Noontime Scholars Lecture: Kirill Maslinsky, “The Trace of the ‘Thaw’ in the Emotional Palette of Soviet Children’s Literature”

Kirill Maslinsky

Kirill Maslinsky, Fulbright Fellow at Illinois Wesleyan University and a Visiting Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, gave the REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “The Trace of the ‘Thaw’ in the Emotional Palette of Soviet Children’s Literature” on February 21. He presented an innovative approach to studying literature through machine learning tools and language processing. Maslinsky focused on the “Thaw” under Nikita Khrushchev, which has received renewed attention in Russian cultural studies, and how that period shaped the emotions depicted in Soviet children’s literature.

In the 1950s, two opposing camps formed within children’s literature over the issue of sincerity. The divide was instigated by Vladimir Pomerantsev, who argued in his article “On Sincerity in Literature” (1953) that literature for children should eliminate all real conflict and show no dark sides to life. His view aligned more with Anatoly Aleksin’s short story “Two Presents” (1952), in which a five-year-old child comes to understand what production is and feels joy about it. However, other scholars viewed the “Thaw” as a period of instability and contested ideas that should be depicted in children’s literature. Lidiia Chukovskaya wrote the essay “Rotten Tooth” to voice her doubts about the sincerity of emotions shown in children’s literature. She believed that the emotions portrayed were false. In her essay, she used the metaphor of the rotten tooth to argue that any falsehood was a rotten tooth that should be extracted. Another scholar, Alexander Drozdov, also criticized children’s literature from that time period, noting that characters don’t have their own personality and don’t suffer; they never experience any negative emotions.

Maslinsky’s presentation demonstrated a way to incorporate digital humanities into an analysis of Russian literature. He explored this issue of sincerity by tracing the changes in language for describing emotions that were related to Thaw-era discussions about sincere emotions in children’s literature. He focused on the emotional discourse of the Thaw as sincerity and hypocrisy. To do so, he used a method known as “machine learning”  to mine the emotional language in children’s literature and evaluate the results on graphs. For example, he searched for emotional keywords and filtered out laughing from crying. He split novels into fragments (episodes) and measured the presence of each emotional category in each fragment.

One of the observations that he was able to make from this analysis was that male and female authors addressed emotions differently. For example, during the 1950s, texts written by women represented crying more often than those written by men; more women also wrote about love.

Another method he used was measuring emotional clusters. He presented four distinct clusters that portrayed four different ways of portraying emotions. Examining these clusters of emotions, Maslinsky observed that more female authors wrote about emotions than male authors. He also concluded that works written during the Thaw depicted more social and abstract emotions, which were more realistic.

Although Maslinsky did not explicitly say so in his lecture, his method indicated a shift in the argument regarding sincerity to a gender debate. His repeated observations that more female authors wrote about emotions in their works hinted that there could be a latent cultural bias in the debate. Maslinsky posed questions that could lead his research to become a more comprehensive project that might include translations, reprints, close reading, and a study of readership (older vs. younger children). Whatever new form it takes, it would be a significant contribution to the field, especially in its inclusion of technology as a way to analyze children’s literature.

Stephanie Chung is the Outreach and Programming Coordinator at REEEC and a Ph.D. Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in Soviet literature and culture, Russian women’s writing, and Czech literature. She received her B.A. in Plan II Honors/Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2007; and her M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 2009 from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently writing a dissertation on Soviet women’s memoirs as literary and media texts.

Current Events Roundtable: “State Capacity at the Border: Relinquishing or Reinforcing Contentious Border Regions”

For the February 2nd roundtable discussion, “State Capacity at the Border: Relinquishing or Reinforcing Contentious Border Regions,” we were joined by Dr. Ralph Clem (Professor Emeritus of Geography at Florida International University), Dr. Erik Herron (Professor of Political Science at West Virginia University), and our very own Dr. Cynthia Buckley (Professor of Sociology and REEEC affiliate), who presented their current research on the topic. Using Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia, and Kazakhstan as case studies, Buckley, Clem, and Herron took an interdisciplinary approach to tackling the issues of elections, health care, and state capacity within the Eurasia region.

State capacity, as noted by Dr. Buckley, is a very obtuse conceptualization—so how do we operationalize state capacity? There are a few key things to think about when defining state capacity: for example, the ways in which states, as actors, strive to maintain internal control and stability, particularly when their territorial integrity is under threat. In other words, can a state protect its territory? State capacity isn’t simply the ability to protect; it is also defined by the extent to which a state can implement its goals (to enact and realize legislation, social programs, etc.) and to overcome obstacles and opposition. State capacity is also marked by two key features—governance (the ability of the state to govern and realize its goals) and legitimacy (the acceptance of state authority). When thinking about state capacity, many scholars tend to focus on extractive and coercive capacity (e.g., the ability of a state to collect taxes and extract resources from its populace). Buckley, Clem, and Herron take it a step further—beyond extractive and coercive capacity, they consider the question of a state’s regenerative and distributional power, especially when governing (or attempting to govern) a heterogeneous population that may or may not view the state as legitimate. With that in mind, Buckley, Clem, and Herron focus on the ability of a state to hold legitimate elections and the ability of the state to provide healthcare and wellbeing.

