2024 Conference Travel Grantees Share Their Stories

Jun 30, 2024

The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies is pleased share stories and experiences from its 2024 travel grant recipients who attended the 29th Biennial Conference on Baltic Studies (June 13-16, 2024, New Haven, Connecticut).

AABS awarded a record number of conference travel grants in 2024; 80 grants were offered, and over 70 were ultimately awarded. Recipients represented the wide breadth of disciplines, institutions, and interests that make Baltic Studies what it is. Their contributions to the conference were critical, and in their hands, the future of Baltic Studies is bright.

For ease of navigation, grantees appear in alphabetical order by first name. More reports will be added as they are received.

Anna Herran: "The celebrations of Konstantin Päts’ 65th birthday in Estonian newspapers, 1939"

I am sincerely grateful to have been awarded a travel grant to support my participation at my first-ever AABS conference. As a newcomer to the field of Baltic Studies, I was not only introduced to a diverse community of scholars but also to the vast and rich landscape of Baltic Studies. At AABS 2024 in New Haven, I had the privilege to meet historians who are also working on the interwar period, but also memory studies scholars, archivists, librarians, political scientists, ethnographers, and passionate translators championing Baltic literatures in their respective languages. I even had the chance to meet scholars I have cited in a side project on the integration of Petserimaa into interwar Estonia. One of them kindly shared very helpful information on a specific collection I will be consulting during my upcoming research trip to Estonia. Moreover, as the only graduate student in my department working on a topic related to Baltic Studies, I particularly appreciated the opportunity to meet with current graduate students and recent graduates working in the region and to learn from their experiences. 

Presenting a paper based on my preliminary archival research to an audience of experts and established scholars seemed daunting initially. However, the feedback and support I received after my presentation were extremely valuable and made me feel like I had officially become part of the Baltic Studies community. None of this would have been possible without the support of the AABS through their travel grant. These experiences will continue to inspire me as I pursue the research for my PhD dissertation.

A woman presents an academic paper with a power point

Anna Herran is a second-year PhD student in history at the University of Toronto. Her current research, from which part of the material for her AABS 2024 presentation is drawn, compares first experiences of statehood during the interwar period, their role in collective memory, and the celebration of related national holidays in Estonia and Czechoslovakia up to the 2018 centenary.

Elīna Vikmane: "The unfolding consequences of digital inequality in the cultural heritage field: Diffusion of digital innovation in Latvia's museum sector"

I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS) for awarding me the travel grant that enabled my participation in the recent conference at Yale University. This grant provided me with the invaluable opportunity to experience the esteemed academic environment of Yale, engage with researchers in the field of memory studies, and present my PhD thesis to a broader academic audience.

During the session “Transformations and Challenges in Memory Institutions: Navigating Museums and Archives in the 21st century” I presented the study on the diffusion of digital innovations in the museum sector, focusing on the institutional aspects against the backdrop of the digital divide, and on the attitudes and experiences of museums in fulfilling their three core functions, all in an attempt to broaden the definition outlining the scope of cybermuseology as a research field. Digital technologies are overwhelmingly perceived as significant and very significant in museum work. The more innovative museums are more likely to set out their ambitions in strategic documents and are twice as likely to identify staff who are champions of new digital technologies. The analysis suggests a link between the adoption of digital innovation and total museum income, particularly in relation to diversity of income resources. However, funding alone is not the determining factor. The structure of museum staff is an important element, with a combination of staff under 30 and more experienced staff over retirement age proving to be a successful combination for the diffusion of digital innovation. The study also revealed significant differences between the most digitally innovative museums and their least innovative counterparts in the context of the usage gap and gender inequality, with the majority of museum staff being female, associated with lower earnings in Latvia.

Besides the opportunity to present my study, the conference also facilitated much appreciated networking with fellow scholars and professionals dedicated to memory studies and related disciplines. These interactions have not only broadened my academic network but have also initiated potential collaborative endeavors, which I am keen to pursue further. For instance, I have received an invitation to present my research to colleagues in Estonia. Alongside another conference participant – researcher Aya Kimura from Obihiro University, I am exploring the possibility of co-authoring an article, as we both examine digitalization processes in museums. Additionally, I have been in contact with a developer at the Digital Humanities Lab to discuss future collaborations and would be delighted to explore the fellowship opportunities.

