Recent Acquisitions at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Collections at the University Library

Despite budget uncertainty at the state and federal level, the Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies collections at the UIUC Library continue to grow, to diversify, to build in areas of strength defined in previous decades, and to adopt new tools and resources to make materials available to researchers.

Perhaps the biggest news for the 2017-2018 academic year is that UIUC Library users will now have access to the Integrum database — the single most comprehensive source for current online media content from the Russian Federation, containing the searchable full text of tens of millions of articles and other documents generated by the contemporary Russian press. This will supplement and enhance the access to current Russian media content that has been provided for UIUC researchers through East View for many years.

Retrospective content available through East View was also expanded earlier in 2017, with the purchase of complete full-text-searchable digital archives of the pre-revolutionary journal Russkii Arkhiv (which provides access to primary source documents from the 18th and 19th centuries) and the early Soviet journal Krasnyi Arkhiv (dedicated to previously-unpublished tsarist diplomatic documents). UIUC Library patrons now have the ability to search the full text of these journals along with fully-digitized runs of other major Russian and Soviet periodical publications such as Pravda, Izvestiia, Literaturnaia Gazeta, Sovetskaia Kul’tura, and Iskusstvo Kino.

In Spring 2017, the Library also began subscribing to East View’s new database of 10 current newspapers from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. To support additional research on the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Library recently acquired over 150 Ukrainian, Russian and Crimean Tatar titles published in Crimea in 2014-2016 (i.e. before, during and after the Russian annexation of the peninsula).

Other noteworthy print resources acquired in 2017 include over 80 volumes of the Kazakh biographical series Ȯnegelī ȯmīr, along with the 12-volume Kyrgyz encyclopedia Asker ansiklopediiasy. These reference materials will enhance the Library’s Kazakh- and Kyrgyz-language holdings, which are already among the best in the United States. Other unique 2017 acquisitions include the only U.S. holdings of the ethnoregional journals Karabakhskii ekspress (an official publication of the unrecognized government of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan) and Gor (devoted to the language, culture and history of the Hemşin people of eastern Turkey).

The UIUC Library’s microfilm and microfiche holdings are among the most extensive in the U.S., providing access to a huge amount of retrospective primary- and secondary-source material on the REEE region. Recent acquisitions in these formats include 1,687 reels of microfilm from Gale/Cengage, which contain thousands of archival documents on women’s roles in World War I in Eastern Europe, American intelligence on the Prague Spring of 1968, Zionist movements in Western Ukraine before 1939, and voluminous documentation on the experience of Eastern European immigrant communities in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Finally (and appropriately enough, as the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution draws near), we have also discovered century-old original paper copies of a handful of newspaper titles from the revolutionary era, including issues of Golos krest’ianstva (“Voice of the Peasantry”) from Vladivostok in 1919, Viatskiia izviestiia vremennago pravitel’stva (“Viatka Provisional Government News”) from May 1917, and the Kyiv Province Communist Party organ Bil’shovyk (“Bolshevik”) from 1923. After appropriate preservation measures are taken, these items are slated to join the thousands of other rare Slavic and East European items in UIUC’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

We look forward to making additional high-impact acquisitions for the Library’s collections in 2018 and beyond. We are always happy to hear from faculty, students, and other members of the REEEC community regarding our collections and how they might be improved still further.

Kit Condill is a REEES Librarian, Slavic Acquisitions Specialist, Ralph T. Fisher Library Scholar, as well as an integral member of the REEEC community. Every fall he lends his expertise to graduate students in the course LIS 530C: “Russian, East European & Eurasian Bibliography & Research Methods,” where he teaches students how to most effectively utilize library resources. 

New Acquisitions at the REEEC Multimedia Library

This summer, REEEC added some new films to our multimedia library. They range from Soviet classics to contemporary Academy Award nominees and winners from the region. All are available to check out for university faculty, K-12 teachers, and graduate students who are interested in incorporating cinematic and other multimedia materials into their courses and studies.


Battleship Potemkin (2-Disc Special Edition) : Soviet Union/Russia
A film by Sergei Eisenstein (1925, 69 min., B&W/Color, English intertitles/Russian intertitles with English subtitles)

Course Relevance: film history, classic film, Odessa, Russian Revolution

Synopsis: In the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel’s officers. The resulting street demonstration in Odessa brings on a police massacre.

