Kharkiv As a University City: The Evolution of Symbolic Space


The emergence and evolution of the symbolic space of Kharkiv, one of the largest university centres in Ukraine, represent changes in the urban cultural landscape and the urban narrative of memory. Here, the transformations of sign-space (ritual practices and symbolism) in Kharkiv’s institutions of higher education are traced from the first half of the nineteenth century to the present time. The genesis of sign-space in the city’s institutes of higher education is an example of the transfer of western European university ideas to eastern European terrain, and their further adaptation there. The functioning of sign-space is studied in the fifteen largest institutions of higher learning in Kharkiv today.

University symbols and rituals define a system of views of the modern university, its functions, and its ideals. Building a university sign-space is also interpreted as a competition for the symbolic environment of the city in which it exists. In this way, institutions of higher education seek not only to be represented in the urban milieu, but also to promote the consolidation of a certain part of the surrounding urban community. Kharkiv’s symbolic space as a university city is tightly knit but heterogeneous, representing a complex system and comprising a wide variety of visual and verbal elements. The current forms of visual (self)representation of Kharkiv’s universities are a synthesis of local and borrowed academic traditions. The “commercialization” and “service function” of the modern university clash with the “old” ideals of Enlightenment, a conflict reflected in the symbolic and ritual forms perceived by the university community.

Author Biographies

Serhii Posokhov, V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University

Professor and Head of the Department of Historiography, Source Studies, and Archaeology (School of History)

Yevhen Rachkov, V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University

Associate Professor, Department of Historiography, Source Studies, and Archaeology (School of History)