AABS Travel Grant Recipients Share Their Experiences of CBSE 2021, Part 1

Sep 21, 2021

The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies is happy to bring you stories and experiences from its 2021 student travel grant recipients who attended the 14th Conference on Baltic Studies in Europe (September 1–4, 2021, Uppsala, Sweden).

Applications for the AABS 2021 student travel grants were evaluated by the AABS Student Travel Grants Committee consisting of AABS Student Representative Kristo Nurmis, AABS Executive Officer-at-Large Guntis Šmidchens, AABS Administrative Executive Director Liisi Esse, and Member of the CBSE Organizing Committee Michael Loader. The grants were awarded to 16 students and early career scholars to support their travel to Uppsala in order to attend the CBSE 2021.

Laima Vince Sruoginis

Paper title: Postmemory Writing by North American Writers of Lithuanian Descent As a Collective Body of Work

I would like to thank the Association of the Advancement of Baltic Studies, and the conference organizers, for this unique opportunity in our era of pandemics and quarantines to attend the 14th Baltic Studies Conference. Formally, I have entered the world of academic research rather late, although informally, as a writer and translator, I have engaged in research for the past quarter century. I have also spent my entire life inside the academic world of the university teaching Creative Writing and literature courses. Twice I have earned a Fulbright grant to conduct research in Lithuania and teach at Vilnius University (1995–1997 and 2007–2009). I was born and educated in the United States, but through my work and my increasing sense of heritage, Lithuania has become my second home.
As I transition from being a writer and educator to someone who late in her career is researching and writing her doctoral dissertation, I am deeply grateful to AABS for providing me with the financial support that has enabled me to enter academic discourse on the Baltic region by making it possible for me to present my doctoral research at the 14th Baltic Studies Conference at Uppsala University and to continue to grow as a researcher and academic by having the opportunity to listen to other Baltic scholars’ papers and panels. I benefited from attending the conference because the interdisciplinary nature of the conference enabled me to listen to research presented in the fields of Politics, History, Sociology, and Literature. My own research is interdisciplinary and includes work in trauma theory and psychology, sociology, politics, and history as well as literature. Therefore, the opportunity to absorb the findings of some the top Baltic scholars in a variety of interrelated and interdisciplinary subjects has deepened the breadth of my knowledge as a scholar and has heightened my awareness of the myriad issues that affect the Baltic region today.
At the conference, I presented a paper titled, “Postmemory Writing by North American Writers of Lithuanian Descent as a Collective Body of Work.” I initially began my doctoral research by researching 23 writers who I identified as being of Lithuanian descent (both Christian and Jewish Lithuanian descent) and reading their entire body of work. I was surprised that with very few exceptions, these second and third generation Lithuanian-American and Lithuanian-Canadian writers had dedicated their writing careers to producing literary fiction, nonfiction, memoir, drama and poetry on Lithuanian postmemory topics tied to cultural trauma, historical trauma, and cultural memory. My research and findings include 77 works of literature written by this group and published in North America over the past four decades. I initially invited these writers to respond to a survey and then followed up with face to face or zoom interviews on the Lithuanian topics they write about, on their background, their family stories. I collected large quantities of data; however, for my dissertation I focused on analyzing memory and postmemory topics in five memoirs written by North American writers of Lithuanian descent who represent three postmemory generations. These memoirs are Painted in Words by Samuel Bak (first generation), The Barefoot Bingo Caller by Antanas Sileika (second generation), White Field, Black Sheep by Daiva Markelis (second generation), Siberia Exile by Julija Šukys (third generation), and A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet by Rita Gabis (third generation). The paper I presented at the conference enabled me to discuss the categories and trauma topics that predominate the body of work produced by this group and to receive feedback from the audience.

Laima Vince Sruoginis presenting her work at the CBSE 2021 in Uppsala, Sweden.

Laima Vince Sruoginis is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at the University of Southern Maine and a doctoral student at Vilnius University. In late 2021, Laima will be defending her dissertation: “Memory and Postmemory in the Writing of North American Writers of Lithuanian Descent.” Laima Vince is a published writer in both the Lithuanian and English languages and a literary translator. She has published a novel and five works of literary nonfiction on Lithuanian topics, three anthologies of Lithuanian literature, and numerous translations, essays, and other academic works. Laima Vince was one of the first to research the life and poetry of the Litvak poet Matilda Olkinaitė, killed in the Holocaust in Lithuania at the age of 19. She translated her poetry and diary into English, which was published by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore as The Unlocked Diary.

