Julia 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.