Letter from the Director

Dear Colleagues,

It’s hard on all of us, I imagine, to welcome ourselves to a new year that immediately poses so many difficult challenges.  Like it or not, as summer enters its last month, we’re looking at an academic year that will be full of both hardships and uncertainties.  I won’t argue here that those challenges contain opportunities.  Yet I will say that the University of Illinois and REEEC within it should themselves create opportunities for people to pursue their ambitions and futures based on what they want to do, and not merely on what they have to do. And it’s my hope that as we gather in these crazy times to continue our scholarship, and our work as researchers and educators, REEEC can do just that.

At first glance, it may not look like we’re open: for the Fall, REEEC will be continuing its work remotely, and the office will be closed most of the time.  Yet we’re all here to help you as before (just contact us by e-mail) and we have an exciting set of initiatives planned for the year.  Indeed, in some ways, the amount and variety of scholarly programming we’re offering this year will be unprecedented.  Joining with the other National Resource Centers across the country, we’re co-sponsors of an amazing series of virtual lectures by leading scholars in our field.  Our own Professor David Cooper will help launch this NRC Showcase Series with a lecture about his research into the literature and history of forgery: a tremendously timely topic in our own era of deep fakes!  Other lectures in this NRC series will feature Harsha Ram, Francine Hirsch, Marianne Kamp, Jessica Robbins, and our own alumna Theodora Dragostinova.

Each year, REEEC hosts its own New Directions series, and this year is no exception.  We’ll be kicking off this Fall on September 3rd with a roundtable meant to help our community confront the vital questions (and needed new directions) posed again in the US by the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.  Featuring opening remarks by Gene Avrutin, Valeria Sobol, Justin Balcor and Alejandra Pires, this event will consider two intertwined questions.  What can perspectives drawn from our region offer current discussions about the study of race and systemic racism, in the US and elsewhere? What role have race and racism played in the constitution of our field, and what can we do about that?  One goal of this session is to help formulate new initiatives and lines of inquiry that can shape the future of our program and the larger field of REEES going forward, so I do hope you will be able to join us and share your thoughts and ideas.

On September 22 our New Directions series will continue with an exciting team presentation by Professor Emily Wang (German and Russian) and Professor Korey Garibaldi (American Studies) from Notre Dame University: “Interrogating the Declining Significance of Pushkin’s Blackness: Henry James, Ivan Turgenev, and Literary Nationalism.”  On October 8, Professor Valeria Sobol will participate in the HRI’s Medical Humanities event, “Global Spread: COVID in the World.”  Later in October, we’ll be hearing from Dr. Diana Kurkovsky West, a historian of technology at Auburn University, who will talk about her research into the role of ‘big data’ in late Soviet culture.

This is a preview of some of the programming we have planned for this year: there’s a lot more to come.  For details on these and other events, please watch your e-mail boxes and consult our website.  (Speaking of the website: we’ve got a new one launching in just a couple of weeks!  Expect a new-look REEEC page starting in early September).

If that’s the immediate future, in this review newsletter you’ll find out a lot about what REEEC and our affiliates have been up to this summer.  And it was a busy one!  In collaboration with our colleagues at the Slavic Reference Service, we responded to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic by shifting the Summer Research Laboratory to a virtual format.  This went extremely well–you can read about some of the Lab’s work here–and I’m also glad to say that thanks to special permission from our funders at the US Department of State we are able to invite this year’s Lab participants to visit Champaign-Urbana next summer, with their housing and travel and research stipends intact.

We also received the news that our new 2020 Title VIII grant proposal was approved.  So we’ll be having a new SRL funding call for applications this Fall, as well as (knock on wood) an especially large and rich Summer Research Lab in 2021!

Last, and most importantly, we’re happy to welcome two new MA students to our program.  Sam Waitt comes to us from Furman University, and is interested in the politics and culture of contemporary Poland.  Tabbey Cochran, who graduated from Macalaster College and spent several years in Ukraine, will be pursuing interests in Russian and Soviet history, and is also enrolled in our dual degree program with the iSchool.  Welcome, Tabbey and Sam!

There’s a lot more to say, but let me close here with what’s most important.  For over sixty years, under one name or another, REEEC has sought to help the students and scholars of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign chart directions of their own choosing for themselves and our field of scholarship.  We’ll be here again to do that in 2020-2021, despite everything. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with your thoughts and ideas and ambitions at any time: we look forward, now as ever, to working with you!


