Caucasian Cultures – Past and Present: A Six Part Course with Dr. Nina Wieda
Can't make this time? A video recording will be sent to all participants after the seminar.
Many people describe themselves as “Caucasian,” but don’t necessarily know why. This course will introduce participants to the Caucasus region – the mountainous area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the home to the earliest uncontested traces of human civilization outside of Africa. A meeting place of four religions and over a hundred languages, the Caucasus mountain range is the natural border between Europe and Asia. The region's cultures attracted conquest attempts and absorbed cultural influences from all the major empires of the region, from the Ottomans to Iranians to the Russian Empire. Protected by the unsurpassable mountains, the civilizations of the Caucasus had a chance to develop in their uniqueness at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
The course will illuminate the illustrious histories of the regions three independent states - Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, as well as the multitude of smaller ancient nations populating the Northern, most forbidding, part of the Caucasus mountain range. The region intrigued the human imagination since written sources were invented. In the eighth century BC, it was featured in the Tale of Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece. Today, Caucasus is a coveted geopolitical prize and an increasingly popular travel destination.
Led by an expert on the Caucasus, Nina Wieda, this course will illuminate the region – both past and present. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with increased knowledge about the Caucasus and a desire to learn more.
Lecture One: Introduction to the Region
Our first meeting will introduce the participants to the region: its geography, its ancient history, and its role in the development of human civilizations.
Lecture Two: Georgia
The ancient nation of Georgia retains its millennia-long history, distinctive language and alphabet, and the unique culture developed in dialog with the greatest civilizations of the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Georgia is the site of the ancient city of Colchis, where the mythical Argonauts came for the Golden Fleece. Georgia’s polyphonic singing – still practiced at weddings, feasts, and informal gatherings - has been recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural treasure. One of the world’s oldest wine-making regions, Georgia is home to a tradition of hospitality, feasting, and toast-making. Its mountain slopes and high-altitude valleys are studded with ancient towers – the witnesses of the nation’s turbulent and storied history.
Lecture Three: Armenia
Armenia is the first Christian state of human history and one of the oldest surviving nations in the world. Home to several UNESCO-recognized sites and traditions, Armenia carries its millennia-old culture into modernity. Armenia is home to its own Christian tradition and a unique church architecture inspired by the surrounding mountainous landscape. Armenia’s mountain slopes, crossroads, and churchyards are studded with ornate ancient cross-stones (khachkars) - another UNESCO treasure with a fascinating history. In the 1st century BC, Armenia was the most powerful kingdom east of the Roman Republic and left its mark in world history and ancient chronicles. Noah’s Ark is said to have found its rest near the summit of Armenia’s sacred Ararat mountain.
Lecture Four: Azerbaijan
One of the oldest continuously inhabited areas of the planet, today's Azerbaijan is a modern country and a major player in the oil industry. Nestled on the warm Caspian Sea between Iran and Russia, Azerbaijan is a nation that developed under the complex influence of several powerful empires wrestling for influence over the region. Its cultural history began at the beginning of human civilization: Gobustan Rock Carvings – one of the earliest records of human activity – is located in Azerbaijan. Dating between 5,000 and 20,000 years, the carvings tell the story of human society and ecological changes in the region. Located at the crossroads of the continents of Asia and Europe, Azerbaijan’s capital Baku served as an important stop on the Silk Road leading from China to Constantinople. Today, Baku is a modern city that combines exotic skyscrapers with lively bazaars and Turkish baths. The Caspian Sea coast is studded with mud volcanoes – a rare natural phenomenon and a popular spa destination.
Lecture Five: Dagestan
Dagestan - an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation - may be the most fascinating region in the world. With a population of about 3 million, Dagestan consists of about 70 ethnic groups speaking about 40 distinct languages. Some of these languages maintain unique linguistic features that help us understand the nature of language and of human civilization. The people of Dagestan also profess all four major world religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. The region contains religious monuments dedicated to all four religions, as well as idiosyncratic ancient structures, such as multi-story mountain towers and burial cities equipped with boats. The highlight of our conversation will be an exploration of the city of Derbent – one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, which is likely to be the location of the legendary Caspian Gates, also known as the Gate of Alexander.
Lecture 6: Autonomous Republics of the Russian Federation
The final week of the course will illuminate the most mysterious part of the Caucasus - a conglomeration of unique ancient cultures organized into seven autonomous republics within the Russian Federation. Chechnya often appears in the news because of its turbulent present, but other republics have equally fascinating histories and cultures. For example, North Ossetia is the home of ancient Arians whose legacy has been rewritten significantly in the twentieth century.
Nina Wieda is a native of the Caucasus living in Chicago, USA. She holds a Ph.D. in Slavic from Northwestern University and an MA in Nationalism Studies from Central European University. Nina also has experience in journalism, advertising, and consumer research – her writing has been published in three languages. She wrote her Master's thesis about the Northern Caucasus region. Dr. Wieda currently teaches at Northwestern University near Chicago.
How does it work?
This is a six-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
When will I receive the Zoom link?
Your link to enter the Zoom room will be the same for all sessions. It will be sent to the email address used to place your order 30 minutes prior to each lecture's start time.
Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. These will be provided at the course's conclusion.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $210 USD for six lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording link within 48 hours of each session's conclusion. The recordings will be available to re-watch up until 14 days after the course's conclusion.
Are there additional Context seminars and courses being led by Dr. Wieda? Yes! Dr. Wieda will be leading several virtual experiences in the coming weeks. Details are available here.