Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Andrey Ivanov
Dr. Andrey Ivanov has served as an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville since fall 2014. His teaching specialties include world history; regional history of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia; history of religion; history of genocide and famine; military history; global Cold War; and international (diplomatic) history.
Ivanov, who came from Ukraine in the late 1990s, studied political science and history at Fresno Pacific University in California while also taking occasional classes at the University of California – Davis and Fresno State. After getting his Bachelor of Arts degree, he moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, continuing his studies at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where he received his Ph.D. in Russian and European history in 2012. Before eventually coming to UW-Platteville, he spent a couple of years in Boston, Mass., as a postdoctoral fellow at Boston College and as a research associate at Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute.
What made you decide to go into the field of history?
History in general: During the years of my undergraduate education, I found that knowledge begets questions, and questions, in turn, beget more knowledge. History, it turned out, helped me find better answers to the rising volleys of questions about the causes of troubles that affect our society today, about the interconnectedness of our global world and what has worked (or has not worked) in the past to make our Earth a better place. History, simply speaking, helps us understand the way the world is today, and that is something that I found to be quite fascinating. For example, the historical answer to why the United States Federal Reserve uses paper to print the greenback, why most firearms today use gunpowder and why Christopher Columbus decided to go west on his voyage of discovery can be summed up in two words: Genghis Khan.
Russian history: While the discipline of history fascinated me for its ability to answer questions, what drew me to study the history of Russia and Eurasia were the questions themselves. How does a society that sets itself to build a utopia end up with a dystopia? Why is it that the country that sent the first man into space and invented Tetris never managed to solve its acute and persistent toilet paper shortage? Such questions (and more) continue to sustain and galvanize my interest and research in the field.
What is most challenging about teaching in your field?
The most challenging part about teaching the history of the world and the history of Russia is that both are very big and for both, I have to go over the material in the scope of just one semester. I manage by presenting my world civilization course as a history of global empires – this focus allows me to cover the breadth of history across the continents without sacrificing the depth of economic, environmental, political, cultural and social contexts that shaped imperial interactions. In my Russian history class, too, I tend to focus on Russia as a multi-national empire that spanned cultures and territories from California and Hawai’i to Finland and Iran – that is well beyond its East Slavic core.
What qualities do your students possess that have impressed you the most?
I have found that many of my students write quite well and can write very creatively, even in their early years in college. I think this is very laudable, especially in today's media-propelled culture where one engages in shorter, more episodic types of writing – such as via SMS texts or online posts – much more often than writing an essay or a research report.
Another important feature about UW-Platteville students that I found is that a whole lot of them are able to keep a healthy balance between the curricular and extracurricular commitments on campus. I’ve met students who get involved in a variety of campus organizations, sports, community engagement projects, expos, performing arts venues, and yet they also excel in class.
What do you enjoy most about teaching your courses?
Professionally, I enjoy when history comes alive for students who take my classes – when they find that one or the other aspect of historical inquiry becomes deeply relevant to their academic, professional or even existential pursuits. This is a moment when a student finds that studying the history of Soviet space satellite technology led her to better understand the challenges that accompany satellite space exploration today. This is also a moment when a student tells me how studying the tragedies of war and revolution in Eastern Europe helped him make sense of the story of his own family, who left Poland long time ago.
Practically speaking, one of the things that I enjoy most about teaching history these days is technology. My classroom is a multi-media classroom and occasionally also a digital classroom, thanks to the state-of-the-art audio-visual and digital resources available to faculty on campus. And while I find technology to be indispensable in a contemporary classroom, I also recognize the limits of this type of pedagogical format. Humans are a form of biological not artificial intelligence. Hence, they do not learn by downloading the information or software, but by interacting with teachers and with each other in lectures, discussion and labwork. Therefore, as much as I love the cool gadgets at our disposal in the class, I view the use of such resources as an auxiliary tool, not a replacement for, an analog, offline classroom.
Interview conducted by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, email@example.com