The experience has been truly wonderful, providing both professional growth and personal inspiration. Once again, I deeply appreciate AABS’s support in making it possible. Thank you for your continued commitment to advancing Baltic Studies and supporting emerging scholars in the field.

A woman presents an academic paper

Elīna Vikmane, PhD, is a Latvian researcher at the LAC Institute of Arts and Cultural Studies and the director of the master’s program “Cultural Heritage Governance and Communication” at the Latvian Academy of Culture. Her research interests primarily focus on digital heritage and museum studies.

Fred Gregor Rahuoja: "An Estonian Anti-Immigrant Pejorative in Three Time Periods: Slur or Non-Slur Pejorative?"

Conference Participation

With the generous support of the Student Travel Grant, I had the invaluable opportunity to attend and present my research at the 2024 AABS conference held at Yale University. This conference provided an exceptional platform for scholarly exchange, networking, and professional growth within my field.

Networking and Community Building

The conference facilitated numerous meaningful connections with fellow researchers working in my area of study as well as related disciplines. The coffee breaks and receptions were particularly conducive to fostering these interactions, allowing me to engage with colleagues I had previously only known virtually. These informal settings played a vital role in strengthening existing collaborations and cultivating new ones, further enriching the tight-knit community within our niche field.

Academic Program and Presentation

The panel discussions and presentations were intellectually stimulating, covering a diverse range of topics at the forefront of Baltic Studies. I was honored to deliver my own presentation and receive insightful feedback from attendees, which has bolstered my confidence in pursuing this line of research. The ability to actively participate in these academic exchanges was made possible by the travel grant support.

Professional Development Impact

Attending the AABS conference has significantly contributed to my professional development. In addition to the invaluable networking opportunities, I gained exposure to cutting-edge research, emerging trends, and interdisciplinary perspectives within my field. 


I am immensely grateful to the grant committee for their support, which enabled my participation in this premier academic event. The AABS conference proved to be an enriching experience, facilitating scholarly discourse, fostering collaborations, and advancing my professional growth as a researcher in Baltic Studies.

A man delivers a powerpoint presentation

Fred Gregor Rahuoja will continue his research of information manipulation and linguistic resistance in the Master’s program of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington. Until then, he studied software analysis and development at kood/Jõhvi in Estonia and formalized his research on the Estonian slur “tibla” into an academic article.

Inese Abolina: "Stockpiling Governance in the Baltic States: An Institutionalist Perspective on Regional Security Development"

The travel grant provided invaluable support for my participation in the AABS 2024 Conference at Yale University, where I presented my research titled “Stockpiling Governance in the Baltic States: An Institutionalist Perspective on Regional Security Development.” This funding facilitated a highly productive conference experience, enabling me to fully engage with the academic community and significantly enhance my professional development.

My research focuses on the institutional frameworks and practices influencing stockpiling governance in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. During my presentation, I explored how these frameworks impact the effectiveness of stockpiling strategies and their role in regional security and resilience. This topic is particularly pertinent given the current geopolitical climate influenced by the war in Ukraine. The presentation sparked stimulating discussions, allowing me to engage with experts who provided valuable feedback and offered new insights, which are crucial for the future direction of my research.

Beyond my presentation, the conference offered a plethora of enriching experiences. The keynote speeches and panel discussions were particularly impactful, providing a broader perspective on the latest developments and challenges in regional security and institutional theory. These sessions deepened my understanding of the field and enhanced the quality of my research.

Networking opportunities were another significant aspect of the conference. I had the chance to connect with fellow researchers and practitioners from various institutions, fostering collaborations that could lead to joint research projects and publications. The informal discussions during coffee breaks and social events were equally valuable, allowing for the exchange of ideas and experiences in a more relaxed setting. These interactions have the potential to evolve into long-term professional relationships.

I am deeply grateful for the travel grant support, which significantly contributed to my growth as a researcher and expanded my professional network. This experience will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on my future work and collaborations, providing me with the knowledge and connections necessary to advance in my field.

