History textbooks in Moscow: a visit to Russkoe Slovo, an independent publishing house in Russia

Andreas Holtberget Articles , ,

The day after the World Congress of School History Teachers (4-7 October 2021), EuroClio had the opportunity to visit Russkoe Slovo (“Russian Word”), an independent publishing house producing history textbooks for use in the Russian educational system.

Located in the central and historic Zamoskvorechye area, on the right bank of the River Moskva, Russkoe Slovo publishes educational and methodological literature for use in preschool all the way up to upper secondary school level, along with popular science and art publications for children and adolescents. 

The EuroClio visitors, consisting of Secretariat staff Eugenie Khatschatrian, Catherine Savitsky, Andreas Holtberget and Steven Stegers, were met by Kirill Kochegarov, heading the publisher’s history department. Mr. Kochegarov shared his experience on the current state of history textbook production in Russia and the work of his team.

An emerging monopoly

Mr. Kochegarov explained how the number of publishing houses has been decreasing in recent years. Illustrative of this, Russkoe Slovo is now one of two larger companies still represented on the federally approved list of textbooks for Russian history classrooms. Schools only get the costs covered for textbooks that are on this list. Schools can use other resources, but these costs are not covered, which is problematic for commercial publishers. The other large company on the list, the formerly state-run Prosveshcheniye (“Enlightenment”), has come to gradually buy up smaller competitors, who ran into financial difficulties, leading to a virtual monopoly.

While Mr. Kochegarov was clear on the fact that his operation is free from direct censorship from the government, they do understand that certain topics might be too difficult and as a result adopt a “softer tone". Remaining on the list of federally approved textbooks is clearly of immense importance to a commercial company like Russkoe Slovo. That this is not guaranteed, was illustrated by an example Mr. Kochegarov shared of a mathematics textbook, which was deemed as “not contributing to the formation of patriotism”, leading to its publisher temporarily losing its authorisation. 

Russkoe Slovo presents the digital versions and features of their teaching resources.

The authorship of history textbooks is, as your EuroClio correspondent understands it, largely left to academics and professional historians. Teachers are on other hand drafted into the review process to provide didactic expertise and ensure that student exercises and inquiry questions work in practice and not only in theory. Once a textbook has been vetted, tested and approved by the Russian Ministry of Education and Enlightenment it can be included on the officially sanctioned list for schools to request. 

Some of the more pedagogically innovative features may not necessarily reach all students, however: while the textbooks themselves are provided free of charge by the government, accompanying workbooks for students are not - with the cost effectively passed on to the individual school or the pupils’ parents. 

Textbook digitisation

Subdivisions and territorial changes of the Soviet Union. Russkoe Slovo produces its own maps, 3D animations and videos

The history team at Russkoe Slovo runs what seems to be a smooth operation producing textbooks whose quality EuroClio’s russophone staff members could attest to. With an in-house map-making facility and a team of former history teachers advising on methods and pedagogical approaches, the publishing house also impressed with its digital education offerings. Kirill Kochegarov’s team shared 3D models of the Moscow Kremlin, a video portrayal of an historic battle and online assessment tools - all available either through QR codes inside the textbooks or from an accompanying online space. These tools provide students and teachers with opportunities to actively engage with the historical content and explore key moments, personalities and perspectives.

EuroClio’s team, enjoying a day off from the World Congress, was similarly invited to share snippets of its own digitisation efforts, including some of the latest Historiana features, and left Russkoe Slovo and Moscow with both inspiration and hopes for future collaboration with Russian colleagues.   

EuroClio would like to thank Kirill Aleksandrovich and his team for the warm welcome we received at Russkoe Slovo Publishing House.