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Dr. Erik Herron, whose research focuses on comparative electoral systems, led the discussion on state capacity and election administration in Ukraine. In terms of state capacity, elections serve as a test of a democratic system’s ability to demonstrate what a democracy can accomplish. Dr. Herron challenged us to think about several things—how does a state mobilize tens of thousands of people and train them to successfully manage elections? What are the impediments to conducting and managing elections? How does a state hold elections in crisis conditions? As most of us know, large swathes of Eastern Ukraine (namely the Donbass) are currently embroiled in an armed conflict between the Ukrainian state and pro-Russian separatists. Unsurprisingly, this poses many problems for conducting legitimate elections and making them accessible to people affected by the conflict. In Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, many polling stations weren’t operational during the 2014 parliamentary elections—essentially disenfranchising countless Ukrainians. The conflict in the Donbass has clearly threatened Ukrainian state capacity; however, the Ukrainian state has also demonstrated an ability to contain the conflict to the Donbass, and was able to conduct elections successfully and legitimately in regions unaffected by the conflict.

Providing another vantage onto state capacity, Dr. Cynthia Buckley focused her discussion on state capacity and health. More specifically, health is meant as the extent to which a basic level of healthcare is available to the population. The issue of health is particularly interesting and complicated in border regions. As noted by Dr. Buckley, borders don’t mean anything to contagion and disease—epidemics can spread easily and rapidly across borders, and into neighboring states. More importantly, border populations tend to be unique. People living in border regions may have transnational identities (and may travel back and forth between neighboring states), or they may have different ethnic, gender, and age compositions than people living in non-border regions. In terms of healthcare, people living in border regions may travel outside of their state of residence to seek medical treatment. For example, people living along the Russian border in Kazakhstan are more likely to travel to Russia and see Russian doctors and go to Russian polyclinics, whereas people living in Astana or Almaty would seek healthcare within Kazakhstan. Dr. Buckley frames the issue of health in terms of metrics, specifically input (provision of clinics, doctors, etc.) and outcome (life expectancy, infant mortality, etc.) These metrics can help shed light on a very important question: are regions at the border disadvantaged in terms of healthcare? In the same vein, how do people in border region experience health provision, how do they perceive the quality of these provisions, and do these factors influence their views on state legitimacy?

Wrapping up the discussion, Dr. Ralph Clem presented us with a geographer’s perspective, asking the question of what it means to be in a particular place and how that affects your life. In the context of Ukraine, it makes a difference whether you’re living in Kyiv or whether you’re living in the Donbass. Geographers tend to talk about two things: scale and location, both of which influence what kind of data can be extracted. Scale can drastically change the overall picture of a place. For example, on a global scale, the United States has an infant mortality rate of 6.0 (which is good). But if you go down to the state level, Alabama has an infant mortality rate of 8.7 (which is not so good). Going even further down, Macon County, Alabama has a worse infant mortality rate than Sri Lanka. In other words, scale matters. But location is equally important, especially when thinking about border regions. Living in a border region can affect all aspects of a person’s life—it can affect whether or not you have access to elections, whether or not you have access to healthcare, and whether or not the state is capable of providing these services.

Lucy Pakhnyuk is a first-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests are in comparative politics, specifically issues of democratization, mass mobilization/political protest, and human rights (particularly LGBT rights) in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia.

Interview with Alex Tipei, Spring 2017 REEEC Visiting Lecturer

alex%20tipei-copyI sat down with Alex Tipei over lunch and discussed her new visiting lecturer position at REEEC. This semester, Professor Tipei is teaching Introduction to Eastern Europe, REES 201, which is offered every spring. This isn’t her first time at the University of Illinois; Alex graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in French and History. Professor Tipei studied abroad in France during undergrad, which subsequently led her to return to France for two Master’s degrees, in Romanian Studies and European History. She also received a Fulbright to study in Bucharest, Romania. She returned to the United States for a PhD in history at the University of Indiana. Professor Tipei completed her PhD in 2016 with a dissertation titled: “For Your Civilization and Ours: Greece, Romania, and the Making of French Universalism.” Professor Tipei grew up in Champaign and is pleasantly surprised to find herself back in her hometown. “I never thought I would find myself teaching at the U of I. It is a thrill to now be teaching what I learned on this campus to new students. It allows me to go back to the beginning and see the introductory materials of the region from a different perspective.”

