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.

Summer Research Lab Reception

On June 21st, the Slavic Reference Service hosted a reception for the 45th Summer Research Lab and in celebration of the Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS). Joseph Lenkart of the Slavic Reference Service welcomed SRL associates and workshop participants. John Randolph gave remarks on behalf of REEEC and Christine Worobec on behalf of AWSS. Browse through a selection of photos from the event below.

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2017 Summer Research Lab Reception

Faculty, staff, students, and Summer Research Lab (SRL) participants celebrated the start of this year’s SRL with a reception at the University YMCA on June 21. Food from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian region was served. Joe Lenkart, Manager of the Slavic Reference Service (SRS), gave his remarks. Everyone had a great time catching up with colleagues, meeting visiting researchers, and enjoying the refreshments.

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.

2017 Fisher Fellow: Ingrid Nordgaard

Ingrid Nordgaard, PhD Candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University, was awarded the 2017 Fisher Fellowship for her research at the Summer Research Lab on aesthetics in Russia’s north. 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.

While at SRL, Nordgaard worked on the first chapter of her dissertation project, “Aesthetics of the North: Russian Modernist Culture and Scandinavia, 1891-1910.” She also gave a Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “On the Frozen Sea: Exploring, Writing and Painting the Northern Frontier.”

According to Nordgaard, SRL has been on her radar for a while. After reading about it on SEELANGS, she was encouraged by professors to apply and heard excellent reports from fellow graduate students, who had attended SRL in the past. After defending her prospectus last spring, she decided to kick-start her dissertation, or, as she calls it “the big forest that is The Dissertation” by attending SRL, knowing that she would be able to work with the staff at Slavic Reference Service, who would be able to give tips on how to tackle such a big project.

At the early stages of her research, Nordgaard has found SRL most helpful for getting advice on how to collect materials most efficiently, that is, locate archives, track down obscure sources and access them in the US. In general, she is searching for resources that shed light on how cultural producers in Russia approached the North within the period she is studying. Since she has been at SRL, she has been able to locate articles on the topic from several Russian journals published in the 1890s, and she has also made a list of what archives and folders to look into when she goes to Russia. Additionally, she remarked that the Slavic Reference Service librarians have been an excellent resource on their own.  “You might find several copies of a book, but there’s only one Joe Lenkart!” said Norgaard.

Her favorite thing about the SRL experience has been allowing herself to completely indulge in her work without thinking of anything else. “Waking up in the morning,” she said, “I’m excited to start another day of research — every day brings something new, since you can never really be completely certain about what you might find!”

“I would highly recommend SRL! Even though I attend a large research institution like Yale University and have access to a wide array of resources, it still does not compare to attending a lab in which you get to work so closely with a librarian and receive personal advice on how to approach various research questions,” said Nordgaard. Plus, she remarked, the people in Urbana-Champaign are very friendly, the squirrels and the rabbits are amazingly bold, and the campus area has a lovely atmosphere.

Call for Applications! Summer Research Lab 2017

The Summer Research Laboratory (SRL) on Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia is open to all scholars with research interests in the Russian, East European and Eurasian region for eight weeks during the summer months from June 12 until August 4. The SRL provides scholars access to the resources of the world renowned Slavic, East European, and Eurasian collection within a flexible time frame where scholars have the opportunity to receive one-on-one research assistance from the librarians of the Slavic Reference Service (SRS).

The deadline for grant funding is March 15 and is fast approaching! REEEC will continue to receive applications for the Summer Research Lab after the grant deadline, but housing and travel funds will not be guaranteed.

For further information and to apply, please use this link:

For graduate students, the SRL provides an opportunity to conduct research prior to going abroad and extra experience to refine research skills and strategies.  Students will also have the opportunity of seeking guidance from specialized librarians in navigating resources pertaining to and originating from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia.

The SRS is an extensive service that provides access to a wide range of materials that center on and come from: Russia, the Former Soviet Union, Czech and Slovak Republics, Former Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The International & Area Studies Library, where the Slavic, East European, and Eurasian reference collection is housed, contains work stations for readers, research technologies, a collection of authoritative reference works, and provides unlimited access to one of the largest collections for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in North America.