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.

Julia Leikin, “Eighteen Greeks and One Armenian: Voices of Black Sea Merchants in the Early Nineteenth Century”

On June 19th, the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center hosted a talk entitled Eighteen Greeks and one Armenian: voices of Black Sea merchants in the early nineteenth century by Dr. Julia Leikin, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Exeter and the 2018 Fisher Fellow. The talk followed Dr. Leikin’s participation in the Fisher Workshop in the preceding days and centered around her current research on “Russian practices of sovereignty at sea and the legal construction of maritime space” in the early modern period and later.


Dr. Leikin began her talk by providing context for the broader field of study, tracing a narrative of Russian Imperial maritime law that begins with the 1768 Russo-Turkish war. She points to the late eighteenth century as the time in which the Russian Empire became party to international discussions of maritime norms and began adapting these norms to its own needs in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The study of historical maritime law in this case is centered around what Dr. Leikin describes as the “intersection of war and commerce as seen by imperial St. Petersburg” in her given time frame, specifically as this concerns evolving historical questions surrounding the relationship between ships of war and ships of trade as dictated from the imperial center and realized on the sea. More broadly, this study can involve looking at the ways in which military ships secured shipping lanes for their own trade vessels and commandeered enemy vessels in times of war. While this field of study is sometimes discussed as though it existed in a context of consistent international regulations, in reality each empire set its own policy as to what constituted an enemy ship and why it was liable to be captured. This created a fascinating and inconstant web of sometimes corresponding and sometimes conflicting international laws and priorities that were open to manipulation from a variety of sources.


Dr. Leikin uses the specific example of the 1809 seizure of an Ottoman-flagged ship crewed primarily by Greek merchants in order to draw her context into focus. After being boarded by sailors of the Russian navy, neither the vessel nor its prisoners offered resistance as they were brought to port in Crimea. Instead, the crew of the ship sought legal recourse through the provincial admiralty court system, arguing that the Russian Empire had not previously treated their coreligionists this way. In such cases as this, the burden fell on merchants to prove that the seizure of their ships was unjust, and so the merchants composed a petition — described by Dr. Leikin as typical of the genre — explaining the difficulties in procuring the capital to acquire a merchant vessel in the first place and detailing their future suffering and penury should the seizure of their ship be deemed legal under wartime law. Though many strategies in navigating Russian admiralty courts were surely employed by the diverse crews of confiscated vessels, the crew in this specific example appealed to notions of Christian brotherhood in search of justice; indeed, the letter goes so far as to assert that the crew supported the Russian Empire in its war against the Ottomans, casting Greeks and Armenians in Ottoman lands as natural allies to the Orthodox Russians. Dr. Leikin makes clear that this choice of narrative is not isolated. Instead, her work seeks to connect this sort of appeal — to mercy for the merchants and their families, specifically as fellow Orthodox Christians — to the image the Russian Imperial center sought to project; her narrative also seeks to bridge trends in the Black Sea with similar earlier rhetorical strategies employed by petitioners in the Eastern Mediterranean. As Russia’s 1806 Prize Law made no customary exemption for Ottoman Christian merchants in times of war, these sorts of appeals relied on precedent more than legality.

Pointing to her broader work, Dr. Leikin noted that her scholarship on this topic disrupts a narrative of Christian migration in the period as being usually highly ideological. Instead — as illustrated in this specific example of a commandeered ship and its crew’s rhetorical strategies for regaining their property — a desire to draw upon supposed connections between Christian peoples in the Black Sea region and surrounding lands was a highly practical act for merchants. Where simply appealing to Christian mercy and precedent was sometimes sufficient to have commandeered ships returned, many future merchants would also add the right to fly the Russian flag to their arsenal of tools to avoid loss of profit and property. Dr. Leikin connects these themes across decades, wars, and seas, and shows how later shifts in apparent allegiance may well be due more to practical concerns than religious ones.


Tyler Dolan is a PhD student in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on Russian-Jewish and Yiddish language literature of the Russian Revolution and interwar period.