Professor Tipei is delighted to teach again. “The students in my class are engaged, interested, and love to learn about the region. I am able to give them materials that are central to the region and my research interests, and it is interesting to see how they respond to it. ” One text in particular that Professor Tipei is excited to teach this year is teaching Václav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless. “It really piqued my interest in Eastern Europe and helped shape my political view of the world. I’m really curious to see what it’ll be like to be on “the other side” of the classroom when we talk about it—the students’ reactions, if the essay still speaks to people largely born after the Cold War, what they make of a playwright turned dissident turned president.”

Professor Tipei’s research interests lie in this transitional nineteenth-century history, which connects France, modern day Greece and modern day Romania. “I’m interested in intellectual/political networks that transcend the national paradigm. My current research deals with the spread of a cluster of French inspired/supported modernization programs in early nineteenth-century Southeastern Europe.” Currently, Alex Tipei is working on a manuscript based on her dissertation. Using archival research, Professor Tipei links intellectual circles, organizations, and individuals across Europe’s 19th century. In her own words, “I try to rethink the center-periphery model in international history, take apart the notion of French “influence,” and question the inevitability of the rise of nationalism in peripheral regions like the Balkans. To do this, I consider interactions within this network—often aimed at facilitating educational, prison, and hospital reform—in terms of development programs and technology transfer.”

Madeline Artibee is a REEEC M.A. student.

Russian Language Program – Urbana After School Child Care Program at Leal Elementary

This past fall, I had the opportunity to step out of my usual teaching role in the Slavic Department and instead share my knowledge of Russian with some younger minds: the fourth and fifth graders of Leal Elementary School’s Afterschool Program. I admit, at first this seemed like a challenge. I was used to teaching Russia to college-aged students and, in general, Russian-language programs for elementary-school-aged children are not very common. How was I to adapt foreign grammar lessons to accommodate those who have not formally learned all grammar concepts in their native language? How could I convince the kids that learning Russian is more exciting than just memorizing a new alphabet and a whole bunch of grammar rules (and exceptions to those rules!)?

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As it turned out, the kids, along with some helpful teaching resources provided by REEEC, made the process much easier than expected. My students were engaged and committed to learning Russian. Often, they’d want to delve deeper into the grammar and vocabulary than I ever planned. Even though Russian was a choice among many other afterschool activities, my students (a group of about 10) attended consistently, and were always eager to know what we would be working on next. They even took notes and brought their worksheets home so that they could study, even though it was never required.

We met twice a week and each session was 45 minutes. One day a week was devoted to learning vocabulary and grammar, while the other was devoted to cultural topics. Our grammar lessons mainly consisted of learning how to read and write the Russian alphabet. Each day we would learn a few new letters. As the students acquired knowledge of more and more letters, we were able to start learning certain words, and eventually we even were able to formulate simple sentences and questions. The cultural topics ranged from folk tales to art and geography. Among my favorite lessons was comparing a map of the Soviet Union to a map of Russia (this was actually a request from a student!) and recreating our own art pieces in the style of Malevich. We ended the semester with a screening of the Russian Winnie the Pooh and, of course, Cheburashka – both of which were a huge hit among the students!

Teaching at the afterschool program reminded me what I already knew: These programs are important. Learning language is important. At any age.

Nadia Hoppe is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois.

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:
http://www.reeec.illinois.edu/srl/?utm_source=UIREEEC&utm_campaign=SRL2017&utm_medium=email

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.

Study Abroad in Odessa, Ukraine (Summer 2016)

Thanks to a generous REEEC grant, I spent last June and July studying Russian in Odessa, Ukraine.  I shared an apartment with my friends Nadia and Tyler, UIUC Slavic Ph.D. students.  We all took intensive Russian classes at the Odessa Language Study Centre.  Nadia and Tyler took individual courses, while I decided to take a group class, which I would describe as a mixed bag.  On one hand, my language instructor Olga was incredible – like the other teachers at OLSC, she had many years of experience teaching Russian to international students in Odessa.  She also had a great sense of humor (sample Olga-ism: “My conscience is clean, I never use it”) and a keen interest in delineating cultural differences and similarities, sharing her perception of the local worldview (e.g. “U nas net feminizma,” “We don’t have feminism [here]”) and opinions on pressing social issues like political corruption (including a memorable anecdote about the “musornaia [garbage] mafia” chasing one of her students out of town for proposing the establishment of a municipal recycling system).  On the other hand, a group class entails accommodating students of varying levels – as a result, the first few weeks of class were a bit too rudimentary for me.  Private instruction is more expensive, but in retrospect, I should have opted for one-on-one lessons.  That being said, I still got a lot out of my classes with Olga, and I highly recommend OLSC to anyone who wants to study Russian in Odessa.

