Summer 2020 FLAS Fellows

We at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center are pleased to announce the awardees for this summer’s Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship, funded by the U. S. Department of Education. This year six students from five different departments will be studying four different REEES languages and related area studies scholarship. We would like to extend our congratulations to the following students for the national recognition of their studies:


Graduate Students:

Justin Balcor (Musicology) – Georgian

Alex Karsavin (Slavic Languages and Literature) – Russian

Murad Jalilov (Slavic Languages and Literature) – Turkish

Quinn O’Dowd (Sociology) – Czech

Cassidy Ward (REEES/LIS) – Russian


Undergraduate Students:

Kameron Gausling (Astronomy) – Russian


Learning Online During a Pandemic

By Jamie Hendrickson

It’s safe to say that going into 2020, no one expected that our regular journeys through campus and casual conversations with colleagues and classmates would suddenly come to a halt through a mass campus email that affected students, instructors, and university employees in one fell swoop. My non-local friends, both undergraduate and graduate students, were forced to leave behind most of their belongings, routines, and friends on short notice. My friends who were studying abroad had to send frantic late-night texts to their families and friends explaining that the university had only given them 24 hours to pack and get on a flight back to the United States. Over the following weeks, the friends who were poised to graduate had to accept the reality that the event they had been waiting and planning for was no longer happening the way that they had always expected. Not only that, but their time with the friends they had made over the years was suddenly cut short by months, and a proper goodbye to both the friends and the campus they had come to love might never happen. Many of those friends were now suddenly living at home with their families again, in places as far away as California and South Korea. Being back at home during this unusual time presented additional complications for many— time zone issues being a special one for those who were international students.

But classes had to go on, and they did, whether or not people were ready for such drastic changes.

If one thing became abundantly clear from the beginning of our university’s switch to online learning, it would be the Herculean amount of effort that my instructors put into redesigning their classes. Holding students’ attention, keeping the class’s progress on track, and adjusting the syllabus to fit the new situation were all tasks that instructors had to face during their spring break and maintain once their classes started again. The level of work that I’ve seen from one of my instructors this semester, Dr. Judith Pintar, in completely redesigning what was supposed to be an in-class role-play game into an interactive online world and social media platform [we can insert a link to Ben’s blog post about Judith’s talk on the text “completely redesigning”] is truly commendable.

But for some students, adjusting to Zoom classes wasn’t easy— my friends and classmates struggled with internet issues that affected their learning experience. One friend was forced to stay alone on campus for weeks because her family’s rural home had no access to the internet. Those who could log into Zoom without any problems have expressed to me their difficulties with paying attention in class due to family members, pets, and/or the online format in general. I myself repeatedly had to mute my microphone in class due to my cats’ shenanigans. Sleep also turned into a real issue for many, myself included. Without the usual external structure that attending classes or work provided, maintaining a regular sleep schedule became nearly impossible. Motivation, another key factor in academic success, was diminished for the many who had to spend almost all their time at home. Only being able to see their instructors through a screen gave some students the feeling of being removed from the reality of deadlines and coursework; in other words, the course of time began to lose meaning in tandem with their obligations and grades.

This spring semester was unlike anything we’ve ever before experienced as a university. Not only has this time been extremely difficult for all involved, but sadly, it has also been heartbreaking for some. The loss and pain that the world has been going through are tragic by all accounts, but I hope that we can soon begin to look forward to a future where we are all safe and together once more.


Jamie Hendrickson is a Master’s Student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Illinois.

REEEC Staff Profile: Danielle Sekel

Picture1Danielle Sekel is a third-year M.M. student in Ethnomusicology and a REEEC FLAS fellow for 2020-2021. Before coming to the University of Illinois, she received her bachelor’s degree in music and literary studies at Roanoke College and subsequently taught middle and high school music and English for two years in South Carolina. She aims to find a career in academia upon earning her degrees. Her M.M. paper focuses on the musical contributions of the Bosnian band Dubioza Kolektiv, and the ways in which they reference cultural artifacts, criticize the current state of the Balkans, and address individuals now living in diaspora.

As a REEEC FLAS fellow, Danielle has been able to study introductory Bosnian at the University of Pittsburgh during the summer of 2018 and advanced Bosnian in Sarajevo the following summer. She says that these language study opportunities have given her the ability to interact more comfortably with the musical texts and existing literature about this musical group and have also opened the door to many new research interests and new contacts in the field.

Currently a FLAS fellow with the European Union Center studying Bulgarian, Danielle will continue to study advanced Bulgarian as a REEEC FLAS fellow in the fall. Looking towards her doctoral research, Danielle hopes to work towards a multi-sited project focusing on LGBTQ vocal artists in Bosnia and Bulgaria. She says she is incredibly thankful for the plethora of language-learning opportunities and courses available through REEEC, as they have been instrumental in shaping and tuning her own research interests.