A woman in a light suit presents an academic paper

Dr. Inese Abolina is Associate Professor and Lead Researcher at the University of Latvia, Faculty of Business, Management and Economics. Her areas of expertise are public administration, policy making, policy coordination, and political Leadership. Abolina graduated from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Latvia and holds a PhD in political science, public administration. She is a seasoned policy making and coordination expert, as well as business development and public-sector relations professional with 25+ years of experience.

Jonathan Pritzlaff: "Challenges and solution approaches regarding the Rail Baltica project"

The travel grant issued to me by the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies played a crucial role in facilitating my participation in the 29th Biennial AABS Conference, co-hosted by Yale University and the University of New Haven. It allowed me to participate in the conference and present my research titled “Challenges and Solution Approaches Regarding the Rail Baltica Project” during the panel session “Twenty Years of Membership in the EU: Economic Developments in the Baltic States.” This opportunity allowed me to share my findings on the strategic infrastructure project Rail Baltica, particularly how it will contribute to overcoming the lack of interoperability between the railway infrastructures of the Baltic States and Central Europe, and how it will enhance the Baltic States’ civil and military connectivity with the rest of the European Union.

The AABS Graduate Student Luncheon was one of my highlights of the conference. This event offered an informal setting to network with fellow graduate students and researchers, especially from the Baltic States. The exchange of ideas and experiences during the luncheon was incredibly enriching, fostering potential future collaborations and broadening my academic network. Conversations ranged from shared research interests to discussions on current issues facing the Baltic region, providing a comprehensive understanding of the diverse scholarly work being conducted.

Attending the plenary session titled “Baltic Ambassadors to the United States: The Baltic Way in the 21st Century” was another highlight of the conference. The session featured insightful speeches by the ambassadors of the Baltic States, who discussed the contemporary relevance of the Baltic way, emphasizing unity and solidarity. Their perspectives on current geopolitical challenges, international cooperation, and the future direction of Baltic-Ukrainian relations were particularly enlightening. The session not only deepened my understanding of diplomatic strategies but also underscored the importance of international support and collaboration in addressing regional issues.

The AABS travel grant was instrumental in my active participation in the AABS Conference. It enabled me to present my research, engage with other scholars, and gain valuable insights from high-level presentations and panels. The experiences and knowledge gained from this conference will significantly contribute to my academic and professional development, reinforcing my commitment to studying and addressing railway infrastructure in the Baltic States. I am deeply grateful to AABS for their support, which made this enriching experience possible.

A man in a white shirt and tan pants stands in front of a university building

Jonathan Pritzlaff is a Master’s and PhD student at the University of Greifswald in northern Germany. In the fall of 2023, he completed his Master’s degree in Business Administration, conducting research on trans-European transport networks in general and the Rail Baltica railway project in particular. He is currently completing his second Master’s degree in North European Languages and Cultures and researching for his railway-related PhD.

Kevin Axe: "Peripheral Liberalism: (Post-)Socialist Estonia as Enduring Hub of Market Thought"

I appreciate receiving the AABS Travel Grant, because it allowed me to receive feedback for an especially novel but difficult segment of my dissertation, and make further connections for my academic career. There are no scholars near me with similar research interests in contemporary Estonian history, so attending AABS/CBSE conferences are a brief but productive period where I get to engage with my peers, trying out ideas, getting useful critiques, and even just chatting about shared interests. Without AABS funding, I would not have been able to attend.

My own seminar came together well, and was quite well attended considering it was first thing in the morning on day one! I suppose the shared jet lag of many participants had us all awake well in advance. Working on the presentation had helped me think differently about parts of my dissertation, and the concept I was experimenting with and had placed at the talk’s center, as did actually giving the presentation itself. There was a healthy discussion afterwards, and two attendees agreed to take part in my dissertation defense, which will hopefully be held later this year. I was also repeatedly recognized and stopped in hallways and on the street by attendees, who had enjoyed my talk, and had useful advice and takes on it. 

As always, I enjoyed being able to attend diverse presentations on topics of interest, both for my career, and personal interests. Spending time with both professors and fellow grad students was naturally enjoyable on a personal level, but also helped me find opportunities for the future, as I prepare to finish my PhD, and seek out new possibilities.

A man in a suit presents an academic paper

Kevin Axe is a PhD candidate at the Free University of Berlin and researcher within Berlin’s “Contestations of the Liberal Script” (SCRIPTS) Cluster of Excellence. His research is focused on the spread of (neo)liberal economic thought within the (post)socialist world.

