Rich Media Project in St. Petersburg

This post is written by Sasha Prokhorov, Associate Professor of Russian Studies, Department of Modern Languages & Literatures.

Our project emerged out of the William & Mary – St. Petersburg Program’s research needs. Last year Jes Therkelsen and Sasha Prokhorov developed a media production component for the research module that included a multimedia blog, research paper, and a documentary film.  When we worked on the projects in Russia last year, we made it our priority to create international collaborative teams, in which Russian and American students did research together. We also wanted William & Mary students to create a network of contacts (community leaders, scholars, activists, university administrators), which can be recycled and expanded by the future student-researchers.

Our multimedia research project, hinged on creating collaborative networks. For example, our students making documentary films worked closely with the local field producers.  The students from St Petersburg’s School of Journalism became our “fixers” who helped us not only navigate the city, but also to track down interviewees, come up with questions for the interviews, translate questions, and more. In addition, about 50 scholars, business people, government officials, activists, and journalists in St. Petersburg helped these documentary films, blogs, and papers to coalesce into multimedia research projects. However, now that the individual student projects are done, we would like to be able to follow through with a much larger project, and that is to start maintaining a network of contacts and collaborators in St. Petersburg and Moscow who we might be able to call on in the future.

Our St. Petersburg study abroad program has been incorporating a student research component for several years now, and these student projects have become increasingly multimedia-driven.  In short, we are using this grant both to create multimedia materials to thank our participants in the 2011 multimedia project and to foster continued international collaboration in St. Petersburg for future student researchers.

First, we are making DVDs of all the student films to send to everyone in Russia who helped with the project. These DVDs, accompanied by a thank you letter in Russian written by our students appropriate for each type of participant: formal letters for government officials and corporate contacts and more informal ones for journalists, NGO leaders, activists, and our field producers), are scheduled to be mailed in late April, to anticipate the 2012 William & Mary summer trip to St. Petersburg and facilitate the new group’s research in Russia.

The 2012 projects are also multimedia and include interviews, b-roll shooting, and digital mapping. However, the most important and indispensable part of our research is our work on creating networks of transnational research and collaborative teams of scholars, journalists, and business and community leaders.  Students from the trip last year will be writing and translating these letters and preparing the mailings, both as an exercise in maintaining research contacts and as an exercise in business writing in Russian.  We are collaborating on this part of the project with Steve Otto, the Director of Communications of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Second, Troy Davis (Director of the Swem Media Center), Jes Therkelsen, Sasha Prokhorov, and two students (Sophie Kosar and Caitlin Oakley) will collaborate on archiving the interviews and film materials from the 2011 expedition to St. Petersburg.  In the future students can use these media materials for their research.

Third, Mike, Sasha, and several students from last year’s group and this coming year’s group will be designing and creating a database of contacts that will be a resource for the future that we will continue to add to each year. The database we are designing with the student-researchers’ help will be equally as important as a teaching tool, since students will be learning not just the importance of networking and maintaining active connections with their international research contacts, but they will also be learning important elements of database design.

The database of contacts will ultimately be available on a password-protected page on our St. Petersburg study abroad website so that our faculty and students will be able to add to it and use it from year to year, enhancing our students’ international experiences and improving their research opportunities.