As a graduate assistant for REEEC, Danielle is also in charge of the outreach initiatives with the Champaign County Head Start, where she visits a group of 150 children ranging in ages from three to five years old monthly to teach them about countries in the REEE region. This academic year, children have been introduced to countries such as Turkey, Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Romania. Danielle says that “this is easily one of things I have enjoyed doing most during my time at UIUC thus far!”

New Forthcoming Book by REEEC-Affiliated Faculty Zsuzsa Gille and UIUC Alumni Cristofer Scarboro and Diana Mincyte

9780253047762The Socialist Good Life: Desire, Development, and Standards of Living in Eastern Europe, a new book edited by Zsuszsa Gille (Professor of Sociology), Cristofer Scarboro (Ph.D., History), and Diana Mincyte (Ph.D., Sociology), is set to be published this June by Indiana University Press.

From the publisher’s website:

What does the good life mean in a “backward” place?

As communist regimes denigrated widespread unemployment and consumer excess in Western countries, socialist Eastern European states simultaneously legitimized their power through their apparent ability to satisfy consumers’ needs. Moving beyond binaries of production and consumption, the essays collected here examine the lessons consumption studies can offer about ethnic and national identity and the role of economic expertise in shaping consumer behavior. From Polish VCRs to Ukrainian fashion boutiques, tropical fruits in the GDR to cinemas in Belgrade, The Socialist Good Life explores what consumption means in a worker state where communist ideology emphasizes collective needs over individual pleasures.

More information about the book can be found here.

Alumni and current students meet online to discuss the job market

University of Illinois graduate students recently took part in online informational interviews with nine alumni working in a diversity of fields in local public programs, the government, museums, NGOs, the private sector, and universities. Students and alumni discussed everything from job searches and interviews to developing careers in particular fields. “I benefited from my interviewee’s suggestions in terms of networking, general knowledge of UIUC’s ongoing programs, and potential research opportunities,” said Cassie Pontone, a first-year graduate student in Italian Studies.

Thirteen graduate students and recent alumni from eleven departments including Linguistics, Educational Psychology, and Computer Science, took up the opportunity to talk with alumni. Some students selected alumni with particular interests in order to learn more about specific fields. One recent graduate, with a Master’s degree in Economics, chose to interview with both Annie Contractor (Executive Director of Africa’s Tomorrow) and Noriyasu Li (Program Manager for Alexa International at Amazon) because they had a similar work experience background and areas of academic interest. Dealing with the job market during the pandemic was also an important discussion topic for students. “I appreciated the advice to network during quarantine by reaching out to others in my field and asking for informational conferences,” said a student in the M.A. Law program.

The interviews were originally scheduled to take place in-person as part of the Illinois Global Institute Career Day on March 27. The first IGI Career Day, the event was designed to highlight using foreign languages, area studies expertise, and thematic studies skills on the job market and to connect current graduate students and alumni. REEEC-affiliated alumni participating in the event included Elana Jakel (Ph.D. 2014, History), who is the Program Manager of the Initiative for the Study of the Ukrainian Jewry at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Nellie Manis (M.A. 2013, Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies), who is the Program Manager for the Critical Language Scholarship Program at American Councils for International Education; and Matt Rosenstein (Ph.D. 2002, Slavic Languages and Literatures), who is the Director of Global Education and Training (GET) at the University of Illinois. “When we had to cancel their visits due to COVID-19, our alumni immediately volunteered to conduct the interviews online,” said Maureen Marshall, Associate Director at REEEC. “Our alumni are fabulous! Not only do they have amazing careers, but they are enthusiastic to share their knowledge and give back to the international and area studies community at Illinois.”

“Although we had to postpone the full career day, we thought it was important to go ahead and offer the informational interviews for those who are graduating or on the job market now,” said Sydney Lazarus, Outreach and Programming Coordinator at the EU Center. For students the online informational interviews led to additional networking contacts and provided them with insights into how to approach the job market outside of academia

An in-person Career Diversity Day event is tentatively scheduled to take place in the Fall. In addition to informational interviews, the full program will include alumni panel discussions, a resume workshop organized by the Graduate College, and a networking reception.

National Security Implications of the COVID-19 Crisis: The Urgent Need to Build State Capacity

The following is a repost of an article recently published on the Minerva Research Initiative’s blog, Owl in the Olive by REEEC faculty affiliate Cynthia Buckley (Professor of Sociology, University of Illinois), Ralph Clem (Emeritus Professor of Geography and Senior Fellow at the Stephen J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, Florida International University), and Erik Herron (Eberly Family Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University). The original article and the associated readings can be found here.

