Russian Week at Urbana Fine Arts Center’s Summer Camp

During the week of July 10th,  REEEC visited Urbana Fine Arts Center’s annual summer camp to give presentations on Russian language, dance, and music. On Wednesday, Nadia Hoppe, PhD candidate in the Slavic Department, and Stephanie Chung, Outreach and Programming Coordinator of REEEC and also a PhD candidate in the Slavic Department, introduced the summer camp participants to the Russian alphabet. The summer camp participants, who ranged from ages 6-8, then learned how to write their names in Russian script. On Friday, Hoppe returned to give a presentation on Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. After learning about the Firebird in Russian folklore and watching several productions of the ballet, ranging from Margot Fonteyn’s 1954 performance to a contemporary performance in Mariinsky Theater, the campers enjoyed a Firebird mask craft.

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: Ingrid Nordgaard, “On the Frozen Sea: Exploring, Writing and Painting the Northern Frontier”

On June 20th, 2017, Ingrid Nordgaard (PhD Candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University) gave a REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled: “On the Frozen Sea: Exploring, Writing and Painting the Northern Frontier.”

The project, slated as the first chapter of her dissertation, “Aesthetics of the North: Russian Modernist Culture and Scandinavia 1891-1910,” examines the North and its aesthetic representations in Russian Modernist culture. In her dissertation, Nordgaard seeks to understand how and for what reasons Russia became invested in the North and Scandinavia. She hopes to show that the North—in different contexts understood either as an imagined geography or as a composite for real geographical locations—functioned as a creative repository for Russian cultural producers of the late imperial era.

For the writers and visual artists that Nordgaard studies, the North came to be understood as a mythical place that promised purity and rejuvenation, an escape from the pessimism of the end of the century. However, the North was also a geographical frontier, that is, a space of physical riches to be explored and conquered. She seeks to understand how these two approaches, one based on artistic considerations and the other on material interests, contributed to Modernist aesthetics between 1891 and 1910. By taking both approaches into account, Nordgaard will tie her discussion about aesthetic representations of the North to larger narratives that characterize the period – such as capitalism, nationalism, and questions of socioeconomic development – as well as comment on how modernism moves between cultures.

In her talk, Nordgaard focused on an 1894 journey in the northernmost part of Russia, Arkhangelsk and the Murmansk coast. The trip, led by Sergei Witte, finance minister of Russia at the time, aimed to search for a new naval base and to survey the area for the construction of a railroad that would connect Moscow to Arkhangelsk. This trip, which lasted three weeks in the summer of 1894, was recorded in the travel log of Evgeny Kochetov, entitled On the Frozen Sea: A Journey to the North, published in 1895. She argues that Kochetov’s book consciously creates something that Nordgaard coins as “aesthetics of the North.” In other words, she seeks to explore the making and components of the set of principles that together constitute the “aesthetic of the north” that Kochetov’s book represents. By investigating these question, Nordgaard asserts that we can see how Kochetov’s account connects to a bigger discussion about politics, nationalism, and about the function of literature and art in Russian Modernity.

Nordgaard called Kochetov’s travel logs a “hybrid literary product” because of its many registers and styles. However, she asserts that its agenda shines through – it is a narrative aimed at informing, inspiring, and educating the reader about North of Russia and its apparent economic and material potential. However, while Kochetov points the reader to the future, he also reminds the reader that the North has a special position in the Russian past. Kochetov continuously refers to Ivan III and all that he did for the development of Northern Russia, as well as mentioning that Peter the Great created a shipyard in Arkhangelsk. Kochetov’s writings treat the North as a region where the past and the future coexist. Although Kochetov’s writings were probably influenced by the voyage’s leading man, Witte, Nordgaard stressed that the travel logs should not be simply regarded as political propaganda. As Nordgaard argued, it is too conscious about encouraging, informing, and enticing the reader to explore for themselves. As Nordgaard stated, the travel log differs from other travel logs of the nineteenth century in that it is not just about brave men exploring the frontier, but it is an account that repeatedly reminds us that we might be able to do the same.