2018 Fisher Fellow: Julia Leikin

img_1237Julia Leikin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, was awarded the 2018 Fisher Fellowship for her research on Russian maritime law and international relations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The fellowship — named after Dr. Ralph Fisher, the founder of SRL and REEEC, and a champion for building the Slavic collection at the University of Illinois Library — provides funding to a scholar with a particularly promising research project for participation in the Summer Research Lab. Dr. Leikin generously agreed to answer some questions about her experiences as Fisher fellow and with SRL.

What brought you to SRL and how did you hear about it?

I have known about the excellent programming at REEEC for years. Several friends have mentioned working there at different points, so I definitely wanted to take advantage of the resources available at UIUC at the right point in my project. For me, that turned out to be towards the end of the research phase for my first book. I am tracking down a long list of references that I have accumulated over the past several years, and Illinois happens to be one of the few places where most – if not all – of these references are available in one place.

What have you found most useful about the collections or reference services here at Illinois?

So many things! First of all, like all research librarians, Joe Lenkart and his team deserve recognition for their expertise and professionalism. They have curated and oversee a fabulous collection! In advance of my arrival, they sent me lists of things that were relevant to my project and prepared stacks of books for me to get started once I got here. So, it was really helpful to have someone “introduce” me to resources I may not have thought to look for on my own. I spent a lot of my time working with imperial Russian periodicals (Moskvitianin, Sovremennik, Moskovskie vedomosti), and it was really convenient to have both the thematic indices and the newspapers themselves in one place. That way, I could quickly bookmark things that looked promising and then grab the microfilm and read the articles I selected. And there were so many other things that I didn’t have time to look at, but the SRS folks said they could get it to me in Exeter through interlibrary loan.

What has been the focus of your research here?

For the most part, my work at the summer lab was tied to the final part of my manuscript. This part is about the Russian Black Sea and the final chapter draws on published materials to gauge the extent of public interest in maritime issues. I presented portions of my research at the Ralph T. Fisher Workshop organized by Eva Rogaar and Ben Bamberger and in my Noontime lecture, and I tracked down articles for the numerous references to published materials I had accumulated in the process.

Did your findings adhere to your expectations? If not, how were you surprised by what you’ve found? Did anything change the direction of your current projects?

Well, I was looking for very specific things, so there wasn’t much room for serendipity. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Sankt-peterburgskie vedomosti had an index for the 18th century. Unfortunately, it was a little difficult to use and based on very generic categories, so I couldn’t work out the best way to use it for my questions. I’m still thinking about it. I also scanned a few reference books to begin thinking about the second project – I expect those will go a long way towards shaping it, but it’s still too soon to tell.

What are your goals/plans for after SRL – either later in the summer or in the coming year?

After SRL I went to the tenth international conference of the Study Group for Eighteenth Century Russia in Strasbourg. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the group, and it was a grand affair hosted by Rodolphe Baudin at the University of Strasbourg. It was a great conference interspersed with cultural outings in the city and World Cup playoffs. Now, the social part of my summer is over and it is full steam ahead (naval metaphor – forgive me!) on writing.

How was your visit to Champaign-Urbana? Did you discover any great restaurants or bars here that you’d recommend to future workshop participants and fellows?

I had a great stay in Champaign-Urbana – it’s a beautiful campus. The bell tower made me think of Andrei Rublev – I suppose that’s the Russian historian in me. Great food too – the folks who organized the Fisher Workshop introduced us to several great places. We ate at The Himalayan Chimney and The Red Herring, and I liked these places so much that I went back. A friend who studied at UIUC also told me to go to Blind Pig brewery and Maize for tacos. And a friend who wrote a book about craft coffee tipped me off about BrewLab Coffee, which is just down the street from the dorm. (I never made it to that other place you guys recommended.) Those are all the essential food groups – so I was pretty much set.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Only that I was grateful not only for the resources in the library, but also for the other participants in the summer lab. I received great questions and comments after my talks, and I learned a lot from the other papers and the discussion at the Fisher Workshop. It is so important to have that chance to zoom out and see how your work fits into a broader conversation.