Beyond the devastating and widely discussed humanitarian and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current global crisis also exposes the dangers inherent in governmental shortcomings to provide for their citizens’ welfare adequately. In other words: the downside is almost universally a failure of state capacity. In its broadest sense, state capacity refers to the ability of a government to control its territory and extract the means for survival from the population. However, we emphasize the third aspect of state capacity that is more relevant to the subject at hand: the ability to deliver services that provide well-being and how the populace perceives that delivery. Failure in this regard, which unfortunately is an option, will likely manifest ultimately in a growing lack of confidence among citizens in their governments, which in turn portends an erosion of legitimacy and, if left unchecked, may lead to political and geopolitical instability.

Our Minerva research focuses on this state capacity-legitimacy-stability linkage and the geopolitical dynamic between/among states. Our particular interest is in the post-Soviet space and how inequalities in the provision of social welfare services (such as healthcare) lead to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by aggressor states (notably Russia in our case) through malign influence campaigns (Buckley, Clem, and Herron 2019). The concept, however, is generalizable to other actors (notably China) and other regions.

The White Zone Fight
It is a mistake, in our opinion, to think of national security without considering human security, the latter a product of a state’s capacity to provide its population with the essential elements of well-being such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, and freedom-from-want. The recent focus in the national security community discourse on “gray zone” conflict, including non-kinetic means (Barno and Bensahel 2015) largely ignores state capacity/human security per se. If one imagines a continuum from peace at the left and multi-domain warfare at the right with the gray zone somewhere in the middle, we envision a “white zone” at the “far left of boom” (Buckley, Clem, and Herron 2020), and see that as an arena within which strategic competition also occurs.

Within this white zone, the crucial factor in assessing threats to state resilience is the degree of socioeconomic inequality. Research extant establishes these inequalities as precursors of intra-state conflict (Østby 2008; Taydas and Peksen 2012; Tikuisis, Carment, and Samy 2013). We suggest here that if socioeconomic inequalities persist, then the white zone is particularly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns—“the purposeful dissemination of information intended to mislead or harm” (Nemr and Gangware 2019, emphasis original)—directed against elements of state capacity by external state actors as well, either directly or via proxies. The widespread use of disinformation in the internet/digital age is by now well established (Singer and Brooking 2019), as is the fact that false news spreads more rapidly through the infosphere than true information (Vosoughi, Roy, and Aral 2018). Further, we concur with research in the field of conflict studies that points to the salience of regional versus national-level studies because the latter disguise important internal spatial inequalities (especially in border regions) and have, partially as a result, been ineffective in predicting the outbreak of violence (Raleigh, Linke, Hegre, and Karlsen 2010; Ward, Greenhill, and Bakke 2010; Paasi 2009).

As regards inequalities in state capacity delivery, current scholarship on third-party disinformation suggests that public health is a particularly vulnerable white zone target, with widespread activities across platforms and national contexts directed against that sector well before the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Highlighting the type of issues, regional characteristics, and individual risk factors associated with the acceptance of disinformation, Wang and colleagues (2019) stress the urgency of countering public health disinformation. That imperative derives especially because people will die as a consequence of being mis/disinformed, but such malign untruths also contribute to a “failed state” narrative and, ultimately, instability (Grävingholt, Ziaja, and Kreibaum, 2012).

Russian Disinformation
Russia entered the white zone disinformation fight early and now dominates it. Social media is the primary vector through which Russia directs offensive disinformation against neighboring states in the white zone. But broadcast media has also played a major role, particularly in areas or among social groups with low Internet penetration that typically receive information from television. Russian actions intended to influence “values and identities” to undermine the confidence of citizens in neighboring countries’ institutions have been investigated (Atran, Davis, and Davulcu 2020). Indeed, Driscoll and Steinert-Threlkeld (2020) suggest that, with appropriate cautions, social media analysis can be used to judge the efficacy of Russian information operations in the Ukraine conflict, even, possibly, to some extent guiding the scope of military intervention.

Russia, frequently through its RT (formerly Russia Today) television network, has been very active in propagating disinformation regarding viral epidemics, often depicting the US as the source of contagions, including COVID-19 (Broad 2020; RT 2020). But Russian malign influence operations directed specifically against elements of state capacity have also occurred but are not as well documented (Hurska 2020) nor necessarily seen in a national security context. A case in point is the Twitter bot and troll messaging activity from Russian sources relating “unverified and erroneous information about vaccines” (Broniatowski et al 2018). This specific campaign had a major impact, among other causes, on the prevalence of measles in Ukraine, which became a serious public health crisis in that country (Wadman 2019). That type of crisis, overtly seen as “merely” a contentious debate on the merits of vaccination, readily morphs into a deepening lack of trust in the country’s public health system that, in Ukraine, is abysmally low to begin with (Gallup Wellcome Global Monitor 2019).