Nordgaard then turned to artistic depictions of the North, particularly those created by Konstantin Korovin. Korovin and Valentin Serov, were the artists responsible for the thirty illustrations and sketches that are included in Kochetov’s travel logs. However, Nordgaard focused on Korovin’s contribution to the 1896 All-Russia Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod. Korovin was appointed as the designed and architect of one of the exhibition’s pavilions, which was dedicated to the Russian North. Within the pavilion he exhibited ten of his side-by-side large-scale paintings, which were adapted from sketches that Korovin created during trips to the North, funded by Savva Mamontov, another leader in the construction of a railway to Arkhangelsk.

Konstantin Korovin. “Fishing in the Murman Sea.” 1896.

Nordgaard noted their simultaneous attention to the beauty of the region and potential commercial value. The paintings in the series feature fishermen on the Murman Sea, the market at the Arkhangelsk Dock, the construction of the railway, and polar bears among nature. Thus, as Nordgaard asserts, the paintings combine different narratives about the North. The North is imagined as a land of potential riches and as concealing nature’s greatest bounties, while also a place where man’s struggles and is challenged by nature. Furthermore, since the railroad was already under construction at the time of the exhibition, the canvases also sell a product, that is, the Moscow-Arkhangelsk railroad and the North as a concept.

Thus, as Nordgaard explained, Kochetov’s travel log is a literary work that is extremely aware of the political and socioeconomic agenda of which it is a part. She asserted that his writings make it especially clear how government officials, political actors, artists, and writers come together to further the development of Russian culture from a political, cultural and aesthetic point of view. Also, Kochetov’s travel log and Korovin’s illustrations prove that commercial development does not have to take away from the mystique of the North. To Kochetov and Korovin, it is just as important to convey the beauty of the North, as it is to present it as an area with great commercial and industrial potential. Furthermore, the conscious construction of the aesthetics of the North paint a new picture of the construction of Russian image and identity. As Nordgaard stressed, by looking North, we are looking away from the centers of Berlin and Paris and turning our gaze toward the periphery, challenging traditional accounts about how, why, and where modernist aesthetics come into being.

Nadia Hoppe is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include Soviet and Post-Soviet film, art, and literature, as well as gender and critical theory.

Professor Lilya Kaganovsky receives Provost’s Campus Distinguished Promotion Award

Originally posted on SLCL’s Latest News Website: http://illinois.edu/lb/article/4799/101048


 

Lilya Kaganovsky, Professor of Comparative and World Literature and Slavic Languages and Literatures, has been named the recipient of the Provost’s Campus Distinguished Promotion Award.  She is one of only 12 faculty members campus-wide to be so honored for 2017.

The Campus Committee on Promotion and Tenure, in forwarding her case for promotion to full professor to the Chancellor, identified her as one of a set of scholars up for promotion “whose contributions were truly exceptional in terms of quality of work and overall achievement.”

During its annual promotion review process, the Campus Committee on Promotion and Tenure identifies exceptional cases of scholars whose contributions have been extraordinary in terms of quality of work and overall achievement. Only two to four scholars at each level of tenured faculty promotion (associate professor and full professor) are selected to receive Campus Distinguished Promotion Awards. Each receives a discretionary fund to support their scholarly activities.

Kaganovsky received a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Her areas of specialization include Soviet literature and film, film and critical theory, gender studies, sound studies, the nineteenth century novel, and modernism.

 

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: Lydia Catedral, “‘I just say Russian’: Speaking Russian and claiming Russianness among Uzbeks in the United States”

Lydia Catedral giving her REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture

On April 25, 2017, Lydia Catedral (PhD Candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Illinois) gave a REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “‘I just say Russian’: Speaking Russian and claiming Russianness among Uzbeks in the United States.”

Catedral began by defining some relevant terms from sociolinguistics. After distinguishing between referential and non-referential meaning, the latter denoting meaning conveyed through aspects of language other than the semantic content of words (e.g. intonation’s capacity to provide information on the speaker’s attitude toward what they are saying), Catedral invoked Michael Silverstein’s work on non-referential indexicality (itself indebted to Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic theory) to discuss what the use of the Russian language “points to” in the social world of Uzbeks living in the United States. Using Penelope Eckert’s notion of the “indexical field”—a “field of potential meanings… or constellation of ideologically related meanings” in which “variation constitutes an indexical system that embeds ideology in language”—Catedral asked, “How do global and transnational movements of Uzbeks to the United States reorder or shift the indexical field of Russian language and identity?”