Reviews: RogerEbert.comThe Guardian


Leviathan: Russia
A film by Andrey Zvyagintsev (2014, 140 min., Color, Russian with English or French subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer.

Course Relevance: Post-Soviet Russia, contemporary Russia, corruption

Synopsis: In a small coastal town in Russia lives an ordinary family: Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), his wife Lilya, and their teenage son Roma. The family is haunted by a local corrupt mayor who is trying to take away Kolya’s business, house, and precious land. Kolya calls in an old friend, now an authoritative attorney, for help. Together they fight back and collect dirt on the mayor, but fate does not seem to be on Kolya’s side.

Awards: Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Experimental Film Award (National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA), Grand Prize (IndieLisbon International Independent Film Festival), Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (Cinema Eye Honors Awards)

Reviews: The Atlantic, Washington Post


Son of Saul: Hungary
A film by László Nemes (2015, 107 min., Color, Hungarian with French, Portuguese, Spanish, or English subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer.

Course Relevance: Holocaust, Sonderkommando, Jewish life

Synopsis: October 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis. While working, Saul discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child’s body, find a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial.

Awards: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Academy Awards), Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language (Golden Globes), Best Film not in the English Language (BAFTA Awards), Grand Prize of the Jury, FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes Film Festival)

Reviews: Associated Press, Time


Ida: Poland
A film by Pawel Pawilikowski (2013, 80 min., B&W, Polish, Latin, French with English or French subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

Course Relevance: religion, Catholicism, Communism, postwar Poland, Jewish life, the Holocaust, women

Synopsis: 18-year old Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a sheltered orphan raised in a convent, is preparing to become a nun when the Mother Superior insists she first visit her sole living relative. Naive, innocent Anna soon finds herself in the presence of her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a worldly and cynical Communist Party insider, who shocks her with the declaration that her real name is Ida and her Jewish parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation. This revelation triggers a heart-wrenching journey into the countryside, to the family house and into the secrets of the repressed past, evoking the haunting legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar Communism.

Awards: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Academy Awards), Best Film not in the English Language (BAFTA Awards), Audience Award (European Film Awards), Grand Prix (Warsaw International Film Festival)

Reviews: AV Club, Newsday


The Innocents: Poland
A film by Anne Fontaine (2016, 115 min., Color, French and Polish with English subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

Course Relevance: postwar Poland, Communism, religion, Catholicism, pregnancy, women

Synopsis: Warsaw, December 1945: the second World War is finally over and French Red Cross doctor Mathilde (Lou de Laage) is treating the last of the French survivors of the German camps. When a panicked Benedictine nun appears at the clinic begging Mathilde to follow her back to the convent, what she finds there is shocking: a holy sister about to give birth and several more in advanced stages of pregnancy. A non-believer, Mathilde enters the sisters fiercely private world, dictated by the rituals of their order and the strict Rev. Mother (Agata Kulesza, Ida). Fearing the shame of exposure, the hostility of the occupying Soviet troops and local Polish communists and while facing an unprecedented crisis of faith, the nuns increasingly turn to Mathilde as their beliefs and traditions clash with harsh realities.

Awards: Andreas Award (Norwegian International Film Festival), Audience Award (Provincetown International Film Festival), Best Film (Valladolid International Film Festival)

Reviews: New York Times, Boston Globe


Tangerines: Georgia/Estonia
A film by Zaza Urushadze (2013, 87 min., Color, Estonian, Russian, Georgian with English subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

Course Relevance: Abhaz-Georgian conflict, post-Soviet Georgia

Synopsis: A story of awakening humanity in the midst of violence, told with intimacy and elegance by writer/director Zaza Urushadze, Tangerines is the spare, yet haunting tale of an older Estonian man who cares for two wounded soldiers from opposite sides of the 1990s-era war in Georgia. The film reveals compassion to be the ultimate response to centuries of political, cultural and ethnic conflict, a compelling and relevant message for contemporary audiences.