Laima Vince Sruoginis: "Telling Our Stories: Looking at Self-Published Lithuanian American Through the Lens of Life-Writing"

I would like to thank AABS for the early career travel grant, which enabled me to attend the 29th AABS conference at Yale University. I defended my dissertation, Memory and Postmemory in North American Lithuanian Diaspora Literature, in February 2022. Immediately after my defense, I put my time and energy into shaping my dissertation into my academic monograph, Vanished Lands: Memory and Postmemory in North American Lithuanian Diaspora Literature, which was published by Peter Lang International Publishers in 2023. Having completed and published my academic monograph, I was ready to explore new material. This process of inquiry brought me to life-writing, the study of informal (or casual) writing, such as journals, diaries, letters, self-published memoirs. I am now working on reading and analyzing life-writing memoirs written by World War II Lithuanian displaced persons or by their daughters. In this research project, my focus is on women’s writing and women’s stories. A postdoctoral position from Vytautas Magnus University has made my research possible and has given me the space to write. However, as we all know, such funding is limited and the cost of living high, making it difficult to fully finance attending conferences. The AABS travel grant enabled me to attend this conference. 

I presented my paper, “Telling Our Stories: Looking at Self-Published Lithuanian American Writing Through the Lens of Life-Writing” together with linguists from Latvia and Lithuania. I am very grateful for the immediate feedback that I received and the discussions afterward and throughout the conference. In fact, these discussions were so productive that I found myself staying up late at night after the conference program concluded working on revisions to my paper as I prepare to expand it into a scholarly article. Every panel that I attended served to deepen my understanding on a variety of topics, ranging from Baltic architecture in the diaspora to the subtleties of poetry translation to current politics in the Baltic region. I am convinced that this cross-fertilization between academic disciplines, and across generations, is vital to the ongoing work that the Baltic States are engaged in since independence from Soviet Russia. As an early career scholar who does not yet have a full-time teaching position (I teach a few courses a year as an adjunct) the opportunity to attend the AABS conference is invaluable. 

A woman wearing red and blue standing in front of a verdant river scene

Laima Vince Sruoginis, PhD, defended her dissertation at Vilnius University in February 2022. Presently she is a postdoctoral researcher at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania.

Lingita Lina Henritiusa: "Times Change – Language Changes: the Role of Politically Correct Language in Modern Latvian Society"

Participating in the AABS conference for the first time was an invaluable experience, providing me with new connections and fresh ideas for future research. The AABS student travel grant played a crucial role in enabling my participation and covering accommodation costs, for which I am deeply grateful.

In my paper, I tried to understand how modern Latvian society values ​​ethnonyms. For this purpose, I created a survey and asked users of various social networks (Twitter.com, Facebook.com, Draugiem.lv) to participate in it. Respondents were identified not only in Latvia but also by Latvians living abroad. Even though 512 respondents participated in my study, from the survey data it is possible to highlight the trends of modern Latvian language users in the assessment of the connotations of ethnonyms.

I decided to talk about this topic not because it is related to my thesis, but also because there are different opinions – among linguists and researchers in other fields. I was interested in finding out what society thinks, and with my survey and presentation, I wanted to make others think about inclusive language and society. 

I am glad that after my presentation the feedback from the audience was positive, and their comments and questions inspired me to consider exploring some new paths in my research. It was interesting to learn that the topic of inclusive language is also important and widely discussed in other countries – not only in Baltics or USA. 

Following my presentation, the positive feedback and insightful comments from the audience have motivated me to explore new research directions. It was enlightening to learn that the topic of inclusive language is not only pertinent in the Baltics and the USA but is also widely discussed in other countries.

I am sincerely thankful to the Association for awarding me the AABS Travel Grant, which facilitated my participation in my first AABS conference at Yale University. I eagerly anticipate future AABS conferences and continued engagement with this vibrant academic community.

Thank you very much for your support!

A Black woman in a magenta suit stands in a university building

Lingita Lina Henritiusa is a PhD student at the University of Latvia working on a thesis: “Ethnic, National, and Religious Identity in Latvian Anecdotes.” She is a Latvian language lecturer at the private language learning center. Her research interests are related to various ethnic minority groups, ethnonyms in the Latvian language, and traditional culture. 