Martina Urbinati

Paper title: Renegotiating Urban Memories in the European Periphery: The Case of Kaunas as a Laboratory

I would like to express my deepest gratitude for being awarded a student travel grant to participate in CBSE 2021 Conference at Uppsala University from September 1st to September 4th. This funding source allowed me to present my initial research project in the area of heritage and memory studies. As I am currently developing my research project, I had the chance to gain valuable insights coming from experienced scholars and junior PhD candidates as well. Although it was my first time attending this conference, my presentation was met with enthusiasm and received quite a lot of questions. When presenting my paper, I felt the relief of coming back to in-presence conference sessions.
The conference spanned from history to language studies panels, from political and security – related topics to media and technology topical analyses. All of them were very well structured in terms of gender balance and time allowed for questions from the audience and final discussion. All disciplines were very well represented; however, I must say that I have noticed an absence of social anthropologists, from whom I would have liked to receive suggestions about theoretical approaches and qualitative methods for my research project.
Furthermore, there was a time in which I found myself very connected to the topic of Lithuanian diaspora’s collective post-memory writings. Because I was already acquainted with some of American fictional writers who struggled to locate themselves with respect to their Lithuanian roots, I was particularly active in the final discussion, coming up with relevant examples and also collecting new ideas for future comparative analyses.
All in all, I have been very much enthusiast to learn about how researchers were able to readjust their initial work plans in order to give a new direction to their work during the pandemics. Similarly, I was eager to get acquainted with experiences of failure – how the slowing down of research impacted on the researchers’ overall objective in the end.
Finally, the human factor was an important component of this experience. During the last year, all conferences had to be moved online for obvious safety reasons. Hence, having the possibility to travel again and build new connections made me appreciate even more the effort I have been putting in my research.
Following the CBSE conference, I can now continue working on my project by being part of a bigger community of young scholars researching the Baltic States. It does not come as a coincidence that the next CBSE conference is planned to be held in Kaunas, the case study of my work! To conclude, there are two things that would have not been possible without the AABS student travel grant. First and foremost, the face-to-face format gave a boost to my curiosity for both past and actual themes connected to the study of the Baltic countries, both individually and as a whole. Second and last point, the fact of being welcomed into an already consolidated group of scholars made me once again realize that any constructive advice, observation or even comment can be useful for future improvement.
Martina Urbinati

Martina Urbinati holds a MA in Interdisciplinary Research and Studies on Eastern Europe at the University of Bologna, Italy. Martina’s main research interests include urban memory and conflicting interpretations of the historical past in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.

Arvydas Grišinas

Paper title: The Alchemy of Political Symbols: The Case of Lithuanian Riots 2021

My visit at CBSE Uppsala Conference 2021 came about quite spontaneously, as I was a late bird to apply for funding. There had been riots happening in Lithuania just recently, and I thought that it would be quite timely to talk about them in a broader context of changing information climate in Lithuania as well as beyond.
Conspiracy theories, symbolist politics and political performances gain increasing importance not only because of the contemporary pandemic with all its social and political complications, but also due to the information overload in modern life. Political symbols become vehicles for articulating and communicating about the shifting and complicated realities that people encounter in today’s mediatized world. As a result, they are being used, but also abused to convince others or postulate claims about own political and social beliefs.
The riots of August 10, 2021 in Lithuania took place as a culmination of a set of public debates taking place in the country, including pandemic management, LGBT rights, and other sensitive issues. Political symbols were utilized as means of struggle in this context. Quite literally, Lithuanian flags were used as projectiles and shields, as means of self-legitimization and direct aggression. This brought me to thinking about a process that I called alchemic, in which the essence of political symbols is being extracted and replaced by other meanings. It is done through imitative multiplication of said symbols, and in doing so, the elimination of their original value. This way, a national symbol becomes a weapon, and symbols of the Holocaust, which were also abused in this instance, a means of self-victimization by the protesters.
These ideas were relatively fresh and undeveloped, but the audience was all too kind, and it was a pleasure to share thoughts in a real-life conversation. This brings me to what I see as the greatest achievement by the organizers of this conference. It is, despite the pandemic, to bring international scholars together again, in what everyone I talked to had called a refreshing return to normal academic life. I can only join in thanking AABS and Uppsala university for hosting this event and giving me an opportunity to attend it. It once again made me realize how important the collegial real-life relationships are to doing research and sharing knowledge. For that, I express my sincerest gratitude.
Arvydas Grišinas
Arvydas Grišinas is a researcher at Kaunas University of Technology. His research interests lie in post-Soviet political culture and political anthropology. He is an author of “Politics with a Human Face: Identity and Experience in Post-Soviet Europe” (Routledge, 2018).