Likewise, as a BBC investigation revealed, Russia launched a sophisticated state-sponsored broadcast media campaign in Georgia to malign the US-funded Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research (BBC 2018; Lentzos 2018). Through a public opinion survey, the authors and a colleague, in a recent working paper, find that a significant proportion of respondents in Georgia report the belief that the Lugar Center is used for US-directed biological weapons research or are undecided on the subject (Buckley, Clem, Herron, and Tepnadze 2020). The irony of this particular Russian government disinformation effort, vectored through the Russian media in Georgia, is notable inasmuch as the Lugar Center is that country’s main testing facility for COVID-19, yet it is portrayed as a source of the virus (Cockerell 2020).

Recognizing and Countering White Zone Threats
Not surprisingly, as discussed previously in this forum, Russian non-kinetic disinformation warfare is a persistent threat and therefore requires persistent engagement if its effects are to be mitigated (Atran, Davis, and Davulcu 2020). Additionally, understanding that all societies have inherent weaknesses—although clearly some more than others– it follows that states must in the first instance be prepared to recognize malign influence attacks against elements of state capacity (Buckley, Clem, and Herron 2020). The European Union has assumed a leading role in identifying and reporting Russian disinformation operations through its European External Action Service (EEAS). That agency recently reported the breadth of disinformation content directed at European audiences from Russian “state and state-backed actors [seeking] to exploit the [COVID-19] public health crisis to advance geopolitical interests, often by challenging the credibility of the European Union and its partners” (EEAS 2020). Disruptive narratives included the “man made” virus conspiracy theory and providing false “advice” as to how the disease might be avoided. According to this same report, Russian disinformation messaging to Ukraine included the portrayal of that country “as a failed state that was abandoned by its European allies”.

Recognizing that white zone disinformation attacks proliferate, the question of how to counter them remains largely unanswered, although fact-checking and counter-narratives must be undertaken (Nemr and Gangware 2018) and, certainly, deeper “social science research on psychological vulnerabilities and cultural preferences” (Atran, Davis, and Davulcu 2020) that might predispose individuals to be accepting of false narratives are in order. That said, if socioeconomic inequalities are the baseline vulnerability in the white zone, then it follows that in order to bolster security states must place a higher priority on addressing those weaknesses through more robust capacity and enhanced levels of human security. That the state is the dominant, if not exclusive, actor in providing capacity is not a novel idea; the seminal work dates back to 1985 (Evans, Rueschemeyer, and Skocpol) and has been enhanced since (Geddes 1994, Corbridge et al 2005). We understand that the political will and economic wherewithal to execute policies to ameliorate these problems is quite another matter, not to mention the quality of governance and issues with corruption in effecting real change. But absent an understanding that state capacity is the bedrock on which national security is constructed, the ground will remain fertile for disinformation from Russia, China, or other malefactors.


Cynthia Buckley is Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on population dynamics in Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia.

Ralph Clem is Emeritus Professor of Geography and Senior Fellow at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University. He specializes in the geopolitics of post-Soviet states.

Erik Herron is the Eberly Family Professor of Political Science at West Virginia University. His research deals mainly with electoral systems and election administration in post-Soviet countries, in particular Ukraine.

Illinois Professor Examines Storytelling Artistry of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The following is a repost of an article published by the Illinois News Bureau on a new book by REEEC-affiliated faculty Professor Richard Tempest (Associate Professor, Slavic Languages and Literatures).

Richard Tempest - professor, dept. of Slavic Languages and LiteraturesCHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new book about Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn considers him not just as a critic of the Soviet regime, but as a literary artist whose writing was experimental, imaginative and humorous.

Overwriting Chaos: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Fictive Worlds,” by Richard Tempest, a Slavic languages and literatures professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is both an analysis of Solzhenitsyn’s fictional works and an intellectual and artistic biography. It is the first study in English of Solzhenitsyn’s entire corpus of prose.

“Solzhenitsyn was one of the emblematic figures of the late Cold War period. The way he confronted the Soviet government really changed minds, both inside the USSR and outside,” Tempest said. “He has been studied and written about as a public figure; a political dissident; a commentator on Soviet, Russian and Western public issues; and as a powerful voice for the people – prisoners, the persecuted, Russian patriots; but less so as an author of stories and novels and prose poems. I am trying to recontextualize him in that sense.”

Tempest interviewed Solzhenitsyn several times during the last years of the author’s life. He described Solzhenitsyn as an innovative writer and a fan of other experimental and avant-garde writers. He examines Solzhenitsyn’s connections to other writers, both Russian and Western.

“Every story, every novel is a complete imagined world unto itself, with a humankind, geography, climate, flora and its own logic. It can be very playful and magical. That’s the way I look at him,” Tempest said. “As an artist, he had tremendous fun writing. He liked all kinds of tricks and in-jokes and private witticisms.”

Solzhenitsyn often populated his imagined worlds with representations of himself or people he knew, Tempest said. In one of the novels of the multivolume saga “The Red Wheel,” when describing the eastern front of World War I, Solzhenitsyn wrote scenes with an artillery commander and a young gunner whose descriptions are based on Solzhenitsyn’s father (the young gunner) and the author’s own commanding officer in World War II.

solzhenitsyn book cover tempest“This kind of detail is an entirely private tribute to an officer this author admired so much,” Tempest said. “He plucked him out of World War II and put him in this epic of World War I, kept his appearance and his temperament, and made him his own father’s CO.”