Odessa is a predominantly Russian-speaking city; culturally, it’s also quite “Russian,” a testament to its history as part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Around 2500 years ago, current-day Odessa was a Greek colony; later, it was part of the Crimean Khanate, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire.  Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792, the city of Odessa was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great’s decree.  Although originally valued for its strategic significance as a warm-water port on the Black Sea, Odessa quickly became one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire.  Due in part to its port-city status, it also become an exceptionally diverse cultural center, fostering a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere that persists to this day.

As places to spend the summer go, Odessa is hard to beat.  Our apartment was a five-minute walk from Lanzheron Beach, apparently one of the nicer beaches in the area – “apparently” because once we found “our” beach, we went back to the same spot at least once or twice a week without much further exploration.  Lanzheron Beach has a cute boardwalk with several restaurants and beachside cafes (we were regulars at Prichal No. 1).  In general, downtown Odessa is filled with great bars and restaurants – some of my favorites were Dacha (a restaurant in a gorgeous 19th-century country estate), Kompot (traditional Ukrainian cuisine, kitschy Soviet décor), and Dzhondzholi (delicious Georgian food).  Odessites are also very proud of their stunning opera house (where we saw a nice production of Carmen), and the lovely Palais-Royal Garden is right around the corner.  For night owls and party animals, Odessa’s “Arkadia” region is also worth checking out – it has several huge clubs with pool complexes and regular concerts and DJs.

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The Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet

Among Slavists, Odessa is known for its role in literary and film history.  In 1823, Pushkin wrote several chapters of his verse novel Eugene Onegin when he lived in the city during his “southern exile.”  Gogol wrote the second volume of Dead Souls in Odessa from 1850-1851 (he famously burned the manuscript).  Several notable Russian-language writers were native Odessites, including Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, and Isaac Babel, whose “Odessa Tales” are set in the city.  Odessa’s place in literary history is memorialized by statues all over town, as well as by the Odessa Pushkin Museum and the Soviet-era Literature Museum.  Odessa was immortalized in a famous film sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” (1925).  The city was an important filmmaking center before and during the Soviet era, and it hosts the wonderful Odessa International Film Festival every summer.

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Memorial Plaque on N.V. Gogol’s Odessa Residence

 

Although downtown Odessa is beautiful and quite safe, there is a lot of poverty in surrounding areas.  In addition to the general economic decline in Ukraine, Odessa formerly benefitted from an influx of Russian tourists every summer, which (for obvious reasons) has dried up since the annexation of Crimea and War in Donbass.  However, there are ongoing efforts to revitalize Odessa as a tourist center, including (usually free) cultural events that take place all summer long.  It’s also an extremely affordable place to live, even on a graduate student budget (the silver lining of the region’s economic woes, from a foreigner’s perspective).  Most locals aren’t fluent in English, making life in Odessa a truly immersive language-learning experience – if you want to order food at a restaurant, you’ll have to work on your Russian.

Overall, I found Odessa to be a fascinating and beautiful city.  I’d particularly recommend it as a study abroad destination for language students, especially since there’s no need to get a student visa (by all accounts one of the more frustrating parts of studying in Russia).  I’m certainly planning to go back as soon as possible.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian. 

Faculty Publications

Mark Steinberg, Director of Graduate Studies, Professor of History, Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Global Studies, published a new book on February 1st of 2017, The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921, was released through Oxford University Press. Steinberg’s book explores a different perspective of the historical period that ranges from the 1905 Bloody Sunday events to the end of the Civil War, all presented through the perspectives and experiences of those who lived through the period. Writing on the key characters of the revolution, including Vladimir Lenin, Lev Trotsky, and Alexandra Kollontai, Steinberg takes knowledge and information from the present and uses it to breath new air into the past. For more information on Dr. Steinberg’s book, follow this link to Oxford University Press.

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

Marek Sroka, Librarian for Central European Studies and Associate Professor of Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, published “American Books to the Rescue: The American Library Association (ALA) and the Postwar Restoration of Polish Libraries, 1944-1948,” in the final issue of 2016’s The Polish Review 61(4), and then published “”A Book Never Dies”: the American Library Association and the Cultural Reconstruction of Czechoslovak and Polish Libraries, 1945-48,” in Library and Information History 33 which was released in 2017.

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

Dr. Kristin Romberg, Assistant Professor of Art History and REEEC Affiliate, published an anthology, “Tektonika,” in volume 1 of Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism), edited by Serguei Oushakine and published by Moscow and Ekaterinburg: Kabinetnyi uchenyi in the summer of 2016.  Romberg also spoke at The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond panel at the Museum of Modern Art on February 8th, 2017. The panel was organized in tandem with the exhibition A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde and discussed the how an art object could be revolutionary. Information about the panel is available here.

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)