On behalf of REEEC,


John Randolph
Director, REEEC
Associate Professor of History



2020 Fisher Fellow: Kristina Poznan

The following is an interview given by Dr. Kristina Poznan, the 2020 recipient of the Fisher Fellow Award. The Fisher Fellow Award offers support to junior scholars to attend the Summer Research Lab (SRL) at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at the University of Illinois in the spirit of scholarly advancement and collaboration. While both the Fisher Fellow Program and the Summer Research Lab looked quite different this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, SRL associates were able to continue projects via remote research and collaboration.

Dr. Poznan received her Ph.D. in History from William & Mary and has previously taught history at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, La Salle University, and Randolph-Macon College, among others. Her research interests include transatlantic migration, migrant identities, and migration to the United States following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Dr. Poznan generously agreed to answer a few questions about her experiences as a Fisher fellow and with SRL.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What brought you to the Summer Research Lab?

What brought me to the SRL was their strong collection in both secondary resources and primary access. A lot of graduate institutions have excellent library subscriptions, but once you finish your Ph.D. and are out in the wider world of the institutions that you’re teaching at, access to some of these things can get kind of spotty. The SRL really helps to maintain access to world-class institutions for scholars over the summer.

What has been the primary focus of your research during SRL this summer?

I am working on studying the migrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the United States and the way that the process of transatlantic migration influences and, in some cases, accelerates, separatist nationalisms. I have been utilizing the University of Illinois’ library collections on some of the locations the migrants were coming from, but also transatlantic shipping and the locations within the United States where the migrants decided to settle. Access to both the library’s extensive Slavic history holdings and Illinois history holdings (and also information on Illinois immigration history) have been paramount to my SRL experience.

My library goals for the Summer Research Laboratory were two-fold: first, to mine the library’s extensive published primary source holdings on the Cunard steamship line, which was contracted by the Hungarian government to be the only legal carrier of Hungarian emigrants after 1905, and which sought to quickly reestablish transatlantic migration after WWI before the quota laws substantially lessened demand (Illinois’ holdings on Cunard are robust!), and second, to update my footnotes and bibliography utilizing the library’s secondary sources as I work on completing my book manuscript. While I had access to much of the secondary literature related to my research at William & Mary, the library’s holdings at New Mexico do not contain many Eastern European volumes.

This summer, the SRL looked and operated a bit differently due to the pandemic. So far, what have you found to be the most useful regarding the collection and reference services here at Illinois?

The database access at Illinois is far more extensive than I have had access to in several years. Being able to loop back to areas that perhaps on a first pass I didn’t always know exactly what I was looking for…I have been able to revisit things now in a later stage of the project, which has been really helpful in, in some cases, yielding hits that I hadn’t found during initial searches. Access to older, rarer, and less formal publications that are unfortunately not always considered worth saving has been very useful in collecting information. Finally, duplication services are a rare and serious boon during pandemic library closures.

What are your plans following the conclusion of SRL?

My plans in the coming weeks following the conclusion of the SRL are to keep working on my book manuscript and to finalize revisions on an article on the dual effects of new European borders after 1918 and American restrictions on immigration from the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the United States. Post-World War I borders, accompanied by the staunching of the flow of new immigrants by the war and restrictive quotas in the United States in the 1920s, together recast the relationship between many immigrants and their homelands. During the hearings before the passage quota legislations, Census Bureau officials had to admit to Congress that they had engaged in “guesswork” (sic!) to create quotas for new post-war states, even though the quotas were supposed to seem so objective and scientifically derived.

Summer 2020 Virtual Educators Workshop: K-14 Education during COVID-19 in the U.S. and Abroad

By Stephanie Porter (Outreach and Programming Coordinator, REEEC)

On July 28-29, 2020, the area studies centers of the Illinois Global Institute (Center for African Studies; Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies; Center for Global Studies; Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies; Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; European Union Center; Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies; Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center) hosted a summer virtual educators workshop, “K-14 Education during COVID-19 in the U.S. and Abroad”. The workshop was designed for primary and secondary school educators, community college faculty, and librarians. Illinois educators could earn up to 6 professional development hours for attending.

With almost 120 participants from all over the world, the workshop incorporated interdisciplinary lectures, roundtables, and vibrant discussions about online educational resources, tips on teaching with technology, assessment, and perspectives from educators (both in the U.S. and abroad) about teaching during the pandemic. Presenters ranged from University of Illinois and Parkland College faculty, K-14 educators in other states, to educators from countries like Brazil, Poland, and Peru. Participants were especially impressed by the ingenuity of teachers working in areas where most of their students do not have access to widespread, stable internet connections. Many recounted how difficult the sudden shift to online learning was on themselves and their students, especially on those students with less resources and support at home. 

