AABS Travel Grant Recipients Share Their Experiences of CBSE 2021, Part 2

Sep 30, 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.

Harry Merritt

Paper title: “Calling Things by Their True Names”: Sarcasm, Cynicism, and Reflections on the Past in the Memoirs of Latvian Legionnaires

After a year and a half of cancelled or postponed conferences, I was delighted for the opportunity to attend CBSE Uppsala 2021 in September 2021. Indeed, my presentation had originally been submitted to be presented at AABS 2020 in Charlotte, so I was relieved when I learned that my entire panel could shift to CBSE. This conference represented the first chance to see colleagues from the Baltic States and other parts of Europe in quite some time, some of whom I had not seen in person since 2019 or even 2017. It also provided a wonderful opportunity to share my research with a variety of scholars whom I had never met before and see what others had been working on over the past two years. I was able to attend almost every panel slot at the conference, primarily within the History stream, which covered a diverse array of topics representing the three Baltic States, spanning the Middle Ages to the near present.
My presentation was titled, “‘Calling Things by Their True Names’: Sarcasm, Cynicism, and Reflections on the Past in the Memoirs of Latvian Legionnaires.” Derived from my dissertation research, but also incorporating new research materials the presentation, it explores the postwar narratives constructed by veterans of the Waffen-SS Latvian Legion in autobiographical writings. While interesting thematic differences and varying assessments emerge based on age, rank, and era of publication, there are also some revealing commonalities. In my analysis, I contend that the use of sarcasm and cynical formulations was used to distance their military service from the Waffen-SS and German war aims, while generally upholding a heroic view of Legionnaires. I argue that such views constitute a “Lost Cause” narrative, similar to one predominant postwar view of the U.S. Civil War, in order to better understand why ideas were formulated and how this narrative was carried forward to the present day. I was pleased to see the high attendance at my panel, “Between the Nazis and the Soviets: Memory, Propaganda, and Sovietization in the Baltic States in the 1940s and early 1950s,” which made for a lively and productive question and answer session following the presentations. Based on comments and questions from conference participants, I will continue to revise my work for future publication.
In terms of presenting my research, learning about the latest work of other scholars, and networking with scholars working in all corners of Baltic Studies, this has been a very valuable experience for me. I am deeply grateful to AABS for providing funding support for my travel to and from Sweden and my accommodations in Uppsala, without which I would not have been able to attend. I am an early career scholar, having completed my Ph.D. in February 2020. As I am currently teaching on a one-year contract, I do not have access to the travel grants previously available to me as a Ph.D. student nor those that would be available to me at my institution as a tenure-track faculty member. By supporting Ph.D. students and early career scholars in this challenging environment, AABS is helping to foster the next generation of Baltic Studies scholars. I would also like to express my gratitude and admiration to the conference organizers, without whose dedication and flexibility such a conference would not have been possible.
Harry C. Merritt
Harry C. Merritt is currently a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of History at Amherst College. Harry earned a Ph.D. in History from Brown University in 2020. In 2022, his chapter, “‘My Home and My Family Are Now Our Regiment’: National Belonging and Familial Feelings in Latvian Units during World War II,” will appear in Defining Latvia: Recent Explorations in History, Culture, and Politics, published by Central European University Press.

Kristina Bukelskyte-Cepele

Paper title: Linking Elements in Compounds in Lithuanian Dialects

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to AABS for awarding me the Student Travel Grant, which allowed me to participate at the 14th Conference on Baltic Studies in Europe (CBSE), held at Uppsala University, 1-4 September, 2021. Attending this well-organized conference has given me the opportunity not only to present the results of my postdoctoral research project but also to broaden the network of researchers who work on various topics in Baltic studies. It was without doubt a great place to exchange ideas for me as an early career scholar and to get inspired by both formal and informal discussions with the others participants. The CBSE conference was the first in-person conference I have attended since the start of the pandemic, which made this event even more exciting.