Even his minor characters were imagined with well-thought-out detail, Tempest said. Solzhenitsyn described a character from “The Red Wheel,” a talkative professor, as having hands like pincers and forearms like wrenches.

“He turns him into a kind of steampunk image. He’s a peripheral character, but he jumps off the page. Solzhenitsyn took so much delight in the business of storytelling,” Tempest said.

In “The Gulag Archipelago” – his famous history of the Soviet Union’s forced labor camps – Solzhenitsyn observed that the names of the secret police officers, which translated into phrases such as “prison gruel” and “smack you in the face,” reflected their jobs. “He had the ability to see the ridiculous even in the most horrible situation,” Tempest said.

The book examines Solzhenitsyn’s portraits of Lenin and Stalin “as twin monsters of an utterly modern kind, and the Russian revolution as a catastrophic turning point in world history that was both terrifying and farcical.”

In “The First Circle” – a prison novel and one of the books for which Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature – he imagines Stalin living in an above-ground bunker, surrounded by guards and cringing cohorts, full of fear and hate, and only functioning at night, “like a vampire or a zombie. It’s a wonderful kind of historical fairy tale,” Tempest said. Stalin may be sickly and old, but the will to power still pulsates inside that withered frame, while his fanatical followers worship the dictator like a god and propose renaming the moon after him, he said. The secret parallel is with Adolf Hitler, who was in a similar nocturnal, hermetically sealed environment, his most fanatical followers at his side.

Stalin’s predecessor, Lenin, who carried out the revolution and founded the Soviet state, is shown in “The Red Wheel” as a brilliant, malevolent nihilist who is both aridly ideological and quirkily human. Solzhenitsyn uses Lenin’s own collected works to resurrect the antihero’s speech patterns, so that the revolutionary leader’s repetitive, jargon-filled bombast becomes the instrument of his own deconstruction, Tempest said.

The author depicts the Russian Revolution as a brutal, irrational national spasm for which both the elites and the people bear equal responsibility. Here he is on the same page as one of his favorite philosophers, Nietzsche, who believed that “madness is rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, nations and ages, it is the rule,” Tempest said.

Solzhenitsyn talked about post-Soviet Russia “as a place of human misery with tremendous disparities of wealth,” Tempest said. He looks at Solzhenitsyn’s support of Russian President Vladimir Putin as an expression of the writer’s desire to see Russia, which had suffered so much throughout its history (“we lost the 20th century,” Solzhenitsyn once said), restored to the first rank of the world’s great powers, in both a cultural and a geopolitical sense.


Notes from Bosnia-Herzegovina

The following is a repost from the Illinois Global Institute’s Global Voices on the Pandemic website. Professor Helms gave a New Directions Lecture for REEEC in 2014.

Bihac, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-GlobalVoicesBihac, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a small town on the border with Croatia and therefore the European Union: I’m an anthropologist studying the range of local responses to this area’s having become a bottleneck for several thousand migrants, refugees, and other people on the move hoping to cross the border into a western EU country. Because of anti-virus measures, around 3,000 people have been closed into camps for a month now, while several more thousand are living crowded into abandoned buildings without water, food, or information about the pandemic, much less the required masks and gloves. Social distancing means little to them – they have bigger problems as they continue to cross the border and get violently pushed back without belongings or money. Meanwhile, hundreds of Bosnians who work abroad have come back and are now stuck in quarantine tents at the border. Suddenly these conditions are deemed unsuitable for human habitation, especially because these are “our people” rather than migrants. Those who oppose the presence of migrants have added another layer to their complaints – now migrants are flouting the anti-virus measures. While we’re trapped in our houses (and those over 65 and under 18 cannot go out at all) they wander around wherever they want! Actually, they cannot go just anywhere – many of the shops that are still open now forbid entry to migrants because of the virus, creating an extra burden on local volunteers struggling to supply migrants with essential food and supplies. This is a weird time to be an ethnographer as I watch the precious sabbatical time I won’t get again soon tick away without being able to do the interviews and site visits I had planned, when those valuable chance encounters and small talk have all but disappeared behind our masks. But I still follow social media discussions, take part in neighborhood dynamics (from across the fence), and continue volunteer work with migrants both inside and outside the camps, taking precautions for the virus. I always emphasize to my students that ethnographers must be ready for the unexpected; I’m having to remember my own advice every day now.


Elissa Helms is Associate Professor in the Department of Gender Studies at the Central European University. Trained as an anthropologist, her work has focused on Bosnia-Herzegovina through topics of gender and war violence, nationalism, NGO activism, and most recently humanitarianism, race, and belonging on the border with the European Union. 