Catherine Gibson

Paper title: Seeing Through Numbers: Counting and Mapping Religious Communities in the Baltic Provinces, 1840–1914

From 1-4 September 2021 I had the pleasure of participating in the 14th Conference on Baltic Studies in Europe (CBSE) at Uppsala University in Sweden. After more than a year and a half of online conferences, it felt like a momentous occasion to be able to gather in the beautiful city of Uppsala, reacquaint with old friends, meet and network with new colleagues, and engage with exciting new multidisciplinary research in the field of Baltic studies. I mainly attended panels in the History stream and had the opportunity to listen to a selection of fascinating talks on topics spanning fascism and far-right politics, Baltic maritime history, politics and health in Soviet Latvia, Early Modern Baltic history, and wartime experiences during the First World War, among others.
For my own presentation, I shared the results of my postdoctoral research project “Seeing Through Numbers: Counting and Mapping Religious Communities in the Baltic Provinces, 1840-1914” (Funded from 2019-2021 by the European Regional Development Fund and program Mobilias Pluss Grant No. MOBJD517). My paper was entitled “Zooming in and out on religion, language, and nationality: Census-taking and questions of scale in the Baltic provinces” and formed part of the panel on ‘The Evolution of Identities, Language, and Conceptions in the Baltic States’, together with papers by James Baxenfield (Tallinn University) and Peteris Vanags (Stockholm University). My talk presented a “bottom-up” analysis of population censuses in Estland, Livland, and Kurland province from 1863-81 as a window into emerging ideas about the ascription and self-reporting of identities. My paper examined the debates on how to count and classify people according to religion, language, and nationality, as well as how locals responded to being questioned. I used these examples to argue that the Baltic provinces emerged as an important site for statistical innovation within the Russian Empire as Baltic statisticians broadened the scope of census questions and experimented with new individual counting cards.
After the three papers, a lengthy and rich discussion ensued with members of the audience covering issues of nationality, language, and different imagined geographies in the 19th and early 20th century Baltic region. The opportunity to participate in and listen to conversations about research among leading scholars in the field – a characteristic of all the panels I attended – was one of the real standouts of the conference. Such an atmosphere of discussion and scholarly dialogue is rarely achieved in large online events.
I wish to thank all the organizers for all their hard work to put together such a fantastic and smooth-running program and to Uppsala University for their hospitality. I am extremely grateful to AABS for providing a generous grant to fund my participation in this conference, without which I would not have been able to attend. I am especially thankful to AABS for extending the grant eligibility in this instance to contingently employed early career scholars such as myself. Participation in conferences such as CBSE is crucial for facilitating networking opportunities, getting feedback on work-in-progress, and for gaining a broad panorama of the current state of the field of research in Baltic studies. I look forward to seeing many familiar and new faces in Kaunas for the next CBSE conference!
Catherine Gibson
Catherine Gibson is a historian of modern Eastern Europe and the Russian Empire. She is currently a Research Fellow in the School of Theology & Religious Studies at the University of Tartu. She is co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Slavic Languages, Borders, and Identities and series editor of the Tartu University Press book series on “Politics and Society in the Baltic Sea Region”. Her monograph, Geographies of Nationhood: Cartography, Science and Society in the Russian Imperial Baltic, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2022.