Catedral also gave an overview of the “indexicalities” of Russian in Uzbekistan and Central Asia. She noted a “strong association of Russian language with Soviet rule,” the connection between Uzbek nationalism and de-russification efforts (e.g. changing from a Cyrillic to a Latin alphabet), the “dichotomy between Russian ethnic identity and Uzbek ethnic identities,” and the Russian language’s status as the language of technology and the internet and a “language of status” (it is considered an international language and “prized in education”) in Central Asia.

Catedral citied an open letter from the president of an Uzbek community organization in the Midwest which distinguishes between three types of Uzbeks living in America: those who “make an effort to preserve Uzbekness (language, religion, and culture),” those who have converted to Christianity (“They say they are especially in California”), and “atheists” who teach their children Russian “like the Uzbeks in the former communist era,” (“For them… the mother tongue is not very necessary”). Catedral observed that the writer aligns himself with the first type and distances himself from the other two, both spatio-temporally (California, the communist era) and linguistically (“they”/”them”). In this context, the Uzbek language is connected to religious and cultural identity, and Russian is indexical of the failure to maintain Uzbekness.

In a conversation with two sisters about their wish for one of their daughters to maintain Uzbekness and Uzbek morality (e.g. “no short skirts or drinking”), Catedral found that they still relied on the dichotomy between Russianness and Uzbekness, but that it had “migrated into the American context as a way of not letting your kids assimilate into the American culture… ‘Russian’ acts as a stand-in for everything else you might not want to be.” However, Catedral noted that Russianness can also serve as a “momentary substitute” for Uzbekness, a product of misrecognition on the part of Americans. Such stories indicate that the issue is “a lack of knowledge on the part of non-Uzbeks, or people in the U.S. [It’s] not a problem with our own ethnic identification, but with how Americans don’t understand.” Another relevant concern for Uzbeks in the U.S. is the desire to present themselves as the “good kind of immigrant”: “Nobody wants to be from Pakistan,” which has to do with “concerns about Islamophobia” and “issues of race”—not wanting to be identified as Pakistanis, a lot of Uzbeks just say “Russian.”

Catedral also noted the sense that Russian was “insufficiently global,” contrary to the perception of Russian as an international language in Central Asia. One of her interviewees spoke of visiting Uzbekistan and noticing that her friends spoke in Russian to show how “international” they were (“They try to speak in Russian and they feel themselves to be just like on a Europeanized level”)—for her, speaking Russian to indicate internationalism was instead an index of provincialism.

Catedral concluded by asserting that these indexicalities of Russian and Russianness among Uzbeks in the U.S.—“Not maintaining Uzbekness,” “Uzbek immigrant identity as represented to Americans,” and “A local (and dispreferred) way of attempting to be global”—are fluid, and “the most salient ones depend on the interactional context.” Furthermore, she argued that the fact of transnational mobility results in a broader number of possible meanings in the indexical field of Russian and Russianness. In highlighting the interaction between Uzbek and Russian language and identity in the United States, Catedral’s research “has implications for understanding post-Soviet people as global subjects, and for uncovering the shifting meanings of Russian across varying transnational contexts.”

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

Professional Development Workshop: Terrell Starr, “Covering Trump in an Age of Russian Propaganda Wars”

REEEC welcomed back journalist and REEEC MA graduate Terrell Starr for a professional development workshop on March 30 entitled “Covering Trump in an Age of Russian Propaganda Wars.” Starr argued that in order to understand how many Americans today perceive the Russian government, we need to understand how Americans perceive threats. There is overwhelming evidence that the Russian government used hacking and technological manipulation to influence and perhaps even swing the recent presidential election. And yet, when confronted with evidence of this tampering, Americans who identify as Trump supporters are indifferent, or even supportive, of the Russian involvement. How do these supporters justify such a position?

