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: “Using Skype in qualitative interview: Pros and Cons”
AABS event In Seattle was a great success. From the greeting ladies – Deborah and Sandy – to the last night’s show presenter- Heather – we felt welcomed and embraced. I met Heather in both AABS’ Chicago and Stanford conferences – her energy, passion and dedication to the Baltic folklore is simply breath-taking. The ladies are the true jewels in the University of Washington crown.
What a huge success the conference has been, and I cannot thank organizers enough for the academic and cultural spectacle they have created. The dedication of the board, volunteers, donors, and sponsors involved – is highly commendable.
Socialisation and networking were very important features of the conference. Apart from meeting old fellows, such as Ruta and Darius Furmonavicius from Nottingham (prominent Lithuanian community leaders in the UK), and their best friend, an incredibly talented and industrious writer – Violeta Kelertas, I met many fellow Lithuanian scholars. One to mention Zydrone Kolevinskiene form the institute of Lithuanian Literature and folklore. One may think what my field of Sociology has to do with the Linguistics? One answer could be that the topic of importance of language for one’s identity in migration could be further explored in a future collaborative study. While informally chatting with Zydrone I learned about an online program her university offers to the ones who wish to study Lithuanian language and culture online. I have a personal interest in using this program for my (only English speaking) children. Without the opportunity to come to AABS conference – I might never have met Zydrone who may (hopefully) help my teenage children discover their Lithuanian roots.
Networking – new ideas of cooperation. Without this trip – I would have not have met Laima Jureviciene – consul general of the Republic of Lithuania in Los Angeles. Laima is an inspiring individual and highly dedicated professional. Although, due to Covid, I could not meet Laima in Los Angeles, I am looking forward to meeting Laima in the future where I hope to discuss opportunities to carry on research on Lithuanian community in California (on migration and family relationships). The comparative study – UK vs USA – was always on my list, but I needed a little push and encouragement to start working on it. With the opportunity to come to Seattle and meet all those exciting academics and professional people – opened many doors for future collaboration.
There are many highlights of the conference. Just to mention a few: Milda Alisauskiene and her presentation on freedom of religion and equality of religions in the catholic majority society opened my eyes. It made me hungry to learn more about the issues surrounding Romuva’s case in Lithuania. My academic brain was also extended by trying to understand the concept of Progress in the Baltic states. Thanks to Vilius Mockinis – I have a much clearer idea what does the concept of Progress means for each Baltic nation. Plenary on Taiwan and Lithuania was incredibly interesting. Last, but not least – meeting professor Joseph Ellis was a true cherry on the cake. It was lovely to put a face to the name, addressed and communicating so often before Charlote’s conference. It was inspiring to listen to his stories about current affairs – Baltic studies teaching and learning workshop at Wingate university/ in North Carolina, as well as to learn his path to AABS while having no roots with the Balts.
My presentation. It was great, not because I was incredibly passionate about qualitative research and could preach about it at any opportunity, but because I have met my panel colleagues from Estonia and Latvia. It was an eye opener to learn about Latvian Roma by Ieva Garda- Rozenberga; the role of Estonian place – lore research in environmental discussion, by Lona Pall, and the role of black cows in diminishing Latvian identity so beautifully presented by Anna Zavicka.
As for my presentation, it was lovely to learn that the participants were interested in using online tools in collecting their data. Skype was my tool, and I argued for its benefits while acknowledging its shortcomings. It was a very very good session. I could not have been happier with its reception and content. Looking forward to staying in touch with the fellow speakers and the attendees of our session.
Seattle and University of Washington. What a beautiful experience to be able to visit both. I had enormous pleasure to go up the Space needle and watch the city from the sky. But most importantly, I had enjoyed wandering through campus, visiting the university library, beautiful historical buildings, and simply getting lost in academic history one could feel/sense from every corner of the university. What a privilege t was to be there, and what a way to lift one’s academic wings! Cannot thank AABS enough for the opportunity.