Awards: Best Feature (Jerusalem Film Festival), Audience Award (Warsaw International Film Festival), nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Academy Awards), nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)

Reviews: The Washington PostLos Angeles Times


Balkan Spy: Serbia/Yugoslavia
A film by Dušan Kovačević and Božidar Nikolić (1981, 95 min., Color, Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles)

Synopsis: In this black satire flashing back to the 1950s Yugoslavia under Tito, when relations with the Soviet Union were broken off, a pro-Stalinist Iliya (Danilo Bata Stojkovic) and his brother have never wavered in their political support of the Soviet dictator and his policies. They both served prison terms back in the 1950s for their beliefs. Now nearly three decades have passed, and a new neighbor who has spent a long time in Paris comes under police suspicion because of his long years outside the country. It turns out, however, that the man is innocent of any wrong-doing but Iliya is convinced he is a spy for the forces of imperialism, and, armed with a tape-recorder and camera, he carries out a surreptitious, evidence-gathering surveillance. At the same time, Iliya is whipping up his neighbors into a real frenzy of anti-imperialist furor directed against the hapless neighbor. Before Iliya can be stopped, even his wife joins him, but his daughter is hardly a convert — embarrassed would be a better word. Humor and pathos rise along with the paranoia, as Iliya and his delusions rule the day.

Awards: Best Screenplay (Montreal World Film Festival), Best Actor (Pula Film Festival of Yugoslavian Films)

Please note that REEEC provides access to its collection free of charge to the following: University of Illinois faculty, graduate students, registered student organizations, K-12 instructors, and university/college faculty in the United States. First priority is given to University of Illinois faculty teaching Russian, East European, and Eurasian area studies courses. The collection is for educational purposes only. REEEC does not lend films to individuals for private viewing, and it does not lend materials outside the US.

2017 Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum: Central and Eastern Europe in the Global Middle Ages

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On June 22nd, the Russian, East European, Eurasian Center hosted the annual Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum. This year, the forum was organized by REEEC Director David Cooper (Associate Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures), and was co-sponsored by the Ralph and Ruth Fisher Endowment, the Program in Medieval Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics, and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

The theme of this year’s Fisher Forum was Central and Eastern Europe in the Global Middle Ages. The presentations were broken up into three different panels, each focusing on a different region of Central and Eastern Europe. The first panel was dedicated to Kievan Rus’ and its environs, the second to Central Europe, and the third panel focused on Southeastern Europe.

The first panel included Ines Garcia de la Puente (Boston University), who discussed “The Translated Worlds of Kievan Rus’”; Olenka Pevny (Cambridge University), whose work focused on “‘Living’ Orthodoxy and Petro Mohyla’s Restoration of the Kyivan Rus’ Patrimony”; Matthew Romaniello (University of Hawaii), who presented his lecture “Commodities without Context? Rethinking the History of Medicine in Medieval Russia”; and Michael Bechtel (University of Chicago), who talked about “The End of the Nomadic Military Elite: Technology and Institutional Change in Late Medieval Central Eurasia.” 

The scholars who discussed Central Europe included Julia Verkholantsev (University of Pennsylvania), who presented her lecture “Medieval Historian at Work: Historical Method and Linguistic Thought”; Paul Milliman (University of Arizona), who presented his research on “The First Invention of Eastern Europe: Sclavia, Scythia, and the East in the Medieval Map of Civilization”; and Eva Doležalová (Center for Medieval Studies, Prague), who discussed the “Image of the Jews in the High and Late Medieval Bohemian Society in Comparison to the Holy Roman Empire.”

The third and final panel included Gabriela Currie (University of Minnesota), who gave a lecture entitled “Eurasian Sonic Borderlands: Cultural Encounters in the Danubian Plains”; Donna Buchanan (University of Illinois), whose research focused on “Sonic Politics of the Sacred: Bells and Belfries in the Bulgarian Middle Ages and Contemporary Medieval Imaginary”; and lastly, Robert Romanchuk (Florida State University), who discussed “The ‘Formulaic Style’ and Its Role in the Translation of Digenis Akritis into Old Slavic.”

Although the participating scholars all discussed different topics and focused on different areas, the lectures were all united by a common goal: to deconstruct outdated divisions of an “Eastern” and “Western” Medieval Europe that imagine the continent as a collage of separate, isolated parts. Medieval Europe was not split into two, but was instead composed of a plurality of networks, communities, and other social formations that brought distant peoples and cultures into contact. By looking to the past and showing the interconnectivity of Europe in the Middle Ages, the Fisher Forum scholars ultimately sought to offer a new perspective on processes and problems of globalization in the modern era.