FLAS Fellow Profile: Melissa Bialecki

Sunflower fieldMelissa Bialecki is a third-year Ph.D. student in Musicology with a minor in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and a REEEC 2019-2020 FLAS fellow. Melissa received her Bachelor of Music degree in Cello Performance and Bachelor of Music Education from Central Michigan University in 2015. She received her Master of Music degree in Ethnomusicology in 2017 from Bowling Green State University. Melissa decided to combine musicology with Russian, East, European, and Eurasian studies after learning about a group of blind minstrels in Ukraine called kobzari during a seminar in music and disability studies. She began thinking about the role of folk music in Ukraine today, as the region becomes increasingly volatile. Her forthcoming dissertation will focus on the role of sound in shaping political thought on the Ukrainian conflict, musicians who engage in dialogues about Ukrainian sovereignty, and artists who shape narratives of Ukrainian-Russian relations in the current post-Soviet moment.

Melissa is studying advanced Ukrainian with her FLAS fellowship from REEEC. This summer, she will also study Russian through the University of Pittsburgh with a FLAS from the Center for Global Studies. She studies Ukrainian and Russian in order to facilitate her dissertation fieldwork, which includes accessing sources in both languages, and conducting field interviews. One such interview occurred last summer in Kyiv when she saw two women playing bandura on the street—an instrument which even today is still typically only played by men—and she was able to interview them thanks to her knowledge of Ukrainian and Russian.

At UIUC, Melissa was most excited to be able to study both Ukrainian and Russian, neither of which were offered in her master’s program, as well as to have access to our library’s extensive resources. Upon earning her degree, Melissa plans to continue on in academia by finding a teaching position.

Fall 2020 Select Courses in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Note: The courses listed below are not an exhaustive list of courses being offered on the REEE region. Please see course explorer for additional classes.

BCS 115: South Slavic Cultures
Instructor: TBD
TR 2:00 PM – 3:20 PM 166 Bevier Hall

Exploration of South Slavic cultures in the historically rich and complex region sometimes referred to as “the Balkans,” focusing particularly on those groups found within the successor states of the former Yugoslavia. Critical look at the traditional view of the region as the crossroads or the bridge between East and West, and at the term Balkanization which has become a pejorative term used to characterize fragmented, and self-defeating social systems.

HIST 259: The Cold War
Instructor: Felix Cowen
MWF: 11:00 AM – 11:50 AM

The course explores the history of the second half of the 20th century through the prism of the Cold War, a conflict between the two Super Powers- the USSR and USA — which brought the world to the threshold of mutually assured destruction.

HIST 260: Russian History from Early Times to the Present: Experience, Imagination, and Power
Instructor: Mark Steinberg
MWF: 11:00 AM – 11:50 AM

The history of “Russia” (Rus, Muscovy, Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation) from medieval times to the present. Although an introductory “survey course,” my aim is that we look beneath the surface of events to explore how individuals and groups experienced, interpreted, and made their own history. Most readings are primary texts, created at the time, so that we can listen to the past in its own voices as we try to understand, explain, and interpret. Three large (and related) interpretive questions are at the center of our exploration—experience (especially the experiences of everyday life); imagination (ways of thinking, feeling, seeing, and dreaming as expressed in ideas, ideologies, religion, and art); and power (rulers and their ideals as well as dissent and rebellion).

HIST 262: Zionism: A Global History
Instructor E. Avrutin and M. Ruiz
Online Course

Examines the history of the Zionist movement. The course is designed for students with no prior knowledge of Jewish, European, or Middle Eastern history. The goal is to survey how Zionism emerged as a widespread political movement and, in the process, helped create an independent state for the Jewish people. In addition to familiarizing students with the backstory of a globally significant movement, this class will teach students historical interpretation skills.

HIST 353: European History 1918-1939
Instructor: Peter Fritzsche
TR 9:30 AM – 10:50 AM

This course examines the political and cultural environment of Europe from the demise of the continental empires after World War I to the dawn of the thousand-year Reich at the start of World War II. This Age of Extremes saw the rise of liberal democracies, the flourishing of new artistic movements, and the birth of new technologies such as film. At the same time, this period was also marked by the ascension of dictators, crises in colonial empires, and one of the largest economic crisis in history. Perhaps more famous (or infamous) than these events are the individuals we will cover, which includes the likes of Neville Chamberlain, Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. We will explore the period through a variety of sources, including speeches, contemporary films, and a novel concerned with an even greater threat: newts.