Cultural programme – North folk festival. What a beautiful way to conclude the event. Estonian and Lithuanian folk performances took the roof off. It was wonderful to watch folk music and performance having such an endearing effect on the audience. So far away from the homeland – the performers are true ambassadors of the Baltic culture.
Accomodation -the Graduate hotel. What a place to live, celebrate and socialise. Staff were welcoming and helpful in every way. Lots of thought was put into organising games’ room, evening receptions, and morning plenaries. My best photos were taken in that extraordinary place. So, once again, the whole conference was a huge success, and without the travel grant from AABS I would not have been able to experience such an academic feast.
AABS, cannot thank you enough for the travel grant, and opportunity to take part in the conference, be inspired (on personal and professional levels), and recharge my academic batteries once again.
P.S. The day we left – my 17-year-old son Lukas said – “Mummy, can I study here”? (Ups, let me go home and check if we can re-mortgage the house : ))
AABS, thank you for the inspiration and aspirations of studying Baltic culture.
Ausrine Bremner presenting her research at AABS 2022 in Seattle
Ausrine Bremner has received her PhD in Social sciences From De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. Her research was on Lithuanian migration experiences in the UK and its effect on family relationships. At the moment Ausrine is teaching sociology and runs a Research hub at Brooke House College in Market Harborough, UK. Her main interest remains migration to the UK and its effect on international students and their families. Along with teaching and supervising students, Ausrine is working on her own research – “10 years on” by looking at the case studies of her initial PhD research on Lithuanian family relationships effected by migration to the UK. She is revisiting stories of her primary respondents and analysing their lives since their first interviews 10 years ago.
Eve Puodžiūnaitė Wicks
Paper title: “From Silence to Voice: Writing Compelling History through Recuperating the Exile’s Voice, Historical Photographs and Photographic Image-Making”
My paper was presented at the session, ‘Writing and Reflecting Trauma: Gulag, Deportations and Exile’, Sat, May 28, 8:45 to 10:15am. ‘From Silence to Voice: Writing Compelling History through Recuperating the Exile’s Voice, Historical Photographs and Photographic Image-Making’, addressed the trauma of Lithuanian immigrants to Australia in the aftermath of World War Two: associated with the Soviet Union’s long occupation of Lithuania, and Australia’s discriminatory policies. It concerns a timeframe from the first Soviet annexation of Lithuania in 1940 to return visiting around when independence was regained. It argues that the history of the Lithuanians in Queensland had been silenced, unrecognised and unrecorded. The study’s deep community engagement included extended oral history interviewing capturing people’s memories, photography, community-based activities, an exhibition, and archival and cultural research. Research-led creative practice created a bi-lingual, innovative, expressive, multimodal art book that brings forth a polyphony of compelling voices, overcoming the immigrants’ disenfranchisement and the silences of the past. It is undertaken through an interweaving of creative practice techniques concerning orality, the photograph, poetry, song and the written word. It honours the immigrants’ attempts to acquire the English language and gives voice to their own cultural expression, accomplished through an assemblage of their oral histories woven through the author’s expressive, reflective text, and as discrete poetic fragments. It is achieved through a multimodal text of nine themed chapters, with notes, which comprise discrete text and curated historical and original photographic essays. Voices are given prominence through a design that emphasises words in oral history quotations in text essays, and words in poetic fragments in photographic essays. Voices in words of songs and poems reflecting rich oral traditions are presented embedded in text-‘embroidered’ Lithuanian linen imagery. The two double-page spreads per chapter separate text and photographic essays, thus allowing the reader moments to pause and reflect, and to be enriched by the presentation of voice in poetic form.
Very little is known in Australia about the Baltic states, and Soviet oppression during and post-WWII. However, since the Soviet invasion of the Ukraine and its threats toward other countries, there has been considerable interest expressed by many Australians wanting to understand eastern European history, including the history of the Baltic states. Attendances have increased at history talks at public gatherings such as in libraries, clubs and communities. It has become an opportunity to engage in public education.