Egidijus Balandis

Paper title: The Social and Cultural Functions of Sports in the Community of Lithuanian DPs (1945–1951)

I am very grateful to the AABS and the Student Travel Grant for allowing me to participate in the CBSE conference in Uppsala. By covering my travel, transportation, lodging and registration expenses it made my participation possible. The organizing committee had done an amazing job to make this event a success. It was a first conference I attended since 2019 and the phrase “good to be back” was always on my mind while in Sweden. I was curious to learn about the fascinating research being conducted within the field of Baltic studies – from the research on Far Right Entryism in Post-Soviet Latvian Politics to the studies of gender-based violence in Soviet occupied Lithuania; from the explorations into the attempts at export of the Italian Fascism to the Baltic countries in 1920s and 1930s to the examination of the civic response to the famine and epidemics in Vilnius in 1916-1917.
Discussions on these and other issues would then continue during the coffee breaks, the reception or the dinner that was held in a beautiful building of the Norrlands nation. Eventually they would be conveyed to the last Irish pub open in Uppsala and continue late into the night. I am glad I had a chance to forge new connections and to reconnect with the AABS friends whom I haven’t seen in a while.
My own presentation on the social and cultural functions of sports in the community of Lithuanian DPs (1945-1951) was a first step chronologically beyond the scope of my thesis that I defended in November 2019. I tried to show how sports were permeated by the idea of cultural and national representation that involved not only collective victories in the field of athletics, but also elements of social control and disciplining practices within various sports organizations. I also claimed that activism in the field of sports also became a school of civic participation for young Lithuanian refugees. Sports organizations brought them into a dense network of Lithuanian associations that they had to cooperate with. They also had to acquire fundraising, organizational and self-governance skills in order to run their clubs and other types of organizations. In some cases athletic skills served as a way to gain some degree of the symbolic capital. I had a good chance to test some of my ideas and I expect this presentation to be the first checkpoint in the process of writing an article and/or a chapter for a book that I am starting to work on.
Egidijus Balandis presenting his work at the CBSE 2021 in Uppsala, Sweden.
Egidijus Balandis is a Junior Research Fellow at the VMU Lithuanian Emigration Institute. He is also a lecturer at the Vytautas Magnus University where he teaches a history of Lithuanian diaspora. He defended his Ph.D thesis “Sport in the Social Fabric of U.S. Lithuanians in the First Half of the 20th century” in November 2019 and is currently working on a book that would extend the geographical and the chronological scope of this work. His research interests include history of Lithuanian diaspora, history of civil society and a social and cultural history of sports.

Siobhán Hearne

Paper title: For the Health of the Republic: Responding to the Sexual Health Crisis in the Latvian SSR the Brezhnev Era

Receiving a Student Travel Grant from AABS meant that I was able to attend and participate in the Conference on Baltic Studies in Europe (CBSE). International travel in the era of Covid is significantly more expensive because of testing requirements, so the Travel Grant supplemented many of the additional costs of travelling to Uppsala from the UK.
Attending an in-person conference for the first time in almost two years was an incredibly valuable experience. After spending plenty of time attending virtual conferences and workshops over the past year, I had forgotten about the intellectual enrichment that comes from listening to papers from outside your discipline/area of expertise, or from informal conversations with other researchers during coffee breaks. CBSE was also a wonderful opportunity to properly catch up with friends and colleagues in Baltic studies and think through new ways to collaborate in the future. The conference organizers did a great job in putting together a rich program and arranging a superb reception and conference dinner. It also didn’t hurt that Uppsala is a very beautiful city.
At CBSE, I presented a paper entitled ‘For the Health of the Republic: Responding to the Sexual Health Crisis in the Latvian SSR the Brezhnev Era’ on a panel dedicated to the political, cultural, and social history of centre-periphery relations in the post-war Soviet Union. My paper examined how the Latvian and All-Union ministries of health handled the significant rise in incidence of sexually transmitted infections in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The paper investigated the particularly stringent measures that Latvian officials implemented to address perceived sexual misconduct, as well as tensions between central, republican, and regional health authorities. I benefitted enormously from presenting this paper to a room full of Baltic studies experts, and the questions that I received have encouraged me to think more broadly and comparatively about Soviet approaches to healthcare and sexuality.
Overall, I am extremely grateful to AABS for providing the necessary financial support in order to attend CBSE in Uppsala.
Siobhán Hearne is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Durham University in the UK. She received her PhD from the University of Nottingham in 2017 and has since conducted postdoctoral research in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Her research focuses broadly on gender and sexuality in the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, with a particular focus on the Baltic provinces and republics.

AABS 2022

The 28th Biennial AABS Conference “Baltic Studies at a Crossroads” May 27–29, 2022, Seattle, WA