Lucy Pakhnyuk is a second-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests are in comparative politics, including issues of democratization, mass mobilization/political protest, and human rights in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia.

Russian Week at Urbana Fine Arts Center’s Summer Camp

During the week of July 10th,  REEEC visited Urbana Fine Arts Center’s annual summer camp to give presentations on Russian language, dance, and music. On Wednesday, Nadia Hoppe, PhD candidate in the Slavic Department, and Stephanie Chung, Outreach and Programming Coordinator of REEEC and also a PhD candidate in the Slavic Department, introduced the summer camp participants to the Russian alphabet. The summer camp participants, who ranged from ages 6-8, then learned how to write their names in Russian script. On Friday, Hoppe returned to give a presentation on Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. After learning about the Firebird in Russian folklore and watching several productions of the ballet, ranging from Margot Fonteyn’s 1954 performance to a contemporary performance in Mariinsky Theater, the campers enjoyed a Firebird mask craft.

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: Cadra McDaniel, “Politics in the World of Art: Representations of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries”

On June 27th, Professor Cadra McDaniel gave a Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled, “Politics in the World of Art: Representations of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.” Professor McDaniel is an Assistant Professor of History and Liberal Studies at Texas A&M University-Central Texas and the author of American-Soviet Cultural Diplomacy: The Bolshoi Ballet’s American Premiere.


According to Professor McDaniel, the emergence of the World of Art (Mir iskusstva), a Russian art magazine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, heralded a new and innovative phase in the world of Russian art. Artists associated with the World of Art, the Miriskusniki, became known for their avant-garde works and for their appreciation of Western European aesthetics and cultural trends. The name World of Art was meant to highlight their cosmopolitan proclivities and to build a bridge between Russian art and Western European art. While many scholars have acknowledged the World of Art for its cultural achievements and contributions to European art as a whole, few have considered how the World of Art interacted with Russian politics. Although the World of Art is commonly seen as having been apolitical, Professor McDaniel argues that the World of Art and the Miriskusniki often expressed political and nationalist themes through their art, many of which have continued to feature in 20th century and contemporary Russian art.

In the late 19th century, nationalism became a powerful force in Europe and Russia. Amidst ongoing nationalist debates in the country, the Miriskusniki sought to illustrate national identity not through politics, but through what they saw as authentic Russian art. In their search for national identity, the Miriskusniki looked to the past, finding inspiration in ancient Russian myths and folklore, as well as 18th century Russia and France.

Viktor Vasnetsov, Knight at the Crossroads, 1882

Viktor Vasnetsov, Knight at the Crossroads, 1882

The artist Viktor Vasnetsov and his painting Knight at the Crossroads became a source of nationalist discussions among the Miriskusniki. Knight at the Crossroads, which celebrates Russia’s glorious past and the Slavic soul, depicts a Russian bogatyr, and draws heavily on Russian folklore. Sergei Diaghilev, one of the founders of the World of Art, believed that nationalists such as Vasnetsov would help Russia transition into Western European culture. In Europe at the time there was a widespread interest in myths and folklore, so Diaghilev believed that works like Knight at the Crossroads would integrate Russia into larger European artistic trends. Following the ideological traditions of Viktor Vasnetsov was Mikhail Nesterov, who was seen as representative of Russian national romanticism. Many of Nesterov’s works focused on religious themes, such as his Holy Trinity from 1895. Holy Trinity is a direct imitation of Anton Rublev’s icon, The Trinity. McDaniel argues that Nesterov’s imitation of the famed icon painter shows the continued importance of Orthodoxy in Russian nationalism. By harkening back to the Middle Ages, both Vasnetsov and Nesterov highlight the medieval period as a formative and glorious time in Russian history and as a central part of Russian identity.

Alexandre Benois, The King's Walk, 1906

Alexandre Benois, The King’s Walk, 1906

Moving forward in time, the World of Art also exhibited a great love and appreciation for the 18th century. Artists like Alexandre Benois, Valentin Serov, and Konstantin Somov, who were not interested in the medieval period, devoted their work to glorifying 18th century Russian culture. Benois’s painting, The King’s Walk, shows a stylization of the period that evokes a longing for a bygone era. The glorification of the 18th century by the Miriskusniki could be interpreted as a rebellion against bourgeois practicality, but it could also be seen as a celebration of Russia’s integration into European culture. As Professor McDaniel notes, “for the Miriskusniki, a Russia fully integrated Europe should serve as a basis for contemporary political and national identity.”