I became aware during this and other AABS conference Q&A sessions that many attendees had relatives who had been deported, and they maintained interest in this issue. Some expressed anxiety, lacking information about their relative’s fate, and were still searching for answers. I discovered a connection to Meelis Saueauk’s research concerning the Soviet’s operation ‘Priboy’, 25-28 March 1949, through a farming family’s deportation from Lithuania, 25 March 1949, recorded in my book’s chapter, ‘Absent Faces’. I now appreciate the scope of this largest deportation operation, post-WWII, and its significance in removing nationalists, farming families and pro-independence Lithuanians and supporters of Lithuania’s armed resistance. Svaja Vansauskas Worthington’s continuing research and communication concerning Stasys Šilingas’ letters written while her grandfather endured long imprisonment in exile revealed the richness and preciousness of deportees’ experiences held in first-hand accounts.
Eve Puodžiūnaitė Wicks
Eve Puodžiūnaitė Wicks, Ph.D, is a photographic artist and oral and archival historian, her oral history research-led creative arts practice intersecting history, photography and writing. Her book, Saulėje ir šešėlyje. In Sunshine and Shadow, is the Winner of the Inaugural Book Award of the International Oral History Association, 2021. The study is the innovative creative component of Wicks’ Doctoral Dissertation, undertaken in Humanities at Griffith University, Brisbane, the Ph.D awarded in creative writing as an interdisciplinary scholar in history and fine art photography. Her research also situates the significance of marginalised Lithuanians’ experience of silencing and cultural isolation, through an exploration and critical application of Orientalism and Whiteness to the context of Lithuanian displacement and resettlement in Queensland.
Paper title: “The Power of Small Concepts during Perestroika: ‘Self-management’ in Soviet Estonia in 1987-1989”
The AABS Travel Grant enabled me to participate in the conference that I was looking forward to for a long time. Since Charlotte 2020 was cancelled, it was a pleasure to meet old colleagues and find new ones. Our panel in Seattle („Self-Determination in Baltics“) introduced the research we do at the University of Tartu, which is the intellectual history of „self-determination“ from a historical perspective. Our research group (led by Dr Eva Piirimäe) trace political languages from the Enlightenment era to the end of the Cold War, to see how the multiple versions of „self-determination“ were conceptualised and developed by different agents (see more on the project here: https://sisu.ut.ee/selfdetermination/about). My presentation at the conference dealt with the Baltic revolutions in 1988, focusing on the project of the economically „self-manageable“ Estonian SSR (in Est. Isemajandav Eesti), which can be seen as a quest for economic self-determination from a Soviet republic. I show in my work how this economic term become an important political concept during 1987–88. Originally used as a term in economic accounting in an individual enterprise (1941–1987), isemajandamine (translated from Russian as khozraschet) started to be used in 1987 by a group of Estonian social scientists to signify the economic independence of a Soviet republic within the Soviet Union. This radical redescription of the concept had a great resonance in Latvia and Lithuania as well, and soon all three Baltic republics officially demanded the status of being “economically self-managing” republics within the federation.
This exceptional case encourages us to rethink, “what do we mean by engaging in politics with the help of concepts”? In traditional conceptual history school, Reinhart Koselleck has defined a basic concept (Grundbegriff) as an “inescapable, irreplaceable part of the political and social vocabulary.” However, I argue that we should analyze 1987–88 as a period of “temporary and replaceable” concepts. I stress that there are moments in history where big traditional key concepts have no discursive resonance, whereas small and temporarily constructed concepts (like isemajandamine) can move to the centre of the political language. The small concepts can play a central role during a particular period and focusing on them (rather than on basic concepts) enriches our understanding of the various conceptual situations in history. Thus, my presentation highlighted the role of small concepts in mobilizing different political actors and serving as catalysts for national self-determination. It offers us a new perspective on how to study the Baltic independence movements, as well as the reasons behind the Soviet Union`s disintegration process.
As I`m currently writing a book manuscript on the same topic, it was very useful to experience book presentation panels at the conference (especially Una Bergmane`s The Politics of Uncertainty: the US, the Baltic Question and the Collapse of the USSR). I am very thankful to the AABS for the possibility to participate in the conference and contribute to the Baltic studies on a global scale.