Throughout the 2-day workshop, participants and presenters touched on questions of social justice, student engagement, teacher support, and the digital divide – all topics that were relevant to educators from different countries. They noted the many similarities and differences in their experiences, and actively used the chat feature on Zoom to communicate with each other – frequently providing feedback and suggestions.

Despite the uncertainty and challenges for the academic year ahead, the workshop participants appreciated the professional development opportunity of connecting with their counterparts from many different countries, reflecting on the past year, and learning about tools and approaches for effective distance learning from other educators’ experiences.

Stephanie Chung Porter is the Outreach and Programming Coordinator at REEEC.

2020-2021 FLAS Fellows

We are happy to announce that REEEC was able to fund nine graduate FLAS fellows and two undergraduate FLAS fellows for the 2020-2021 academic year. This is a decidedly strong group of scholars who highlight the wide variety of interests held by our students. Please join us in congratulating the 2020-2021 FLAS fellows found below!

REEEC FLAS Fellows, 2020-2021

Graduate Students:
Justin Balcor (Musicology) – Georgian
Jacob Bell (History) – Russian
Melissa Bialecki (Musicology) – Ukrainian
Tabitha Cochran (REEES/LIS) – Ukrainian
Murad Jalilov (Slavic) – Turkish
David Louden (Slavic) – Ukrainian
Demetry Ogoltsev (Slavic) – Serbian
Danielle Sekel (Musicology) – Bulgarian
Brian Yang (Slavic) – Russian

Undergraduate Students:
Jasmine Jacome (REEES) – Russian
Haley Nelson (Political Science & REEES) – Turkish

Alisha Kirchoff: Is there a place for Big Data in Area Studies?

Alisha Kirchoff (Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at Indiana University-Bloomington; formerly REEEC Associate Director, 2010-2015), recently penned a post entitled “Is there a place for Big Data in Area Studies?”. The post, published on Indiana University-Bloomington’s Russian Studies Workshop Blog, offers a timely conversation on the use of big data as researchers face difficulties regarding data collection due to COVID-19.

Through her experience as a sociologist and law and society scholar, Kirchoff highlights the advantages and challenges that accompany the utilization of big data. More specifically, Kirchoff expounds on her own work on Russian notaries and the computation methods she employs as a case for the necessary reinforcement for the need to sustain investments in area studies research. We invite you to read this important rumination on the future and continuation of area studies research on Indiana University-Bloomington’s Russian Studies Workshop Blog.


She Animates: Soviet Female Subjectivity in Soviet and Russian Animation

By Danielle Sekel

As part of the REEEC Virtual Summer Research Lab, Dr. Michele Leigh and Dr. Lora Mjolsness presented a public lecture on their forthcoming publication, She Animates: Soviet Female Subjectivity in Russian Animation. This volume was compiled largely through Leigh and Mjolsness’s research and collaboration done over the course of two summers at the Summer Research Lab, and it brings a welcome new addition to the existing conversation of not only film and animation history, but also women’s cinema.

Their research offers a close examination of twelve female animation directors in the Soviet Union and Russia, considering their contributions within the historical, cultural, and industrial aspects of animation. Their volume is framed by the concept of women’s cinema, challenging the fact that when one is asked to think about Soviet and Russian cinema, most often male directors come to mind. While it could be said that the same is held to be true in animation, there is a perhaps surprising amount of female animation directors who have made a name for themselves despite being largely ignored over time. This monograph works to reclaim the rightful place for these female animation directors within the larger conversation of Soviet and Russian film.

Of particular importance are the ways in which these directors have challenged the ideological norms of femininity in the Soviet Union and Russia; indeed, as Leigh and Mjolsness argue, the gendering of these works is instrumental in understanding the importance and impact of female animation directors’ contributions. Through a carefully curated examination of directors from both Soviet and post-Soviet eras, they weave a narrative demonstrating contributions to creating a women’s cinema in these spaces. Animators discussed range from the Brumberg sisters (Valentina and Zinaida), to more recent women, including Nina Shorina and Yulia Aronova. It is through looking at the works of such women in Soviet and Russian film and animation that we can see the creation and continuation of a Soviet female subjectivity that is still present in Russian women’s cinema today.

