The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies is pleased share stories and experiences from its 2022 student travel grant recipients who attended the 28th Biennial Conference on Baltic Studies (May 26–29, 2022, Seattle, Washington).
Applications for AABS 2022 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, and AABS Advisor to the Board Joseph Ellis. The grants were awarded to 40+ students and early career scholars to support their travel to Seattle in order to attend AABS 2022.
Paper title: “‘Intourist’ in Baltic’s work to obtain a foreign currency income (ideological and financial aspects)”
I am grateful for receiving a travel grant to participate to The 28th Biennial AABS Conference “Baltic Studies at a Crossroads.” As a self-funded student who works to pay for the studies, I would not be able to pay for the travel expenses to participate in this conference. This conference gave me the opportunity to gain valuable contacts, expand my knowledge, gain valuable advice and comments, and look at my research from a different perspective.
During the conference and receptions, I had an opportunity to gain valuable connections, to listen countless excited sessions from the field professionals. I enjoyed various sessions including Airi Uuna “Popularizing or Doing Propaganda? Preparing for the Olympic Regatta in Estonia,” Laura Lauškaitė “Soviet ideology on a platter: Food in Lithuanian and Latvian literature,” Laura Tack “Storm Flood as a Peripety in the Creation Legend of the Curonian Split,” Kristo Nurmis “Thinking through Propaganda : Baltic Media Audiences in WWII,” Lars Frederick Stöcker “Soviet Economic History in Perspective: Epistemic Communities at the Baltic Periphery” and many more. I wish I would have a chance to listed some of the speakers from few other sessions but their sessions overlapped and unfortunately I could not attend all the speakers I wanted.
I am also grateful to the chair Aldis Purs who helped to lead interesting discussions, asked questions about different aspects of my research and promised to share some useful sources with me. Thanks to the other participants, I got perspectives from different regions, cultures, religions, and historical backgrounds about history, present and the future perspectives of Europe. During the AABS Member Meeting, I learnt about other conferences and opportunities where I can take part. I heard that my supervisor had a nomination for his book that motivates me to work hard on my research to be able to publish my own book one day.
I want to express my gratitude to the conference organizers who provided coffee breaks, lunches and dinners which saved both time and finances for speakers who needed to search for other options outside the university. I am also very grateful for the receptions, where the participants of the conference were able to discuss their research in a freer atmosphere and even to the dedicated rooms where the participants of the conference could get to know each other while playing board games.
Thanks to the care of the sponsors, the conference organizers, the hotel and the university staff, this was one of the best conferences I have attended in recent years.
Marta Starostina is a PhD student in History at the University of Birmingham. Her research areas are tourism, Soviet and Baltic regional history. Her work explores the role of “Intourist” as an ideological, political, and economic institution in the Baltics.
Paper title: “The Latvian Lost Cause: Former Latvian Legionnaires and Postwar Narratives”
I was delighted to return to an AABS conference this year in Seattle, after the pandemic forced a cancelation of the planned 2020 conference. Though I had attended CBSE in Uppsala in 2021, there were still many colleagues that I had not seen since the AABS 2018 conference at Stanford University. My presentation was “The Latvian Lost Cause: Former Latvian Legionnaires and Postwar Narratives,” which proposed a new conceptual framework for approaching this sensitive and politically charged historical issue. I was fortunate to have a large audience present at the panel, which included experts on issues of history and memory as they relate to World War II in Latvia and thereby received some productive feedback on my approach.
Additionally, by attending AABS 2022, I was able to join for a roundtable discussion of the new book, Defining Latvia: Recent Explorations in History, Culture, and Politics, to which I have contributed a chapter. Together with another contributor and two of the three editors of the book, we were joined by a substantial audience that consisted largely of academics from Latvia, who stimulated a robust discussion. Beyond having the chance to share my research and that recent publication with a public audience, I enjoyed the chance to hear from and engage with colleagues in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from panels and roundtables to breakfasts and evening social events.
I am deeply grateful to AABS for the Travel Grant, which enabled me to attend the conference this year. I am an early career scholar, having completed my Ph.D. in 2020. However, as I have spent this year as a visiting faculty member, transitioning over the summer from one appointment to another, I currently lack access to the kind of conference travel grants that would be available to me as a permanent faculty member at my institution. By supporting early career scholars in contingent positions like myself, AABS is ensuring that junior scholars in Baltic Studies are welcomed and able to fully participate in this important scholarly gathering.
