Academic Year FLAS Fellows

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

Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowships
Academic Year 2018-2019

Graduate Students:
Elizabeth Abosch (Russian) – History
Melissa Bialecki (Ukrainian) – Musicology
Tyler Dolan (Ukrainian) – Slavic
Sydney Lazarus (Russian) – Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Sarah Leffingwell (Russian) – Political Science
Kathryn O’Dowd (Czech) – Sociology
Victoria Sobolev (Ukrainian) – Advertising
Jesse Mikhail Wesso (Russian) – Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Undergraduate Students:
Priyasha Bhatt (Turkish) – Anthropology
Jamie Hendrickson (Russian) – Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies

For more information about our FLAS fellows, please visit our Graduate Students and FLAS Fellows page.

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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.

Kathryn David: “Bolsheviks Don’t Close Churches: Promoting Russian Orthodoxy in Newly Soviet West Ukraine”

On July 10th, Kathryn David presented her Noontime Scholars Lecture titled: “‘Bolsheviks Don’t Close Churches:’ Promoting Russian Orthodoxy in Newly Soviet West Ukraine.” Kathryn David is a PhD candidate in History at New York University.  She is also a 2018 Summer Research Lab associate.


David’s lecture focused on the formal reunification of the Greek Catholic, or Uniate, churches of Galicia with the Russian Orthodox Church by the Lviv sabor in 1946.  Galicia was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until its collapse in 1772 and was therefore impacted by the Union of Brest.  The Union of Brest occurred in 1596 when the Ruthenian Orthodox Church decided to come under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, thereby creating the Greek Catholic Church.  When the region was incorporated into the Soviet Union, the majority of the Galician population was comprised of Greek Catholics, who generally retained Orthodox rituals, but recognized the papacy—rather than the Moscow patriarchate.  Russian Orthodoxy was relatively marginalized.

The reunification of the Greek Catholic churches of Galicia with the Russian Orthodox Church was ultimately the result of political concerns.  First, the Soviets imagined that, because the Greek Catholics recognized the papacy, they were connected to a foreign power and therefore potentially disloyal.  Second, they feared that the Greek Catholics of Galicia would envision themselves as members of an imagined Polish community.  Indeed, David noted that the initial support for the invading German army in Galicia during the Second World War prompted Beria to launch the campaign against Greek Catholicism.  The campaign, which eventually led to formal reunification, was conducted at the level of the congregation.  Greek Catholic priests were first required to register their congregations with the Russian Orthodox Church at the state office.  Then they were required to align their church rituals to those of Russian Orthodoxy, which included recognizing Patriarch Alexei in Moscow.

However, the potential disloyalty of the Greek Catholics of Galicia was not the only motivation for the campaign.  Reconversion to Russian Orthodoxy also represented the return of the population of Galicia—whom the Soviets regarded as Ukrainians—to Russia.  Moreover, David proposed that the campaign against Greek Catholicism was also a manifestation of Soviet nationalities policy.  Just as the Soviet authorities attempted to co-opt nationalism by establishing national institutions in non-Russian regions, they attempted to co-opt religion in Galicia by establishing Russian Orthodox institutions.  Thus, as David concluded, the reunification of Greek Catholic churches of Galicia with the Russian Orthodox Church was motivated by two competing objectives.  The Soviet authorities endeavored to create both a unified Ukrainian nation within the Soviet Union and an Orthodox Ukraine that shares a Russian heritage.

Kathleen Gergely is a second year student in the Master of Arts in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  Her research interests include political Islam in the North Caucasus, Russian counterterrorism policy, and regional administration in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation.

A Joint Area Studies Symposium: A Century of Revolutions

On March 29th and 30th, the Area Studies Centers of UIUC hosted the annual Joint Area Studies Symposium (JACS). This year’s theme was “A Century of Revolutions: Past and Futures of Radical Transformations.” The symposium aimed to reflect on the meaning of revolution in the age of globalization. Part of the year-long initiatives to discuss the history and legacy of the Russian Revolution of 1917,  JACS contributors discussed today’s legacy and significance of the concept of revolution in multiple cultural contexts.

Kicking off the event was a keynote address by Tariq Ali entitled “The Broken Ladder: The Global Left Fifty Years After 1968.” The symposium was articulated in four themes: religion and revolution; anti-colonialism; violence and transformation; and gender, race, minorities, and revolution. The goals of JACS was “to contribute to the debate on radical transformations today from a multilateral perspective that abandons the parochialism of a Western-centric understanding of the world,” and, thus, the symposium featured scholars from experts on China, India, Latin America, Europe and Africa in order to provide a truly transnational perspective.