She Animates: Soviet Female Subjectivity in Russian Animation is set to be released through Academic Studies Press in September 2020.

Danielle Sekel is a graduate student in musicology at the University of Illinois. Her research interests focus on current works of LGBTQ artists in Bulgaria and Bosnia & Herzegovina. 

Illinois students awarded Boren Scholarships

This is a re-post of an article posted by the Illinois News Bureau regarding four students at the University of Illinois selected as recipients of David L. Borne Scholarships. For the original article, please see https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/809539.

University of Illinois Boren Scholarship recipients for 2020. Clockwise from top left: Haley Nelson, Folashade Olumola, Melanie Rohla, and Matthew Schultz.

Four students at the University of Illinois were selected to study in world regions critical to U.S. interests as recipients of David L. Boren Scholarships. They are among 217 students nationwide chosen by the National Security Education Program to study languages in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Four University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign undergraduates are among 217 students nationwide awarded David L. Boren Scholarships.

The National Security Education Program selects students to add international and language components to their education by studying overseas in world regions critical to U.S. interests. In the 2020-21 academic year, Boren Scholars and Fellows are slated to study in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East, studying 46 different languages. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is adjusting grant start dates so that recipients can proceed with their overseas language study when it is feasible to do so.

Haley Nelson, of Lake Forest, Illinois, and a graduate of Lake Forest High School, has been awarded a full scholarship to participate in the Turkish Flagship Language Initiative, which provides Boren Scholars with intensive study of the Turkish language through a combination of domestic and overseas programs. Nelson will pursue a year’s worth of Turkish language studies through the University of Wisconsin, Madison this summer, followed by continued language study at Azerbaijan University of Languages in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Attending Illinois on a swimming scholarship, Nelson is a junior double-majoring in political science and Russian, East European and Eurasian studies. Last summer, Nelson attended an intensive Turkish language program at the U. of I. She also has studied Russian and Ukrainian. In preparation for a career focused on Turkish and Russian culture and foreign policy, Nelson participates in the campus Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security.

“The unique perspectives that ACDIS helped me uncover, my desire to commit my knowledge to U.S. national security and the addition of Turkish fluency will give me the skills needed to gather information on Turkish culture and intelligence in my career,” Nelson said.

Folashade Olumola, a graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor High
School and a resident of Calumet City, Illinois, has been awarded a Boren Scholarship to study Arabic at Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture in Amman, Jordan.

A sophomore in political science, Olumola spent the past year on campus working as a resident assistant for housing and as an undergraduate research ambassador for the Office of Undergraduate Research. Simultaneously, she has served as a Virtual Student Federal Service Internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development Operating Unit of the U.S. Mission to the African Union. She also is an active member of the campus Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security.

Olumola aspires to work as a foreign service officer for USAID under the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. She said she hopes to “focus on strengthening governance accountability through the inclusion of youth, anti-corruption and peacebuilding.”

Melanie Rohla, of Lisle, Illinois, and a graduate of Lisle High School, has been awarded a full scholarship to participate in the African Flagship Languages Initiative, which provides Boren Scholars with intensive study of African languages through a combination of domestic and overseas programs. Rohla will pursue a year’s worth of Swahili studies this summer through the University of Florida, followed by continued Swahili studies in Arusha, Tanzania.

Rohla, a senior pursuing majors in global studies and earth, society and environmental sustainability, will return to a familiar region. Her first exposure to East Africa was during a two-week trip to Rwanda in high school. She has returned twice, on a Critical Language Scholarship to Tanzania and for a semester study abroad in Kenya. She is a member of the Campus Honors Program and established a campus organization, Project Connect, to get peers involved in refugee assistance.

Rohla has worked as an intern for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in the U.S. Department of State, where she would like to return in her career. “The cultural and linguistic knowledge I will gain from the Boren program will allow me to communicate with local people, understand their input and experiences, and thus create better refugee programs and policies for East Africa,” Rohla said.

Matthew Schultz, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, and a graduate of

Matthew Schultz, Boren Scholarship recipient 2020

Prospect High School, has been awarded a full scholarship to participate in the African Flagship Languages Initiative, which provides Boren Scholars with intensive study of African languages through a combination of domestic and overseas programs. Schultz will pursue a year’s worth of French and basic Wolof studies through the University of Florida this summer, followed by continued language studies at the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal.