Mara Simons: "Construction of a hybrid diasporic identity among Latvia’s modern diaspora in Sweden"

I am truly grateful to the AABS for the opportunity to receive the travel grant that was used to participate in the conference in New Haven because it has inspired and influenced me in so many different ways.

I defended my PhD thesis on Latvia´s modern diaspora in Sweden at Latvian Academy of Culture in June 2024. An ability to come to the conference right away and to present my findings was exceptionally fitting and giving to my intellectual thought development process. 

As a person who lives in Sweden, but has studied in Latvia, I have been struggling to vision my future academic path after the defence. While listening to many presenters and talking to many participants individually, I gained more confidence in myself and my prospects. I am inspired to continue my research even as a non-affiliated researcher now, looking for future affiliations later to be able to grow more as a young researcher. 

Summing it up, it was a great pleasure to attend the conference which was so well organized, bringing together many early stage and experienced researchers.

A woman in a red dress stands in front of a university building

Mara Simons gained her PhD degree in 2024 at the Latvian Academy of Culture. She is based in Sweden, Uppsala, where she teaches Latvian. She has a background in journalism and PR. At the moment her research has a focus on diapora and identity.

Merily Salura: "Temporal Liminality: Boredom and Waiting in Viivi Luik's 'The Beauty of History' and Peeter Sauter's 'Indigo'"

Thanks to the AABS travel grant, I was able to attend the 2024 AABS conference “Baltic Way: Unity and Giving Aid” in New Haven. I wish to express my gratitude for having received this grant. Participating in the conference was a great experience. I had the opportunity to meet many inspiring people, make new acquaintances, listen to very engaging presentations, and participate in lively discussions. 

My presentation was titled “Temporal Liminality: Boredom and Waiting in Viivi Luik’s ‘The Beauty of History’ and Peeter Sauter’s ‘Indigo’”. My paper interprets some of the diverse depictions of time that emerge in these two novels that were published in 1990 and 1991. I employ the concept of liminality in understanding the protagonists’ relationships to time. My analysis both explores and problematizes Hans-Georg Gadamer’s distinction between empty, pragmatic and fulfilled, autonomous time. I found the discussion and questions after my presentation very engaging and helpful. 

For me, the diverse talks I attended were the highlight of the conference, alongside the opportunity to meet fellow scholars with whom I share a field of research. Particularly memorable were the plenary with Baltic ambassadors to the United States, as well as the panel about reimagining the Baltic sea in cultural productions (due to the insightful presentations and the great discussions that followed the talks). Additionally, the informal interactions and networking events allowed me to establish meaningful connections that I believe will lead to future collaborations.

Overall, the AABS conference was an enriching and inspiring experience, and I am deeply thankful for the support that made my participation possible.

A woman in a coat and striped scarf

Merily Salura is a PhD student at the Estonian Academy of Arts’ Institute of Art History and Visual Culture. Her PhD dissertation explores the temporality of creative processes through the framework of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophy of art. Salura also lectures at the University of Colorado at Boulder and has translated Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism into Estonian as a part of the Avatud Eesti Raamat series (forthcoming), supported by the Estonian Cultural Endowment.

Ornela Ramašauskaitė: "Collaboration Among Stakeholders for Fighting Fake News in a Digital Media Environment"

As a PhD student, I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend and present at the 29th Biennial AABS Conference, “The Baltic Way: Unity and Giving Aid,” held at the prestigious Yale University. This enriching experience was made possible through a generous travel grant, for which I am profoundly grateful.

My presentation was entitled “Collaboration Among Stakeholders for Fighting Fake News in a Digital Media Environment.” During my presentation, I introduced a case study on how misinformation in art can become a subtle yet powerful tool of soft power in geopolitics. Using the example of Mark Rothko’s representation in different museums, I highlighted how Yale University Art Gallery presents Rothko as “American, born in Russia.” At the same time, the Chicago Art Institute offers a more precise description: “American, born in the Russian Empire, now Latvia.” This sparked a lively debate on the responsibilities of cultural institutions in presenting accurate historical information and the potential geopolitical ramifications of seemingly minor curatorial decisions.

