the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies.
  • Both professors have traveled extensively in the old Soviet Union and now Russian Federation, including the Russian heartland and the associated areas of empire (Central Asia, Siberia, the Baltics, Ukraine). They have taught at Stanford numerous courses on Russian history and empire, Orthodoxy, and art and architecture.
  • The Kollmanns have led this seminar to St. Petersburg and Novgorod (Tallinn was new starting in 2017) in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2015, and 2017. In 2010 they led a brief version of it for students at the BOSP campus in Moscow.

Prerequisites and Expectations

  • Students are required to participate in a one- or two-unit class in Spring Quarter 2019, the first purpose of which is the preparation of a topic that students will investigate on the ground in St. Petersburg. The course requires a 6 to 8-page paper outlining their topic, doing a literature review, and sketching out their plans for on-site research, all in consultation with Profs. Kollmann. Suggested topics will be provided. Students that will be off-campus in Spring Quarter may still enroll in the prerequisite course and should make arrangements with the faculty to complete the course remotely.
  • During the trip students will complete their proposed research project experientially and will post blogs.
  • The second purpose of the Spring Quarter course is to provide students with background information on our locations. Professors Kollmann will give slide-illustrated lectures on Russian history, culture, and empire. We will read and discuss W. Bruce Lincoln’s Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia and brief selections in Russian literature on the “St. Petersburg theme” by Pushkin, Gogol’, Dostoevsky, Akhmatova, Brodsky, et al. We plan to meet one hour per week at a time convenient to participants.
  • The primary expectation of each student during the seminar abroad is 100% attendance in daily activities. These include brief lectures or discussions in the morning before we set out, a full day of immersion in the city and occasional evening programs or discussions.

Application Process

Decisions will be based on application materials. There are no interviews. The seminar capacity is 15 students.

Grading Basis

Satisfactory/no credit

Passport and Visa

Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and visa (if applicable). Every BOSP participant MUST have a signed passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the scheduled RETURN date from the overseas program. Students who do not have a valid passport must apply for a new or renewed passport immediately. For information on obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport please visit the State Department website.

To determine whether a visa is necessary for your program, visit the Consulate General of Russia and the Consulate General of Estonia websites. You may also consult with the recommended visa service providers listed below.

VisaCentral by CIBT

VisaCentral by CIBT offers online Stanford rates, or contact the local office:

In person: 555 Montgomery St. Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94111
Walk-in hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By phone: (877) 535-0688

VisaBy Casto for Stanford Travel Program

VisaBy Casto offers special rates for Stanford online, or through the local office:

Address: 2560 North First Street, Suite 150, San Jose, CA 95131
By phone: (408) 553-4735
By email:

*Please note that according to VisaCentral by CIBT: "your passport must contain two blank visa pages for dual or multiple entry visas. Amendments and endorsement pages cannot be used to fulfill this requirement."

Health and Safety

Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and psychological conditions vary by culture and under the laws of the host countries. These differences impact the level of treatment and accommodation available abroad. Students should give serious consideration to their health and personal circumstances when accepting a place in a program and should consult with their clinician.

While the benefits of international travel can be enormous, it is often associated with certain health and safety risks. Thankfully, a number of interventions exist to mitigate these risks including vaccines, use of certain medications, and specific behavior changes. Health concerns vary by the particular destination, time of year, the health of the individual, type of accommodations, length of stay and specific activities. Participants should be up to date on all their regular immunizations, check the CDC website for vaccinations and immunizations. In addition, specific travel vaccines such as typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies vaccines may be indicated. Various types of medication may also be needed to prevent life-threatening malaria or altitude illness; or to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Finally, students should learn and utilize insect precautions, food and water precautions, and general safety precautions. These can prevent illnesses such as dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV; or accidents such as those involving motor vehicles. In spite of all the precautions, occasionally students do become ill or sustain an injury while traveling. Thankfully, most of these are minor. However, it is critical that students have a clear plan of care in case of an emergency on their trip. The travel clinic at the Vaden Health Center has produced an online travel health module that provides comprehensive strategies to help you stay safe and healthy while traveling.

Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for complete information regarding the health concerns and vaccine recommendations specific to Russia and Estonia. Students must also discuss with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic or a travel health specialist about the best ways to protect their health.

Students must review the U. S. State Department’s Country Information for complete information on safety and security in Russia and Estonia.

As with any foreign travel, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the area in which they will be visiting. Students should consult with their health care provider(s) to be prepared for potential illness. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-seminar preparation and upon arriving in the country.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.

Program Modification and Cancelation

Stanford reserves the right to cancel or modify the Program before or during its operation for any reason, including natural disasters, emergencies, low enrollment, unavailability of facilities or personnel, or compliance with the University travel policy at