In my talk presented at the conference, I addressed linking elements used between the components of compounds in Lithuanian dialects. Linking elements are found in compounds in many other languages as well, and they are one of the characteristic features of noun and adjective compounds in Lithuanian. When it comes to linking elements in Lithuanian dialects, there is an interesting distribution: the eastern and southernmost dialects (i.e., East and South Aukštaitian) tend to use linking elements to a much greater extent, while compounds without linking elements are more prevalent in the western dialects (i.e., West Aukštaitian and Žemaitian). In this talk, I furthermore discussed the original distribution of linking elements seen from compounds attested in Old Lithuanian texts of the 16th and 17th centuries, and compared it to the distribution of linking elements in current Lithuanian dialects. Lastly, recent tendencies of compounding that have contributed to the distortion of the original system of linking elements in Lithuanian were also discussed.
Kristina Bukelskyte-Cepele presenting her work at the 14th CBSE in Uppsala, Sweden.

Kristina Bukelskyte-Cepele is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in Baltic languages at the Department of Slavic and Baltic Studies, Finnish, Dutch, and German at Stockholm University. Her educational background includes a PhD in Baltic languages from Stockholm University and a MA in philology and Lithuanian linguistics from Vilnius University. In her ongoing research project, she addresses the development of compounds in Lithuanian dialects and focuses on the interaction between phonology and morphology.

Paula Antonella Oppermann

Paper title: Same Difference? Reconsidering Authoritarian and Fascist Elements in Kārlis Ulmanis’ and Gustavs Celmiņš’ Ideology

The CBSE in Uppsala in 2021 provided me with the opportunity to present parts of my findings of my PhD project, which investigates the history of the Latvian fascist organization Pērkonkrusts (Thunder Cross) from the pre- to the postwar period. My paper “Same Difference? Reconsidering Authoritarian and Fascist Elements in Kārlis Ulmanis’ and Gustavs Celmiņš’ Ideology” is based on a chapter of my thesis and I took the chance to discuss my ideas with leading experts in the field. I received very valuable feedback, critical questions, suggestions for further reading, and propositions on how to go forward with my work. Since Baltic Studies is a rather small field, the AABS and CBSE conferences are rare occasions to meet in one place experts working on similar topics as mine. I received not only advice for my own work, but I also took the chance to listen to colleagues working on topics not directly related to my own and learned a lot.

This conference was special for me as it undoubtedly was for everyone else because it was the first in-person conference for nearly two years. After having been limited to talks and meetings in the digital world, it was simply wonderful to gather with colleagues and friends in person. Meeting new people over coffee during the breaks, approaching someone directly after their talk to exchange more ideas or simply thank them for their work, going for dinner after a long day – all these small things that enrich every conference – this time they felt particularly special.

I felt well-informed before, and taken-care of during the conference. Literally nothing was left to chance. Any concerns raised because of the pandemic situation or other needs were solved immediately by the organizers. The presentations at the panels worked together very nicely, the keynote lecture was inspiring, and the dinner at Norrlands Nation really was a highlight of the conference. I therefore want to give a special thanks to the organizing team in Uppsala and also “behind the scenes” at AABS for making this event happen despite all the odds.

Paula Antonella Oppermann
Paula Antonella Oppermann studied History and Baltic Languages at the University of Greifswald and completed an M.A in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Uppsala University. Since 2017 she is a PhD student in Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow. She has received fellowships at the Institute for Contemporary History (Munich), at the Institute for Eurasian Studies at the University of Uppsala and is currently a Saul Kagan Fellow in Advanced Shoah Studies.

Piotr Szlaużys

Paper title: The Unofficial Contacts of the Emissaries of Lithuanian Cause with the Wilson Administration from 1918 to 1921

I would like to thank the AABS for allowing me to participate in the CBSE conference in Uppsala. The Student Travel Grant enabled me to participate in the Uppsala Conference and introduce my presentation, entitled “The Unofficial Contacts of the Emissaries of Lithuanian Cause with the Wilson Administration from 1918 to 1921.” This presentation is closely related to my doctoral dissertation, entitled “The Role of Lithuanian Americans in Support of Independent Lithuania (1918-1922),” which I am currently writing.