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Phillip Bohlman, “‘Some for Laughs, Some for Tears’ – The Cabaretesque and Jewish Music”

On March 29, 2018 the Chicago-based New Budapest Orpheum Society came to Urbana-Champaign to perform Jewish cabaret music in “Making Sacred All the Whispers of the World,” which was part of the Krannert Uncorked series. The concert was preceded by Professor Philip V. Bohlman’s lecture, entitled “‘Some for Laughs, Some for Tears’: The Cabaretesque and Jewish Music.” In the lecture, Professor Bohlman, a distinguished professor in the Music Department of the University of Chicago and the Artistic Director of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, introduced his theoretical concept of the cabaretesque, which is defined in the program as “…a performative moment in which cultural, religious, and aesthetic differences of modern Judaism converge upon a stage, both metaphorical and physical, mediated by music to reframe the narratives of the everyday and of history.” Drawing from diverse fields, such as queer theory and Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of heteroglossia and the carnivalesque, Professor Bohlman’s theoretical configuration of the cabaretesque promises to deepen our understanding of cabaret and its enduring relevance. The lecture framed “Making Sacred All the Whispers of the World” as an instantiation of the cabaretesque.

New Budapest Orpheum Society’s extensive repertoire was comprised of songs in Yiddish, Russian, Czech, German, Polish, and Hebrew, which were united by their common origin in Jewish cabaret. Translations and the original text were provided for the twenty-five songs performed. The songs explored diverse aspects of Jewish life and history that were in turns heart wrenching and comical. The major themes of the repertoire included immigration, destruction, love, the city, everyday life, memory, the Holocaust, and Zionism. In juxtaposing these themes, the New Budapest Orpheum Society’s performance illuminated the richness of Jewish experience, as reflected in the genre of cabaret songs. The concert was a well-attended and lively event that was staged on Krannert’s Stage 5, where the audience could enjoy the excellent lecture and performance accompanied by friends and a glass of wine.

LeiAnna X. Hamel is a PhD student in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality in nineteenth and early twentieth century Russian and Yiddish literature and culture. 

Sharyl Corrado: “An East Asian Monster: Mankind vs. Nature on Sakhalin Island (1850-1905)”


On June 26th, Dr. Sharyl Corrado presented a Noontime Scholars Lecture titled “An East Asian Monster: Mankind vs. Nature on Sakhalin Island (1850-1905).” Dr. Corrado is an Associate Professor of History at Pepperdine University. She is also a 2018 Summer Research Lab associate.

Dr. Corrado stated that her talk represents an environmental history of Sakhalin Island because descriptions of its landscape changed over time—even though the landscape itself remained static. She opened her lecture by describing the island, which sits off the coasts of Japan and Russia, between the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. Though there is a north-south climatic division, there is also an east-west division because the center of the island is mountainous. Russian colonization of Sakhalin Island began in the 1850s following the discovery of coal there. Fears of potential American colonization of the Amur basin as well as new shipping ventures opened by the conclusion of the Opium Wars and the discovery of gold in California prompted the imperial government to seize the potential profits there.


The initial first-hand accounts of Sakhalin Island describe it as bountiful and welcoming. The island is described as a gift to Russia from a generous natural world intended to compensate for the barren Russian heartland. Settlements of Siberian peasants, who would establish agriculture, and a self-financing penal colony focused on coal mining were planned. Yet, by the end of the 1870s, the official optimism surrounding Sakhalin Island faded. The settlements of Siberian peasants failed and the penal colony—established in the early 1870s—never achieved self-sustainability. Accounts of Sakhalin Island now described it as a land of extremes characterized by subarctic conditions in the north and mountainous center, and relative warmth and humidity in the south. The island teemed with unfamiliar flora and fauna. Nonetheless, first-hand accounts show that the officials still believed that intrepid Russians could persevere over the harsh landscape. The meager Russian settlements displaced the wild landscape as the source of beauty on the island, while optimism that the harsh environment would reform the convicts remained.

By the end of the 1890s, all optimism disappeared as agriculture failed, mining remained unprofitable, and convicts were not reformed. Sakhalin Island took on a supernatural guise in the popular press. Accounts described the phenomenon of ‘sakhalinization’ through which all men became monsters. When Anton Chekhov visited in 1890, he described Sakhalin fever—a bizarre illness apparently not caused by an infection. At the close of the nineteenth century, men were no longer believed to be in control on Sakhalin Island—rather the island was in control. Dr. Corrado argued that the accounts of this period show not only a process of colonial othering, but a general disillusionment with science and modernity. When the Japanese reclaimed the island in 1909 following the disastrous Russo-Japanese War, the imperial government was perhaps relieved.

Kathleen Gergely is a second-year student in the MA program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests include political Islam in the North Caucasus, Russian counterterrorism policy, and regional administration in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation.