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The New Directions Initiative
Cities and Rivers Workshop




Maria Ignatieva

is a Professor in the Department of Urban and Rural Development at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet). She holds a Master’s Degree in landscape architecture from St. Petersburg Forest Technical Academy and a Ph.D. in Botany from Moscow State University. A native of St. Petersburg, she has concentrated her research on urban ecology and particularly on the ecology of St. Petersburg’s historic parks and gardens. She recently published “A Botanical Excursion around the City” (in Russian). She is currently serving as consultant to the Russian-Danish project, "St. Petersburg Green Belt."


Maria by the Moika River in St. Petersburg

Rachel May

is Coordinator of Sustainability Educationat Syracuse University. She holds a doctorate from Stanford University in Slavic Languages and Literatures and a Master's degree in environmental communications from the SUNY COllege of Environmental Science and Forestry.. From 1990 to 2001 she taught Russian literature, language, and cultural history at SUNY, Stony Brook and Macalester College. Her earlier academic research, supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Davis Center at Harvard University, focused on Russian cultural attitudes toward nature; she edited and contributed two essays to a two-volume special issue of Russian Studies in Literature (2003) on that topic. In 1997 Dr. May studied the cultural underpinnings of the Russian national park system, under a research and travel grant from the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research. She has also published a book and several articles on Russian-English literary translation and has co-translated two books from Russian.

Nikolai Rolley

is Professor of Applied Ecology, Faculty of Civil Engineering, St. Petersburg State Technical University. He received a Master's Degree in Physiology from St. Petersburg State University and a PhD in Human and Animal Physiology from the Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry of the USSR Academy of Sciences, studying the environmental impact of thermal pollution. He has served as Learned secretary of the "Man and Environment" Research-Coordination Council for the Russian Ministry of Higher Education and as Coordinator of International Environmental Educational Programs. He is the author of more than 90 articles and works devoted to environmental problems, including several books on environmental education and training (Ecology for Hydroengineers, Environmental Engineering, Sustainable Water Management etc.). He holds the title of Soros Associated Professor and Corresponding Member ofthe International Academy of Science (Ecology and Environmental Safety).


Rachel and Nikolai at the New Directions conference, Golden, CO, 2002


Collaborating across disciplines and across cultures: The Neva River Project

Ours is an unusual collaboration because it is not only interdisciplinary, between an aquatic ecologist (N. Rolley), a landscape architect and botanist (M. Ignatieva), and a scholar of Russian literature and culture (R. May), but also because it is intercultural, between two Russians and an American. Though we all speak Russian and English well, we still must translate ideas that sometimes do not translate easily. More importantly, we come from significantly different scholarly and academic contexts, where the notions of interdisciplinarity differ markedly. As a result, we have each found the process difficult and frustrating at times, but also transforming, as it has made us aware of the assumptions we bring to our scholarly work and opened new ways of thinking about our respective disciplines.
There are several lessons we can draw from our experience so far on this project. First, for effective interdisciplinary collaboration to take place, you need time for brainstorming, trial and error, and open-ended exploration, before you can begin to ask the right questions. You also need time and some imagination to adjust your own assumptions, in the face of the very different perspectives of your collaborators. It can be a challenge to respect the styles and assumptions of other disciplines and to believe that they have relevance to your own. When you do come to respect the other discipline’s insights, you may find your own work opening up to be much more multifaceted than it was before. And this may, in turn, require that you find a new language or a new medium in which to develop your ideas.
Finally, we believe that it is not a coincidence that nearly all the current New Directions grant projects are place-based. A place can provide an excellent connection between otherwise disparate disciplines, as a source of shared affection and shared experience. Though most humanists’ eyes may glaze over at the mention of hydrology, and most urban ecologists may have no time for poetry, everyone with any connection to St. Petersburg can sympathize with a desire to study the Neva in all its many dimensions.

River and City
1. Bronze Horseman
2. Summer Garden
3. Ust-Izhora
4. Shlisselburg