Schultz is a senior pursuing majors in Frenchpolitical science and Spanish. He has worked on campus promoting study abroad through Illinois Abroad and Global Exchange and in the community as an interpreter and translator for The Immigration Project, a nongovernmental organization providing legal services to immigrants in Illinois. He spent a semester studying abroad and volunteering with an NGO serving the Paris homeless population and another summer teaching English in Morocco.

An aspiring diplomat, Schultz has taken classes in 10 different languages including Turkish, for which he was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship. “I envision myself drawing upon my knowledge of global affairs and my linguistic capabilities in a career representing the United States on the international stage,” Schultz said. “Nothing sounds more exhilarating and worthwhile to me than continuing to learn about the world as I lead collaboration efforts across cultures and protect freedom globally.”

A fifth Illinois student was named a Boren alternate.

NSEP is a major federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. NSEP’s Boren Awards program provides U.S. undergraduate and graduate students with resources and encouragement to acquire language skills and experience in countries critical to the future security and stability of the nation. In exchange for funding, Boren Award recipients agree to work in the federal government for at least one year. Since 1994, more than 7,000 students have received Boren Awards and contributed their skills to careers throughout the federal government.

Editor’s note: For more information on the National and International Scholarships Program at Illinois, contact David Schug, director, 217-333-4710; topscholars@illinois.edu

REEEC-Affiliated Graduate Student Awarded ASEEES Summer Dissertation Writing Grant

LeiAnna Hamel, a Ph.D. candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures and FLAS alumna, has been awarded an ASEEES Summer Dissertation Writing Grant for work on her dissertation, “Undisciplined Bodies: Deviant Female Sexuality in Russian and Yiddish Literatures, 1870s-1930,” this summer.

LeiAnna’s dissertation analyzes the depiction of female bodies and eroticism in Russian and Yiddish literatures alongside medical, anthropological, and journalistic examinations of female sexuality. Her project poses the question: How did the sexualized (Jewish) female body become the locus for anxieties about modernization in Russian and Yiddish texts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

Faculty News

David Cooper (Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures) has been selected as an NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Application) Fellow for 2020-21 for his project “Successful forgeries: Analyzing fakelore for oral-formulaic epic poetry characteristics.”




George Gasyna (Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Comparative and World Literature, Jewish Culture and Society, and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory) has received a Conrad Humanities Professorial Scholar Award. This award recognizes exceptionally promising associate professors in humanities units within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois.




Jack Hutchens (Ph.D. alum in Slavic Languages and Literatures and 2019-20 Polish language Lecturer) has received the Canadian Association of Slavists’ “Article of the Year” award for 2019, for his article “Julian Stryjkowski: Polish, Jewish, queer ” published in Canadian Slavonic Papers.




Roman Ivashkiv (Slavic Languages and Literatures) has been promoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer, effective August 16, 2020. This is an important and well-deserved recognition of his invaluable contributions to both the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Program in Translation & Interpreting Studies.







Harriet Murav (Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Comparative and World Literature) has been appointed as a Professor in the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois. This appointment is one of the highest forms of campus recognition for faculty, and it reflects her outstanding scholarship and extremely high standing in her field.




Stefan Peychev (PhD in History, 2019), who has taught as a Lecturer in REEES, the Department of History, and the Department of Religion, has accepted a position as Visiting Assistant Professor at Boston College.




Judith Pintar (Teaching Associate Professor and Acting BS/IS Program Director) has been selected by the Office of the Provost and the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs as the University of Illinois Distinguished Teacher-Scholar for the 2020-2021 academic year. Pintar’s award will support her project, “Gameful Pedagogy: Instructional Design for Student Well-Being.” More information on the award and project can be found here.




Valeria Sobol (Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures) has won the prize for the Best Article in the field of Ukrainian history, politics, language, literature and culture (2018-19) from the American Association for Ukrainian Studies, for her article “‘Tis Eighty Years Since: Panteleimon Kulish’s Gothic Ukraine,” published in Slavic Review.

2020 Summer Research Lab Update

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Illinois has suspended all in-person summer programming on our campus. It thus will not be possible to host the Summer Research Lab in person this year. In consultation with colleagues at the Slavic Reference Service and our program officer at the US Department of State, we are considering other options such as expanded virtual research support. Our goal, as always, remains to provide scholars with the most effective support in advancing their research on the REEES region. In addition, we plan on organizing virtual events this summer, such as talks and coffees/teas, that are open to the REEEC community and provide networking opportunities for our faculty and students. We hope to pass along more details soon.