Journalist and REEEC alumnus Terrell Starr

The answer, Starr proposes, lies in the way Americans perceive threats. People will either intensify or minimize a threat depending on their positionality. In other words, the extent to which people perceive an action to be threatening is not value neutral; it is calibrated through public discourse and private identity politics. Throughout his campaign, Trump played heavily into this process, basing much of his campaign around specific kinds of threats. By focusing on the supposed dangers of spaces like the US-Mexican border or Chicago, or on the process of refugee resettlement, Trump has created a narrative in which threats emerge from people of color. The narrative that Trump has created, in short, is a narrative that protects American whiteness.

The danger of Trump’s re-centering around American whiteness—beyond its obvious deleterious effects on the American social fabric—is that it allows threats like the Russian election interference to be easily minimized. As part of Starr’s journalistic work, he has spoken extensively with Trump supporters to try to understand the way in which they recontextualize information to fit it into this narrow vision of a threat. Starr noted that compared to ISIS, refugees, and the southern border, Trump supporters do not see Russia as threatening. Because the election interference does not fit into the Trumpian narrative of what a threat is, many (even most) of his supporters are unwilling to consider it one.

Starr himself has reevaluated his role as a journalist in light of these findings. He has made it his goal to learn about hacking and other forms of interference in order to better understand them. He then acts as an educator, explaining to the public how these hacking attacks work. There are limitations to what he (or any reporter) can do, as he cannot access any secret or classified information, but he has managed to gain an idea of how this sophisticated system of hacking functions.

Yet even while Starr has expanded his job as a reporter, he wonders what effect his actions will have. If we found a smoking gun that implicated the Russian government in election hacking, would it matter to a majority of Trump’s supporters? Drawing upon his interviews with them, Starr is not sure. The narrative that Trump has created has staying power, and many of his supporters are deeply invested in its promotion of American whiteness. What use is a smoking gun in an era in which a narrative is more powerful than facts?

Starr is also pessimistic about the ability of the Russian government to continue to interfere in the American political system. The Russian government, he notes, has been particularly adept at using racial and ethnic tensions to serve its own means. For example, Russian officials launched a DDOS hack on Georgia during the 2008 war, in which they fabricated and circulated a photo of then-president Mikheil Saakashvili with Nazi imagery. Although the photo was proven to be false, the damage was already done. This is the danger of information wars: even false information can have real power when they fit into the right narratives. It is a problem, Starr says, that will continue to have a real and tangible impact on our political system for years to come.

Deirdre Ruscitti Harshman is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois. Her dissertation, “A Space Called Home: Housing and the Construction of the Everyday in Russia, 1890-1935,” explores how multiple, often conflicting, understandings of the home emerged across the revolutionary divide of 1917, and what these conceptions tell us about belonging. Her article “Cooking Up a New Everyday: Communal Kitchens in the Revolutionary Era, 1890-1935” was published in the December 2016 issue of Revolutionary Russia. When she is not doing academic work, she is working on perfecting her plov recipe. 

Noontime Scholars Lecture: Laura Dean, “Incongruent Implementation of Human Rights-Based Policy in the Post-Soviet Region”

Laura Dean giving her Noontime Scholars Lecture on March 14, 2017

Every year, approximately one million people are trafficked throughout the post-Soviet world. Although human trafficking is a global issue, Laura Dean (Assistant Professor of History and Political Science at Millikin University) argues that the problem is particularly acute in the post-Soviet region. In her lecture, entitled “Incongruent Implementation of Human Rights-Based Policy in the Post-Soviet Region,” she explored why the region has had such a problem controlling human trafficking. Do the difficulties stem from internal or external forces? And what factors help or hinder the implementation of more comprehensive human trafficking policies?

In order to answer these questions, Dean’s research focuses on state structures and institutions, to see how responses to the problem of human trafficking have varied from country to country. In this presentation, Dean focused on three countries: Ukraine, Latvia, and Russia. Although every country in the post-Soviet region has adopted at least a criminal code against human trafficking, their responses beyond that have varied widely. In tracing out the particularities of these three states—each of which have different resources, institutional networks, and overall approaches—Dean aimed to explore what was working, and what could be improved.