The presentation was well-received, generating engaging discussions and valuable feedback from the audience. The subsequent panel discussion, featuring myself, Inesa Buneviciene, and moderated by Andreas Kulnieks, delved deep into several critical issues. We explored the methodological difficulties in gathering accurate data on fake news dissemination and consumption, including ethical considerations in tracking and analyzing user behaviour online. We also discussed potential solutions, such as collaborative research initiatives and standardized data collection protocols. The conversation extended to the impact of social media algorithms in creating information silos and the psychological factors that make individuals susceptible to confirmation bias within these digital ecosystems. We debated the responsibility of tech companies in mitigating the adverse effects of filter bubbles and compared approaches to fostering critical thinking skills in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Beyond the formal presentations, the conference fostered a sense of community among Baltic Studies scholars. The networking opportunities with established researchers provided insights into potential career paths and research directions. At the same time, connections with fellow young scholars laid the groundwork for future collaborations and comparative studies. The informal settings, such as coffee breaks and conference dinner, allowed for more relaxed interactions, making it easier to approach senior researchers and build meaningful professional relationships.

Presenting at and attending this conference significantly contributed to my professional development. The experience of presenting to an international audience of experts boosted my confidence as an emerging scholar, while the feedback received provided valuable insights for refining my research. Observing the presentation styles of experienced researchers helped improve my own communication skills.

One of the most enriching aspects of the conference was the exposure to a wide range of topics within Baltic Studies. This interdisciplinary approach broadened my perspective beyond my specific research area, introduced new methodologies and theoretical frameworks, highlighted unexpected connections between seemingly disparate fields of study, and inspired ideas for future research projects that could bridge multiple disciplines.

Beyond the academic aspects, the conference provided a unique cultural experience. Interactions with scholars from various countries offered insights into different academic cultures and approaches. The location at Yale University provided a glimpse into the American higher education system and campus life, especially the library made me amazed. At the same time, social events showcasing Baltic culture enhanced the overall experience and connection to the field of study (I wish we had more time at the Yale University Art Gallery guided tour!). The memories, insights, and connections gained at Yale will continue to influence and enrich my academic journey for years.

Ornela Ramašauskaitė is a Ph.D. Candidate in Management at Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania and a Board Member of the Women Researchers Council UNEC (Azerbaijan). Her doctoral thesis, “Modelling Contemporary Art Investment Strategies in the Context of Geopolitical Conflicts,” presents the intersection between art investments and international relations. Ramašauskaitė’s research addresses the art market’s contemporary challenges, particularly in the digital era, where issues such as AI, geopolitical tensions, and price manipulations significantly influence art investors’ decisions.

Sanita Duka: "Supremacy in Collaboration: Collective Creative Practices of Political Theater in Latvia 1920-1930"

This report details the utilization of the grant awarded for attending the 29th Biennial AABS Conference “The Baltic Way: Unity and Giving Aid” June 13-16, 2024 at Yale University, New Haven. The Travel Grant has made possible my participation in the academic event which highlights the recent studies of the Baltic region on an international scale. The grant was used to cover expenses related to conference registration, visa, travel and accommodation. Attending the conference provided significant professional development opportunities, enhanced my knowledge in the Baltic studies, and facilitated valuable networking. The objective of attending this conference was to present my research in the panel “A Century of Collective Collaboration: Intersection Between Art and Politics” together with Laine Kristberga and Baņuta Rubess and contribute to this with my paper “Supremacy in Collaboration: Collective Creative Practices of Political Theater in Latvia 1920-1930,” as well gain new insights and engage with other professionals in the field. During the conference, I attended various paper sessions: Art, Music, and religion; History, Memory, and Identity; International Relations and Regional Security. Key takeaways included the talks about the Baltic responses to Russian aggression. These activities significantly contributed to my understanding of the recent politically engaged discussions and provided new perspectives on related topics to my research.

A woman stands in front of a neo Gothic college building

Sanita Duka is studying at the theoretical Ph.D. program of the Art Academy of Latvia and continues the research she started in her master’s thesis on the Riga Workers’ Theater (1926-1934). Her research interests are related to a multidisciplinary approach in the studies of art history and theater methodology.