Harry Merritt will be a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Brown University for the 2022-23 academic year. He is a historian of modern Europe, with current research focusing on Latvian national formations in World War II and their legacies. Harry earned a Ph.D. in History from Brown University in 2020.
Paper title: “Nurturing democracy in the Baltic States: democratization patterns into new reality”
The paper, presented in AABS conference in Seattle was based on the research conducted under the AABS Emerging Scholars Grant [received in] 2020. Thus it was pleasure to present the findings and discuss the accomplishments in more details with the community which supported me in the first place. Having the occasion I once again express my gratitude to AABS for the support and trust in me! Not only because of material support but also because of this amazing feeling – every time coming to AABS conference feels like coming back home and meeting long non seen relatives. This sense of belonging and close community ties have a spiral effect on the performances of the attendees – it gives extra motivation to prepare oneself for the conference with extra effort. I believe it is not accidental that the level of the discussions is high and insights are productive and leaving conceptual imprint.
Just to give an example, I managed to submit an extended and slightly revised version of my presentation for the special issue titled ‘Adapting to Survive or Thrive: Civil Society, the Third Sector and Social Movements in ‘Post-Socialist’ Spaces’ in Voluntary Sector Review. I don’t believe I could have done this without the support (financial as well as conceptual and moral) of the AABS.
I am very happy the panel of my presentation attracted enough people even though the competition was quite fierce (at the same time 7 different panels took place). It felt that 1,5 hour evaporated over few minutes. Nevertheless, there were time for Q/A’s and brief discussion. Different backgrounds of the participants as well as variety of themes creates a specific discussion atmosphere, fostering to think about your findings in both – broader and more deeper contexts. It is not easy, I can tell, but very rewarding. Presentations, discussions and key panels fuels academic tank sufficiently, enough to keep on going enthusiastically for a whole year, and then, I hope, we’ll meet again, this time in Vytautas Magnus university, Kaunas, Lithuania.
Dainius Genys presenting his research at AABS 2022 in Seattle
Dainius Genys PhD is a sociologist at Vytautas Magnus University (Kaunas, Lithuania), focusing on civil society issues (dissertation – “The Boundaries of Lithuanian Civil Society and Conflicts for it”). Currently he works at Andrei Sakharov Research Center for Democratic Development. Lately he has been dedicated to the analysis of the interaction between social capital and dynamics of emotional state of society, especially in the context of Lithuanian emigration. His research interests include democratization processes, migration and energy security research.
Paper title: “Sports and the Shaping of Lithuanian Diaspora (1945-1990)“
With a growing sense of indebtedness, I once again want to express my gratitude to the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies and its Student Travel Grant for enabling my participation (it covered my airfare, registration fee, travel insurance, local transportation expenses) in the AABS 2022 conference in Seattle, in a fabulous campus of the University of Washington. I would also want to thank the organizers who had done a tremendous job in making this conference a success.
I was happy to have a chance to learn about the new research conducted within the field. Besides of presenting my paper, I also had an honor to chair a very interesting panel on Baltic diasporas. In addition to that, a couple of presentations on the projects of cultural autonomy in Estonia and the one about the British and French diplomats’ considerations about the destiny of Klaipėda after the WWI are among the first ones coming to my mind when I am writing my report a month after the conference. I also enjoyed the plenary sessions that included assessments of the painful developments in Ukraine (“Russian-Ukrainian War”) and introduced the Asian dimension (“Baltic States and Taiwan at a Crossroads”) into the conference. Not only the recent diplomatic developments are rendering this mutual exchange valuable. I would argue that the experience and history of Baltic diasporas’ mobilization could provide an interesting example to study for Asian scholars and activists from Taiwan and Hong Kong in considering the role that their expatriate communities may have as a Homeland-changing agents in difficult circumstances.
In my own presentation I tried to reveal the role that sports had in forming/shaping diasporic ties within the “Lithuanian world”. I argued that, although with some (especially geographic) limitations, sports provided an organizational structure (clubs, associations) and events for maintaining solidarity among the Lithuanians living in different countries. In addition to competing athletically and strengthening their transnational ties, participants of these events were introduced to some of the elements of the ethnic culture, acquired information about the community organization. While participating in games and belonging to voluntary associations, Lithuanians in diaspora were also confirming their loyalty to Lithuania and the commitment to their homeland’s struggle for independence.