The ideologies of the Miriskusniki were not shared by everyone in Russia and even proved to be contentious in some circles. Vladimir Stasov, a supporter of the Peredvizhniki, often shared his contempt for the Miriskusniki in his journal, Art and Art Industry. He found the Miriskusniki and their works “anti-artistic,” “repulsive,” and derivative of their Western counterparts. McDaniel claims that Stasov’s distaste for the World of Art was rooted in his love for realism and his inability to appreciate new trends in Russian art, and she further argues that these tensions between the Miriskusniki and the Peredvizhniki highlight the importance of art in Russian society.

Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, October Idyll, 1905

Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, October Idyll, 1905

Toward the beginning of the 20th century, the political landscape in Russia became increasingly volatile. This volatility came to a head on January 22nd, 1905, a date that would come to be known as Bloody Sunday. Led by Father Georgy Gapon, thousands of workers marched to the Winter Palace with a list of demands for improved working conditions. As the unarmed workers peacefully approached the palace, they were fired upon by the Imperial Guard; countless were killed or gravely wounded. Bloody Sunday sparked a widespread outcry throughout Russian society and many Miriskusniki unabashedly vocalized their disapproval of the event and of the monarchy as a whole.

Some of the Miriskusniki, such as Valentin Serov and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, started a new satirical journal, Zhupel, and used it as a platform to publicly criticize the monarchy. Zhupel included works like Dobuzhinsky’s October Idyll, which depicts a scene of political violence committed by the government. Boris Kustodiev’s Entry illustrates a similarly macabre scene; Kustodiev depicts a battle between soldiers and workers, who are overshadowed by a massive, blood-covered skeleton. Not all artists of Zhupel chose to focus on themes of violence and death. For example, in the third and final edition of Zhupel, Ivan Bilibin published his illustration An Ass (Equus Asinus), which features a donkey accompanied by symbols of the Romanov dynasty. The illustration was an obvious critique of Nicholas II and was not received warmly by the government; Bilibin was sentenced to a brief house arrest and Zhupel was subsequently shut down.

Leonid Nikolayev, Blue Bucket Protests

Leonid Nikolayev, Blue Bucket Protest, 2010

According to McDaniel, the legacies of the World of Art and Zhupel continue to resonate into the 21st century. Government-sponsored art, such as World War I monuments, echo the early nationalist sentiments expressed by the World of Art, while the satirical traditions of Zhupel live on through the works of contemporary dissident artists like Gosha Ostretsov and Leonid Nikolayev. Nikolayev’s performance piece, Blue Bucket Protest, is a commentary on the abuse of political privilege by governmental officials, and mirrors the themes found in Ivan Bilibin’s An Ass. In contemporary Russia, as citizens grapple with concepts of national identity and struggle to wade through the political mire, the World of Art continues to serve as a source of inspiration and discussion.

Lucy Pakhnyuk is a second-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests are in comparative politics, including issues of democratization, mass mobilization/political protest, and human rights in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia.

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: Ingrid Nordgaard, “On the Frozen Sea: Exploring, Writing and Painting the Northern Frontier”

On June 20th, 2017, Ingrid Nordgaard (PhD Candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University) gave a REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled: “On the Frozen Sea: Exploring, Writing and Painting the Northern Frontier.”

The project, slated as the first chapter of her dissertation, “Aesthetics of the North: Russian Modernist Culture and Scandinavia 1891-1910,” examines the North and its aesthetic representations in Russian Modernist culture. In her dissertation, Nordgaard seeks to understand how and for what reasons Russia became invested in the North and Scandinavia. She hopes to show that the North—in different contexts understood either as an imagined geography or as a composite for real geographical locations—functioned as a creative repository for Russian cultural producers of the late imperial era.

For the writers and visual artists that Nordgaard studies, the North came to be understood as a mythical place that promised purity and rejuvenation, an escape from the pessimism of the end of the century. However, the North was also a geographical frontier, that is, a space of physical riches to be explored and conquered. She seeks to understand how these two approaches, one based on artistic considerations and the other on material interests, contributed to Modernist aesthetics between 1891 and 1910. By taking both approaches into account, Nordgaard will tie her discussion about aesthetic representations of the North to larger narratives that characterize the period – such as capitalism, nationalism, and questions of socioeconomic development – as well as comment on how modernism moves between cultures.