Thanks to the possibility of my participation in the conference in Uppsala, I had the opportunity to discuss my presentation and PhD dissertation with the conference participants who shared similar interests concerning the activities of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian Americans during the presidency of Thomas Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. The questions addressed to me after my presentation drew my attention to the issues related to the financing of diplomatic activities of Lithuanian Americans in the United States for the purpose of recognition of Lithuania’s independence by the United States of America after World War I, to the involvement of American Republicans and Democrats in the Lithuanian cause in the United States during the presidency of Wilson and Harding, and to Poland’s territorial claims in Lithuania, which influenced the perception of the Lithuanian cause by the US Administration. I mainly used the materials available from the Lithuanian Central State Archive in Vilnius when preparing my presentation. Thanks to the contacts I made, I have extended my knowledge about the available archival materials regarding my presentation and my doctoral dissertation. Furthermore, I am in touch with some conference participants with whom I exchange information on the issues related to our presentations in Uppsala, my PhD dissertation and our possible presentations during the CBSE conference in Seattle in May 2022, where I hope I will have the opportunity to introduce my next presentation regarding the engagement of Lithuanian Americans in the recognition of independent Lithuania by the United States government.

I would also like to mention that the Uppsala Conference was the second time when I participated in the CBSE conference. I took part in the CBSE conference in Gdańsk in 2019, where there was also a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere created by the conference participants.
Piotr Szlaużys presenting his work at the 14th CBSE in Uppsala, Sweden.

Piotr Szlaużys graduated from the University of Warsaw, Institute of English Studies, in 2001, where he specialized in American culture and literature. He is writing his PhD dissertation as a participant in the PhD seminar on American history, conducted by Professor Halina Parafianowicz at the Faculty of History and International Relations at the University of Białystok. His interest in his PhD thesis is mainly related to the fact that he is interested in Lithuania’s relations with the United States at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and that he speaks Lithuanian, English, and Polish fluently. Currently, he works as a sworn translator of English and Polish.

Ruta Kurpniece

Paper title: Function of animal characters in Regīna Ezera’s 70s fiction

I want to express my deepest gratitude to organizers of the 14th Baltic Studies Conference for the possibility of attending the conference in Uppsala in-person during this technology and Zoom era. This was the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic that I have travelled somewhere outside of Latvia, as well as the first conference since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic that I have attended in-person. It was very pleasing to see real people in the audience, as well as participating in real discussions contrary to seeing the dark windows of Zoom.

My biggest gratitude goes to the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies: without their grant, I would not have been able to afford a trip to Sweden and participate in this conference.

For me, a young doctoral student, this conference was a great opportunity to introduce a wider audience with a small part of my doctoral research. Although I am quite a shy speaker, my presentation on topic “Function of animal characters in Regīna Ezera’s 70s fiction” went smoothly and I hope that the people who were present got at least a little insight into the fiction of Latvian writer Regina Ezera, as well as in the theoretical material of animal studies. I am grateful to all the listeners who listened with interest, gave advice, and suggested theoretical materials that I need to look up. It should be added that in Latvian literary studies no researcher has been interested in animal studies and zoopoetic research as a whole thus far, which is why I am very pleased with the exchange of ideas and suggestions I received in Uppsala. It will certainly contribute to better development of my dissertation.

This conference was also a wonderful opportunity to listen to various topics related to Baltic culture and literature that interest me. I gained a wider view of similarities and differences in the historical situation of neighbouring countries of Latvia – Estonia and Lithuania. I am very grateful for meeting the researchers with whom I am have similar interests in our field of research, which also means gaining contacts for future cooperation.
I must also mention the beautiful place where the conference was held. It was my first time in Uppsala and I definitely believe that it is a very beautiful, small town with a pleasant atmosphere!
Ruta Kurpniece

Ruta Kurpniece is doctoral student at the University of Latvia. Her research interests are related to the literature of the Latvian Soviet period, which is most often viewed in the aspect of some modern literary theories. She is writing a dissertation on the topic “Animal and Animal World in Regīna Ezeras’ fiction,” which seeks to reveal the impact of the historical era on the building of character system in literary work, as well as the metaphorical and symbolic meaning of animal characters, viewed in parallel with human characters.

AABS 2022

The 28th Biennial AABS Conference
“Baltic Studies at a Crossroads”

May 27–29, 2022, Seattle, WA