HIST 439: The Ottoman Empire
Instructor: Maria Todorova
TR 11:00 AM – 12:20 PM 307 Gregory Hall

This course introduces the history of one of the great imperial formations of the early modern and modern period, which had long-standing repercussions on the development of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. It covers the whole span of Ottoman history, and will pay special attention to some of the following problems: the political rise of the Ottoman state since the thirteenth century and how it became an empire, its social land administrative structure, the classical Ottoman economic system, Ottoman impact on the societies, politics, economies and cultures of Byzantium and the medieval Balkan states, the spread of Islam in Europe, the transformations of the Ottoman polity and society, aspects of what has been conventionally named as Ottoman decline, the Eastern question in international relations, the modernizing reforms of the nineteenth century, and the spread of nationalism as a prelude to the final demise of the supranational empire in the twentieth century.

HIST 502: Problems in Comparative History: Microhistory
Instructor: Maria Todorova
R 3:00 PM – 4:50 PM 318 Gregory Hall

What does it mean to change the scale of perspective in history? In science, observation through the telescope or through the microscope, in addition to the naked eye, are equally legitimate, as well as complementing. In history, there is still the tendency to prioritize certain approaches, to pronounce their scale of perspective as more “significant.” The goal of this graduate seminar is to serve as an introduction to a relatively new historical field – microhistory – which has been flourishing since the late 1970s. What paradigm did the first microhistorians challenge? What traditions did they step on? What new directions has microhistorical research taken in the past decades? How does it differ across chronological, geographical and social boundaries? The course consists of class discussions on readings, book reviews and a final historiographical or research paper. The readings draw on a variety of historical schools and aim at providing a solid introduction to the scholarly literature. They are clustered around a list of mandatory books (at Illini Bookstore), an extensive list of books on reserve, supplemented by articles and reviews that will be available during the course. We are going to read the work of the original Italian school (Carlo Ginzburg, Giovanni Levi, Guido Ruggiero, and other historians around Quaderni Storici), the antecedents to the microhistory in historical anthropology and the Annales school, the cultural approach in the work of early modernists (Natalie Zemon Davis and Robert Darnton), as well as examples of microhistorical research from different locales and from different historical eras: India, China, Latin America, the Atlantic, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Africa.

HIST 560: Problems in Russian History – Politics, Society, and Culture in Modern Russian and Soviet History, 1881-1939
Instructor: Mark Steinberg
R 1:00 PM – 2:50 PM

Major themes in the history and historiography of late imperial and early Soviet Russia and the USSR from 1880s through the 1930s. Topics to be explored include social and cultural experience, diversity and difference, power and transgression, cultural construction and interpretation, gender, empire, capitalism, socialism, and revolution. Central to the course are questions of historical methodology and theory as well as interpretation of the Russian past.

JS 320/CWL 320/ENGL 359/REL 320/YDSH 320: Lit Responses to the Holocaust
Instructor: R. Harris 

Course introduces a variety of Jewish literary responses to the Holocaust written during and after the Second World War (from 1939). The discussion of Holocaust memoirs, diaries, novels, short stories, poems, and other texts will focus on the unique contribution of literary works to our understanding of the Holocaust. In addition, the works and their authors will be situated in their Jewish cultural historical context. Taught in English translation. 

LAW 656: International Law
Instructor: Francis A. Boyle
Time: TBA

The International Law course examines the variety of roles played by law and lawyer in ordering the relations between states and the nationals of states. The course utilizes a number of specialized contexts as a basis for exploring these roles. The contexts include, among others, the status of international law in domestic courts; the efficacy of judicial review by the International Court of Justice; the effort to subsume international economic relations under the fabric of bilateral and multilateral treaties; and the application — or misapplication — of law to political controversies that entail the threat of actual use of force. The course proceeds through an examination of problems selected to illuminate the operation of law within each of these contexts.

MUS: Balkanalia (Balkan Music Ensemble)
Instructor: Donna Buchanan
T: 6:30 PM – 9:20 PM Recording Studio Music Building

Balkanalia Ensemble – course number and more details coming soon. For more info, please contact Dr. Buchanan at

MUS 418/518: Regional Studies in Musicology: Eurasian Musical Excursions 
Instructor: Donna Buchanan 
MW 3:30 PM – 4:50 PM 2334 Music Building

Startling vocal polyphonies and shimmering string ensembles. Gymnastic dancing and chivalric epics. Mythologies of musical magic and medicine. Songs of valor, love, and anguish. This interdisciplinary course explores the legacy of traditional musical life in Armenia, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine—four contemporary Eurasian countries that are, on the one hand, nations with lengthy and complex political histories, and on the other, recently established post-Soviet states that are also the site of ongoing strife and ethnic conflict. Although the syllabus is organized by country, at least five factors will emerge as intercultural links across this complicated area: shared Christian heritage; a history of sharply delineated gender codes; a legacy of Russian and Soviet imperialism; the contemporary experience of postsocialism on the cusp of a rapidly changing Asia, Europe, and Middle East; and cultural repositories of indigenous beliefs whose folkloric, ritual, and musical manifestations intertwine fundamentally with the natural world. Course topics will survey the history, regional distribution, popularization, and social significance of vernacular musics in diverse media and venues—from the fields to the festival stage to flashmobs. Course materials will draw upon recordings, music videos, literary works, and films in addition to anthropological, area, and ethnomusicological studies. Whenever possible, students will engage first hand with representative instruments, vocal practices, and regional specialists. While the ability to hear, identify, and understand the significance of regional genres and their distinguishing features is a primary course objective, students from both within and outside the School of Music are encouraged to enroll; instructor expectations will be modified accordingly. Graduate students from outside Music who wish to register for MUS 518 should contact the instructor for permission.