In her talk, Nordgaard focused on an 1894 journey in the northernmost part of Russia, Arkhangelsk and the Murmansk coast. The trip, led by Sergei Witte, finance minister of Russia at the time, aimed to search for a new naval base and to survey the area for the construction of a railroad that would connect Moscow to Arkhangelsk. This trip, which lasted three weeks in the summer of 1894, was recorded in the travel log of Evgeny Kochetov, entitled On the Frozen Sea: A Journey to the North, published in 1895. She argues that Kochetov’s book consciously creates something that Nordgaard coins as “aesthetics of the North.” In other words, she seeks to explore the making and components of the set of principles that together constitute the “aesthetic of the north” that Kochetov’s book represents. By investigating these question, Nordgaard asserts that we can see how Kochetov’s account connects to a bigger discussion about politics, nationalism, and about the function of literature and art in Russian Modernity.

Nordgaard called Kochetov’s travel logs a “hybrid literary product” because of its many registers and styles. However, she asserts that its agenda shines through – it is a narrative aimed at informing, inspiring, and educating the reader about North of Russia and its apparent economic and material potential. However, while Kochetov points the reader to the future, he also reminds the reader that the North has a special position in the Russian past. Kochetov continuously refers to Ivan III and all that he did for the development of Northern Russia, as well as mentioning that Peter the Great created a shipyard in Arkhangelsk. Kochetov’s writings treat the North as a region where the past and the future coexist. Although Kochetov’s writings were probably influenced by the voyage’s leading man, Witte, Nordgaard stressed that the travel logs should not be simply regarded as political propaganda. As Nordgaard argued, it is too conscious about encouraging, informing, and enticing the reader to explore for themselves. As Nordgaard stated, the travel log differs from other travel logs of the nineteenth century in that it is not just about brave men exploring the frontier, but it is an account that repeatedly reminds us that we might be able to do the same.

Nordgaard then turned to artistic depictions of the North, particularly those created by Konstantin Korovin. Korovin and Valentin Serov, were the artists responsible for the thirty illustrations and sketches that are included in Kochetov’s travel logs. However, Nordgaard focused on Korovin’s contribution to the 1896 All-Russia Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod. Korovin was appointed as the designed and architect of one of the exhibition’s pavilions, which was dedicated to the Russian North. Within the pavilion he exhibited ten of his side-by-side large-scale paintings, which were adapted from sketches that Korovin created during trips to the North, funded by Savva Mamontov, another leader in the construction of a railway to Arkhangelsk.

Konstantin Korovin. “Fishing in the Murman Sea.” 1896.

Nordgaard noted their simultaneous attention to the beauty of the region and potential commercial value. The paintings in the series feature fishermen on the Murman Sea, the market at the Arkhangelsk Dock, the construction of the railway, and polar bears among nature. Thus, as Nordgaard asserts, the paintings combine different narratives about the North. The North is imagined as a land of potential riches and as concealing nature’s greatest bounties, while also a place where man’s struggles and is challenged by nature. Furthermore, since the railroad was already under construction at the time of the exhibition, the canvases also sell a product, that is, the Moscow-Arkhangelsk railroad and the North as a concept.

Thus, as Nordgaard explained, Kochetov’s travel log is a literary work that is extremely aware of the political and socioeconomic agenda of which it is a part. She asserted that his writings make it especially clear how government officials, political actors, artists, and writers come together to further the development of Russian culture from a political, cultural and aesthetic point of view. Also, Kochetov’s travel log and Korovin’s illustrations prove that commercial development does not have to take away from the mystique of the North. To Kochetov and Korovin, it is just as important to convey the beauty of the North, as it is to present it as an area with great commercial and industrial potential. Furthermore, the conscious construction of the aesthetics of the North paint a new picture of the construction of Russian image and identity. As Nordgaard stressed, by looking North, we are looking away from the centers of Berlin and Paris and turning our gaze toward the periphery, challenging traditional accounts about how, why, and where modernist aesthetics come into being.

Nadia Hoppe is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include Soviet and Post-Soviet film, art, and literature, as well as gender and critical theory.