Ukraine, the first state Dean discussed, was the first post-Soviet state to address the question of human trafficking with a criminal code in 1998. Despite this promising policy step, Ukraine has had problems with implementation: agencies and institutions have problems communicating with each other, local officials have little instructions on how to implement top-down policies, there is a lack of resources due to the overwhelming problem of internally displaced people from eastern Ukraine. Dean’s second example, Latvia, addressed many of these problems of implementation. It has fewer policies than Ukraine, but it has done a much better job of implementing them: agencies and institutions have clearly defined relationships, and they work closely with international organizations and governing bodies. Finally, Dean focused on Russia. While Russia has implemented a criminal code, it has no other state policy connected to anti-trafficking measures. There is also no centralized rehabilitative service; as a result, people who have been trafficked often have to rely on local institutions or Orthodox churches. Although there are people trying to tackle the issue of human trafficking in Russia, Dean noted, they are severely limited by the lack of state support.

Although Dean’s lecture focused on the state-level process, she also devoted some attention to broader, regional issues. Perhaps the most pressing of those issues is changing the perception of what human trafficking looks like. Due to the “Natasha Effect,” the popular imagining of a human trafficking victim is a young woman, usually trafficked as part of the sex trade. Though the sex trade plays a role in human trafficking, that a narrative ignores other forms, such as forced labor or organ trafficking. As the name “Natasha” indicates, it also emphasizes that most victims of this process are of Slavic descent, whereas in reality, Central Asians are increasingly becoming the target of trafficking operations.

Furthermore, Dean observed that it is important to use quantitative data carefully. One commonly used metric to discusses the success (or failure) of anti-human trafficking policy is to trace the number of initiated criminal investigations and the number of rehabilitated victims. The assumption is that higher numbers mean more effective enforcement, but lower numbers may mean a country’s approach is so effective that traffickers are more hesitant to use it. Pure quantitative data also gives researchers no information on how policies are implemented, another critical factor to consider.

Since only relying on quantitative data to study human trafficking policy gives a very limited view of the issue, Dean’s lecture underscored that researchers, policy advisers, activists, and others need to use a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches to study the issue. States that have good legal structures, like Ukraine, may face challenges with implementation. Only using quantitative data would mask Ukraine’s trouble implementing human trafficking policies, and makes less apparent Latvia’s success in fostering inter-agency communication and creating policies that are easy to implement. In other cases, such as Russia, wider political narratives make tackling the issue of trafficking difficult. Given the vastly different approaches that states in the post-Soviet region have used, more research needs to focus on the long-term consequences and effectiveness of each state’s trafficking policies, using both quantitative and qualitative data.

Deirdre Ruscitti Harshman is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois. Her dissertation, “A Space Called Home: Housing and the Construction of the Everyday in Russia, 1890-1935,” explores how multiple, often conflicting, understandings of the home emerged across the revolutionary divide of 1917, and what these conceptions tell us about belonging. Her article “Cooking Up a New Everyday: Communal Kitchens in the Revolutionary Era, 1890-1935” was published in the December 2016 issue of Revolutionary Russia. When she is not doing academic work, she is working on perfecting her plov recipe. 

International Night at Carrie Busey Elementary

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On March 9, 2017, REEEC outreach staff and students participated in International Night at Carrie Busey Elementary in Savoy. It was a lively event with performances, crafts, national costumes, and food from all over the world. Stephanie Chung (REEEC Outreach and Programming Coordinator) and Nicholas Higgins (REEEC MA student) ran the Russia table, which featured the Russian folktale “The Firebird.” The Firebird from the folktale of the same name is usually portrayed as the object of a difficult journey, with many seeking it to no avail. This was of course not the case for the REEEC outreach staff and students, as it was one of the busiest tables! Elementary school students lined up to make firebird masks. After making the masks, many children put them on and wore them for the rest of the evening – trailing orange and red feathers everywhere. Many thanks to Carrie Busey Elementary and the Center for Global Studies for organizing such a terrific event!