Juhan Saharov is as a Research Fellow in Political Theory at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies (University of Tartu), where he is a member of the research group “Self-Determination of Peoples in Historical Perspective.” His research topics are the conceptual history of reform socialism in East Central Europe (focusing on “self-” concepts), the role of experts and scientists in the political change during the late Cold War period, and the global history of economic self-determination. His PhD dissertation focused on the concepts of “self-management” and “sovereignty” during the perestroika period and on their role in the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Paper title: “Estonian State Propaganda Bureau and historical memory in the Silent Era (1934–1940)“
I am thankful to the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies for awarding me the AABS Travel Grant, which supported the attendance of my first in-person conference in Seattle, United States since starting my PhD in 2021. I was surprised to find a curious audience for my research and was most thankful for the overall experience. The feedback from the audience after my presentation was really positive, and their comments and questions inspired me to consider exploring some new paths in my research. Many other sessions I attended were also very informative, academic and helpful in light of my own research topic.
My presentation examined the Estonian State Propaganda Bureau and its influence on the Estonians’ historical memory in the Era of Silence (1934–1940) from the perspective of memory studies. I analysed various media of cultural memory used by the Bureau with the aim of consolidating the Estonian civic and cultural identity, and legitimising the new regime. The Bureau often used history as a tool for nationalist propaganda and emphasised the remembrance of such historical events that reinforced unity among the masses. The Estonians’ cultural memory was highly susceptible to the Bureau’s various influences and strategies, and thus the realms of memory of the 1930s continue to be canonical in the Estonian cultural memory to this day.
The Grant also allowed me to meet new people and other PhD students in the field of Baltic Studies, which enriched my knowledge on other researchers’ work in the field. Having a chance to finally meet so many of the scholars, whose work I have admired for many years already, in person, was probably the most memorable part of the conference for me. Being part of captivating discussions and debates will undoubtedly improve the quality of my own research. I have already had a chance to reunite with some scholars and historians I met in Seattle at home in Tallinn, Estonia. Some of these new connections have already led to future collaborations which we will hopefully have a chance to present in future AABS conferences.
I am most grateful to the organisers of the AABS conference for supporting my attendance, which I will always cherish and remember as one of the early significant steps that kicked off my academic career.
Marju Meschin is a PhD student in History at Tallinn University. Her research focuses on Baltic state propaganda agencies and their influence on identity politics, nationalism and Baltic historical memory in the 1930s. Meschin analyses various campaigns, performative practices and media of cultural memory from the perspective of memory studies that made certain politically favoured conceptions of the past and realms of memory prevalent in the collective memory during the authoritarian rule.
Roundtable title: “Reflecting on Thirty Years of Baltic Independence”
The 2022 Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies annual conference in Seattle, Washington, was an excellent experience for me as a PhD candidate about to finish my degree. As this was the final conference I will attend before completing and defending my dissertation, it allowed me to speak about my research and meet with other scholars in a diverse range of fields. Most of the conferences I attend are defined based on discipline or field of study, so there are fewer interdisciplinary conversations to be had. However, the AABS conference’s interdisciplinary nature is highly valuable and has helped me think about Baltic Studies in general from various disciplinary vantage points.
While I was not presenting a paper in a traditional sense at the conference, I participated on a roundtable entitled “Reflecting on Thirty Years of Baltic Independence” on Friday the 27th of May. During my brief remarks, I discussed the current state of LGBT rights in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and in particular new developments about partnership legislation that has been proposed in the Latvian Saeima and Lithuanian Seimas in the past two years. I am proud to have been included, given that I was the only graduate student presenting on the roundtable.
I also attended several panel sessions, most of which focused on culture and literature in the Baltic States. It was humbling (and slighting intimidating) to see so many academics who I look up to and regularly cite in person! The diversity of material covered gave me plenty of food for thought and even more articles and books to add to my reading list.