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: George Liber, “Total Wars and the Making of Modern Ukraine, 1914-1954”

On Thursday, June 15th, Dr. George Liber presented his noontime scholars lecture, “Total Wars and the Making of Modern Ukraine, 1914-1954.” Dr. Liber is a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His research interests include Soviet, post-Soviet, and East European social history; center-periphery relations in the Soviet Union and its successor states; nationalism and national identity formation; processes of democratization, and 20th century Ukrainian history. He is also an international election observer for the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He has published several books which include Alexander Dovzhenko: A Life in Soviet Film, Soviet Nationality Policy, Urban Growth, and Identity Change in the Ukrainian SSR, 1923-1934, and Total Wars and the Making of Modern Ukraine, 1914-1954.


In his lecture, Dr. Liber focused on the grand themes of how and why modern Ukraine emerged in the course of the 20th century. Dr. Liber opened his lecture by presenting two maps; the first map was of Europe in 1871. This was the age of sprawling multinational empires and monarchies, before the emergence of a modern Ukraine. The second map was of Europe in 2014—the age of nation-states. It was in the second map that the audience was able to see the familiar contours of Ukraine’s borders, which had been absent from the first map. Dr. Liber posed the question—what exactly happened between 1871 and 2014 that, quite literally, put Ukraine on the map?

In the 19th century, politics were driven by unspoken assumptions about how things were and should be done. The elites had a stake in maintaining the status quo, while the masses, especially those living in rural areas, experienced many hardships, such as overpopulation and social injustice. It was in this context that nationalist sentiments began to stir in Europe and eventually in Ukraine, which followed suit behind Poland, Russia, Italy, etc. A radical idea emerged during this time, the idea that Ukrainians were not Russians or Poles, but that Ukrainians were Ukrainians. For the elites in the various multinational empires, this was a dangerous idea. As Dr. Liber noted, the making of Ukraine would spell the unmaking of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

While this idea was dangerous, it was only shared by a narrow circle of people, namely the literate middle class. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people living on the Ukrainian territory were poor, rural, illiterate, and uninterested in lofty concepts like national identity. With the onset of the era of total war, this paradigm shifted, attracting more and more people to the idea of nationalism. European political hegemony was unraveled in the wake of World War I, which in turn accelerated processes of nation-building, state-building, and mass politics.

Over a period of forty years, the people living in what is now known as Ukraine experienced a series of forced evacuations, wars, famines, and other atrocities. These atrocities resulted in over fifteen million deaths, but they also led to the birth of Ukrainians and the Ukrainian nation. According to Dr. Liber, these unprecedented levels of violence institutionalized the idea that the Ukrainian-speaking population was different from Poles and Russians, and it was this violence that mobilized Ukrainians into realizing their goals of nationhood.

In making his argument, Dr. Liber cited Peter Gourevitch, an American political scientist, who claims that states of emergency “pry open the political scene, throwing traditional relationships into flux. Groups, institutions, and individuals are torn loose from their moorings, their assumptions, their loyalties, their ‘cognitive road maps.’ Circumstances become less certain, and solutions less obvious. Crises thus render politics more plastic.” The great wars and conflicts that broke out from 1914 to 1954 made European “politics more plastic” and forged a new reality for the Ukrainian people.

The violence that was employed in the territory of Ukraine produced massive social disruptions and various responses to these disruptions. The colossal loss of life resulted in a breakdown of community and society, creating a haze of uncertainty and confusion. Groups and individuals felt powerless, but they were forced to pick sides and decide which sovereign entity was best equipped to bring stability to the region.

Unfortunately for Ukrainians, stability did not come in the form of independence. Despite some attempts at national liberation, Ukraine was not formally recognized as an independent state, and was simply absorbed into the Soviet Union. While the Ukrainian SSR enjoyed relative peace and prosperity during the Soviet era, it was subject to social engineering that rearranged the demographic composition of the country, essentially creating five distinct territories and populations. Even after Ukraine gained independence in 1991, the sociocultural fault lines remained in place. In recent years, with the Euromaidan Revolution and the ongoing Ukraine crisis, these fault lines have become more apparent and more gaping, revealing cracks in the foundation of Ukrainian society.

Lucy Pakhnyuk is a second-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests are in comparative politics, including issues of democratization, mass mobilization/political protest, and human rights in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia.