History of Moscow University

History of Moscow University

In January 2005 Lomonosov Moscow State University celebrated its 250th anniversary, over 800 various events being held on the occasion. Founded in the XVIII century, the University has been constantly growing and encompassing new branches of learning and research.

All the history of the University is the evidence of the outstanding role its alumni have played promoting the ideas of freedom, common good, humanity, and truth.

Early history

M.V. LomonosovOne of the oldest Russian institutions of higher education, Moscow University was established in 1755. In 1940 it was named after Academician Mikhail Lomonosov (1711 - 1765), an outstanding Russian scientist, who greatly contributed to the establishment of the university in Moscow.

Mikhail Lomonosov was one of the intellectual titans of XVIII century. The great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin described him as a person of formidable willpower and keen scientific mind, whose lifelong passion was learning. Lomonosov's interests ranged from history, rhetoric, art and poetry to mechanics, chemistry, mineralogy. His activity is a manifestation of the enormous potential of the Russian scientific community whose representatives occupied the leading positions in the world at the time. Peter I reformed Russia, which allowed the country reach the standards of the contemporary European powers in many spheres. Great importance was placed on education. In 1724 the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, founded by Peter I, established a university and a grammar school to educate intellectuals and researchers the country needed; however, these educational establishments did not fulfill the task they took on. It was Michail Lomonosov who suggested, in his letter to Count Shuvalov, the idea of establishing a university in Moscow. An influential courtier and the favorite of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, Count Shuvalov was a patron of the arts and science; he supported Lomonosov's plans for a new university and presented them to the Empress.

The decree about Moscow universityIn 1755, on 25 January, St. Tatiana's Day according to the Russian Orthodox Church calendar, Empress Elizaveta Petrovna signed the decree that a university should be founded in Moscow. The opening ceremony took place on 26 April, when Elizaveta Petrovna's coronation day was celebrated. Since 1755 25 January and 26 April are marked by special events and festivities at Moscow University; the annual conference where students present results of their research work is traditionally held in April.

According to Lomonosov's plan, there were originally three faculties. First all the students acquired a comprehensive knowledge in the field of science and humanities at the Faculty of Philosophy; then they could specialize and continue at the Faculty of Philosophy or join either the Law Faculty or The Faculty of Medicine. Lectures were delivered either in Latin, the language of educated people at the time, or in Russian. Unlike European Universities, Moscow University did not have the Faculty of Theology, since Russia had special theological education establishments.

Moscow university first buildingFrom the very beginning elitism was alien to the very spirit of the University community, which determined Moscow University's long-standing democratic tradition. The Decree Elizaveta Petrovna signed stated in its preamble that the university was to educate commoners; only serfs were not admitted. Lomonosov himself pointed out that in European universities it was the academic achievements of a student that mattered, not his social position or family background. In the late XVIII century there were only three noblemen among the 26 professors of Moscow University, most of the students were commoners too. The best students were sent to continue their education abroad, establishing the contacts with the international scientific community.

Originally tuition at Moscow University was free for all, later only poor students were exempt from tuition fees. The state funding did not cover all the University expenses; thus the administration had to find ways to raise additional funds. The University was partly funded by its patrons, such as the rich merchants of the Demidov and Stroganov families and some others, who donated laboratory equipment, books, various collections and established scholarships for University students. Many times University alumni supported their alma mater through hard times raising money by public subscriptions. To the University library professors traditionally bequeathed their private book collections, the largest among them were those collected by I.M.Snegirev, P.Ya.Petrov, T.N.Granovsky, S.M.Soloviev, F.I.Buslaev, N.K.Gudzy, I.G.Petrovsky and some others.

Moscow university building. 1786Moscow University played an outstanding role in popularizing science and learning in Russia by making the lectures of its professors open to the public. Book publishing in Russia started in 1756, when a printing house and a bookshop were opened on campus; the printing of one of the first Russian newspapers “Moskovskie Vedomosti” (Moscow Gazette) started there. Since 1760 the first Moscow literary periodical “Poleznoe Uveselenie” (Useful Entertainment) was also printed at the University printing house. N.I.Novikov, one of the outstanding figures of the Enlightenment in Russia, was at the head of the University publishers from 1779 to 1789.

N.I. NovikovFor over a century, since 1756, the University library was the only one in Moscow opened for the general public.

Professors of Moscow University greatly contributed to establishing new cultural centres in Moscow and Russia, the grammar school and later a university in Kazan, The Academy of the Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, the Maly Theatre in Moscow, to name just a few. In XIX century the first scientific societies, uniting naturalists, historians and philologists, were founded at the University.

D.I. FonvisinXVIII century saw a number of outstanding figures among the students and professors of Moscow University: philosophers N.N.Popovsky, D.S. Anichkov, mathematicians V.K. Arshenevsky, M.I.Pankevitch, medical doctor S.Z.Zybelin, botanist P.D.Veniaminov, physicist P.I.Strakhov, soil scientists M.I.Afonin and N.E.Cherepanov, H. A. Chebotarev, historian and geographer, historian N.N. Bantysh-Kamenetsky, A.A.Barsov, S. Khalfin and E.I.Kostrov who were philologists and translators; lawyers S.E.Desnitsky and I.A.Tretiakov, well-known authors D.I. Fonvisin, M.M. Kheraskov, and N.I. Novikov, architects V.I.Bazhenov and I.E.Starov. Their work greatly contributed to Moscow University's becoming the leading educational, scientific and cultural centre in Russia and in the world.

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