Furthermore, I attended the graduate student luncheon where academic careers were discussed by a panel of academics in different stages of their careers. The panel was highly informative, giving me a better perspective on the job markets in the United States and Europe. Hearing the experiences of other academics has given me a number of valuable insights into how I can push my own academic career forward.
Finally, I was able to network with a number of graduate students and academics at the conference. I am continually impressed by the depth and breadth of work in Baltic Studies and am happy to consider myself a member of this intellectual community.
In closing, I want to sincerely thank the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies for the conference travel grant that I was awarded. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to present my own work and to attend numerous informative and exciting panels throughout the conference. I look forward to attending the next CBSE conference in 2023 and AABS in 2024.
Clinton Glenn is a PhD candidate in Communication Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. His dissertation research examines the material urban fabric of the three Baltic capitals, Tallinn (Estonia), Rīga (Latvia), and Vilnius (Lithuania), through an exploration of LGBT pride marches under the banner of Baltic Pride. His work has been featured in esse: art + opinions, Synoptique: An Online Journal of Film and Moving Image Studies, Lambda Nordica, Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian, and Central European New Media, and SQS: The Journal of Finnish Queer Studies, has published a book chapter in the edited volume LGBTQ+ Activism in Central and Eastern Europe: Resistance, Representation and Identity (editors Radzhana Buyantueva and Maryna Shevtsova), and has a forthcoming monograph on the infamous 1980 West German film Taxi zum Klo (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2023).
Paper title: “The endangered Latvian: nationalist romantic (im)policies of aging in contemporary Latvia”
The AABS 2022 student and early career scholar travel grant allowed me to take part in the 28th Biennial AABS Conference “Baltic Studies at a Crossroads”. At the conference, I presented my paper “The endangered Latvian: nationalist romantic (im)policies of aging in contemporary Latvia” which is a part of my dissertation research based on long-term ethnographic research in a rural nursing home in Latvia. In this paper, I offer to look at the challenges of the aging population from the perspective of lives that emerge and continue in emptying rural areas, in which nursing homes often become important anchors of social and economic relations and thus offer us a more productive way out of the romanticized conundrum of Latvians on the verge of extinction.
Thanks to the travel grant, I had a rare opportunity to present my work amongst the Baltic scholars and thus receive invaluable feedback and comments from people that study the region. However, apart from presenting my work, especially valuable was to hear and participate in presentations and discussions on a variety of topics that cover history, current politics, policies, and ongoing research projects in the Baltics. Not only that stimulated me to think more thoroughly about the positioning of my research but offered an opportunity to engage with broader and multifaceted understandings and approaches to the current complexities of the local and global events playing out in Latvia. Participation at the AABS 2022 offered an opportunity to learn about the research projects by colleagues from related science disciplines. I am also especially grateful for the opportunity to meet scholars and be part of the intellectual community. Formal and informal discussions and presentations of one’s work are especially valuable for developing stronger research outcomes because they provide not only the needed critique but also can stimulate unforeseen insights of and approaches to my research data and the scientific literature. Participation at the AABS 2020 conference “Baltic Studies at a Crossroads” helped strengthen my scientific profile and the visibility of my research activities and thus has the potential to start very important collaborative relationships in Europe and the United States thus advancing my future academic career prospects.
I would like to highlight that this year, the AABS engaged in discussions about not only the Baltic States but also our dear neighbor – Ukraine. It was crucial and invaluable to take part in panels, discussions, and informal conversations about ongoing Russia’s war against Ukraine and its impact also on the Baltics. I especially valued insights and perspectives from anthropologists, historians, and political scientists who work in Ukraine or the Baltics.
Anna Žabicka is a Ph.D. student at the University of Vienna, Austria and in her dissertation project, she investigates care and aging in a small rural nursing home and its surrounding area as a relational practice and a resource for social reproduction in rural Latvia. Anna holds a master’s degree in social and cultural anthropology from the Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA (2019) and from the Riga Stradiņš University, Riga, Latvia (2014). She is a guest lecturer at the Riga Stradiņš University and teaches courses in medical anthropology, anthropology of death, and kinship studies.