*Please note that although Course Explorer currently lists this course under Topics in Opera History, the 518 course number is in the process of being reassigned to Regional Studies in Musicology for Fall 2020. 

REES 116/RUSS 115: Intro to Russian Culture
Instructor: Richard Tempest
MWF 3:00 PM – 3:50 PM

Introduction to the culture of Russia and the USSR. Course addresses two central themes. First, the very distinctiveness of Russian culture, and the functions of that notion within Russia and for outsiders; Second, Russia as a cultural space between East and West. We will explore Russian culture through the following, the language(s); foundational narratives of collective memory going back to the medieval times; the cultural impact of colonial subjugation both by and of peoples to the East, South, and West; Russian Orthodoxy’s connection with the political and cultural spheres; peak achievements in literature, music, architecture and visual arts. 

REES 200: Introduction to Russia and Eurasia
Instructor: TBA
TR 9:30 AM – 10:50 AM

Survey of the societies and states formerly constituted as the Soviet Union. Interdisciplinary and team-taught. Combines lectures, discussions, and films covering the history, political science, economics, sociology, and culture of the area.

REES 495/550: Senior Seminar/Graduate Seminar in REEE Studies
Instructor: TBA
W 3:00 PM – 4:50 PM

Interdisciplinary seminar involving faculty in a number of disciplines. The course examines Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia and the methodologies of its study through questions of identities, cultural values, and change.

RUSS 322/522: Dostoevsky
Instructor: Harriet Murav
TR 2:00 PM – 3:20 PM Online

Dostoevsky’s Russia was beset by violent terrorism, political and economic uncertainty. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881), one of the world’s greatest authors, wrote Poor Folk, The Double, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, The Adolescent, A Writer’s Diary, and The Brothers Karamazov. He grappled with the major questions of the modern era in a boldly experimental style. Politics and religious and ethnic tension are explicit themes of his works. He was a political radical as a young man, sentenced to death for crimes against the government, but was reprieved. By the end of his life he shifted to the right politically. He suffered epileptic seizures during which he experienced mystical ecstasy. The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s last novel. If there is no God, is everything permitted?

*No Russian required. This course focuses on The Brothers Karamazov.

RUSS 511: Russian Literature 1800-1855
Instructor: Valeria Sobol
W 2:00 PM – 4:20 PM

Graduate-level study of major literary trends and developments in Russian literature from 1800-1855, from early romanticism to the emergence of a realist tradition, in criticism, drama, poetry, and prose. Prerequisite: Ability to read in Russian.

SLAV 117/CWL 117: Russ & Euro Science Fiction
Instructor: Richard Tempest
MWF 11:00 AM – 12:50 PM 134 Armory

Survey of the science fiction writing of Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe since 1750, with particular emphasis on the post-World War II period. The role of the Science Fiction tradition in the respective national cultures. The influence on Russian and East European Science Fiction of Anglo-American Science Fiction. All readings are in English.

SLAV 501/CWL 511/EALC 511/GER 511/TRST 501: Applied Literary Translation 1 
Instructor: Roman Ivashkiv
M 3:00 PM – 5:20 PM 3072E Foreign Languages Building

No description given.

SLAV 576/CWL 576: Methods in Slavic Grad Study
Instructor: L. Kaganovsky
M 2:00 PM – 4:50 PM 3150 Foreign Languages Building

Comparative, interdisciplinary methods and theoretical issues crucial to studies in Slavic literature, history, and culture. Theoretical bookshelf followed by specific case studies from Slavic.

TURK 270/ANTH 272/GLBL 272/SAME 272: Language and Culture in Turkey
Instructor: A. Ozcan and E. Saadah
TR 2:00 PM – 3:20 PM 2147 Gregory Hall

As a country located at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, Turkey has always been under the spotlight. In this course, we will study the dynamic relationship between language and culture in Ottoman and modern Turkey through a timely analysis of its transition from a long-lasting empire to a young “secular” nation-state. We will examine the complexities of Turkish modernity from a holistic perspective to better comprehend how central Asian and Middle Eastern cultural influences, continuities, and transformations gave birth to modern Turkish language. The course should help you not only in developing an understanding of the Turkish language within a cultural framework, but also in gaining insight into Turkey’s history, politics, literature, and media. No former knowledge of Turkey or the Turkish language is required.