Ričards Umbraško: "Performing Subalternity: Center-Periphery Interactions during the 1958 Latgale Culture Week in Riga"

Availability of funding is one of the most fundamental aspects of sustaining the growth of any academic field and communicating the importance of why it is worth studying to a broad audience. Baltic Studies, all across its disciplinary breadth, cannot develop without the participation of students and junior scholars who are currently redefining how we think about the Baltics in local, regional, and transnational contexts. Both students and scholars must have access to funding, fellowships, and – most importantly – networks of support. 

Conferences are not only a time to learn about all the exciting work done by other scholars but also a time for establishing new connections, renewing old ones, and forging new ways of thinking, both within and outside one’s discipline. For an undergraduate student like me, AABS at Yale truly was a treat – from attending morning roundtables on decolonization and security to making LinkedIn connections with fellow students during coffee breaks, from pre-panel breakfasts at the iconic Atticus to running back to the dorms in the warm New England rain following Egils Levits’ keynote speech. I spend most of my time in the United States during the year, and it was great meeting so many of my peers from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in such a concentrated setting at AABS for a chance to exchange ideas, discuss potential avenues for collaboration, and reflect on personal aspirations and the future of the field as such. 

Above all, the Travel Grant allowed me to make space for Latgale – the East Latvian region dear and close to my heart – and its culture on the discursive stage of the conference. My academic work centers on borderlands and border cultures; I think about how life is lived between multiple worlds and how things we take for granted – time, space, where we come from, and more – change on the border. During my panel on cultural dynamics in the Soviet Union in particular, I zoomed in on Latgale at one of its most critical historical and cultural moments – the Latgale Culture Week of 1958 – in an attempt to make the border speak to us and to underscore the experiences of those who have been bordered as visible, important, and crucial for thinking critically about the future development of Baltic Studies. The field of Latgalian Studies is currently microscopic in the West. I hope that my work integrating borderlands (and Latgale in particular) into our larger conversations about where the future of Baltic Studies lies opens up the possibility for an even more diverse, empathetic, and plural practice of scholarship, as well as an opportunity to reflect – both as students and scholars – about where we position ourselves with respect to the topics, themes, discourses, bodies, and structures we research and the knowledge we make as we study this important region.

A man presents an academic paper on powerpoint

Ričards Umbraško is a senior at Harvard University studying Slavic Languages & Literatures and Comparative Literature. His academic interests include postcolonial and decolonial theory, border studies, and ecocriticism. Ričards works in Latvian, Russian, and Latgalian (and Ukrainian soon), and he is originally from Riga, Latvia.

Valérie Kindarji: "Waiting for the Wakeup Call: Digital Literacy and Big Tech in Scandinavia, the Baltics, and North America"

Thank you for the opportunity of presenting at AABS 2024 and for the travel grant provided to me. As a young scholar in the final stages of my doctorate, it is immensely helpful to be provided with the resources to travel to such an event.

As a foreign scholar newly studying the Baltics, I was quite nervous to present at AABS. I was concerned that my work would manifest blind spots, or that my research would appear to make sweeping generalizations. Prior to the conference, I met with an Estonian scholar to ask for her feedback on my presentation – she was immensely helpful, and she provided me with some confidence. But I could not shake the sense that I would be perceived as a naïve outsider.

Such concerns were so far from my experience! On the first night, I was able to connect with a scholar I had interviewed during my fieldwork in the Baltics. I also wanted to highlight the very collegial atmosphere during the panels. I have been to several political science conferences where rudeness and abrasiveness are rewarded, and it is as a result stressful to present as you wait for the audience to tear down your work. Instead, the panelists at AABS were visibly relaxed and able to showcase their enthusiasm for the work. Audience members asked questions led by their intellectual curiosity, and not by a desire to devalue the work. Ultimately, collegial atmospheres produce solid scholarship.

Due to the pleasant atmosphere and interesting scholarship, I had a great time presenting my work. I did not need my notes, and I felt comfortable letting my enthusiasm shine through. The conference was superbly organised, and the team was always friendly and helpful.

I left AABS 2024 with more confidence in my work, and some new friendships. I am looking forward to joining again next year.

A woman in a white sweater

Valérie Kindarji is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto interested in democracy, digital literacy, and e-gov in Scandinavia, the Baltics, and North America. She researches the impacts of disordered information on democracies, and asks why democracies respond differently to the threats posed by digital technologies.