I was delighted with the opportunity to see my friends and colleagues from the AABS and enjoyed having an chance to socialize during the coffee breaks and receptions. We even found a dive bar in which Latvian students spent many evenings singing back in 1950s and 1960s. Although without singing and only for couple of evenings, the Blue Moon Tavern again became a space of socialization for the Balts.
Egidijus Balandis presenting his research at AABS 2022 in Seattle
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.
Paper title: “Otto Bauer and Estonia’s Cultural Autonomy: Trajectory of an Idea”
The 2022 AABS travel grant was immensely helpful to my travels from the UK to attend the AABS conference. It enabled me to present at my first in-person academic conference. The topic, Otto Bauer’s influence on interwar Estonia, was one I came across while researching for my PhD dissertation. I am writing about the Russophone community’s contribution to 1990s Estonian politics, and discussions about minority rights referred back to the 1925 Law on Cultural Autonomy. As Bauer influenced this law greatly, it behoved me to learn more about the former Austrian foreign minister and his ideas on nationality. Since few English-language sources existed apart from translations of Bauer’s work, I relied on digitized Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) minutes and pamphlets from the interwar period to identify and track Bauer’s thought in action.
The conference enabled me to meet Baltic minority rights scholars, especially those from the University of Tartu. I spent six months there as a visiting research fellow, making Seattle a reunion of sorts. As I have only reached Europe last year to conduct my research in the field, I was excited to see people in my field outside of North America – the scholars from Tartu, Szczecin, Vilnius and countless other universities offered new analyses and source suggestions. As a result of my conversation with professors at the conference, I hope to turn my presentation into a per-reviewed publication. My dissertation is interdisciplinary so hearing from anthropologists, historians, and political scientists made me pause and reflect on how I approached my sources. Meeting several people also researching minority politics in the Baltic region proved helpful as we discussed newer developments in the field such as the National Cultural Autonomy Project at the University of Vienna.
Professionally, observing conference panellists gave me ideas for how to employ data and incorporate visuals into my future presentations. Also, the panel on careers also enabled me to better understand the differences between UK, European and US academia as well as begin preparing for the upcoming job search. Talking to people who have experienced the PhD process and are now ensconced in the working world proved useful in understanding the process’ details. Meeting people in their postdoctoral programs and think-tank research also gave me inspiration for my immediate career plans.
I am grateful for the opportunities provided by the AABS. Having begun my doctoral studies just as the COVID-19 pandemic began, it was wonderful to interact with colleagues in the field and learn from others’ memories and experiences. I hope to attend future AABS conferences and continue the AABS’ tradition of expanding knowledge about the Baltic States.
Samuel Kramer presenting his research at AABS 2022 in Seattle
Samuel Kramer is a PhD candidate at the University of St. Andrews. He has a Bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a Master of Arts from Georgetown University’s Center for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies. He specialises in minority rights in the post-Soviet space and their intersection with the democratisation process.
Paper title: “Lithuanian Americans’ Final Contribution to the Recognition of Lithuania by the United States on July 28, 1922”
I am grateful for the possibility of attending the AABS conference in Seattle in May 2022. As always, it was perfectly prepared in terms of content and organization, and it offered wide and diverse thematic issues. Thanks to the AABS travel grant awarded for the conference in Seattle, I had the opportunity to present my paper entitled ‘Lithuanian Americans’ Final Contribution to the Recognition of Lithuania by the United States on July 28, 1922’. I attended the AABS conference for the third time, and I can truly say that it is a great forum where I can present the topics related to my PhD thesis under preparation, entitled ‘The Role of Lithuanian Americans in Support of Independent Lithuania (1918-1922)’.
The AABS conference in Seattle gave me the chance to meet the conference participants who are familiar with or dealing with the topic related to my doctoral dissertation. Thanks to this, we could supplement our knowledge in the field of our interests. I have made friends with some of the conference attendees, which will certainly result in the future exchange of our ideas and scientific development.
In these troubled times, especially in the region of Central and Eastern Europe, we should especially remember how much effort the immigrants from the Baltic countries, like Lithuanian Americans, had to make in the past to have their country of origin formally recognized by the foreign countries like the United States.
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.