Anna Shirokanova – on the ASEEES Summer Convention
LCSR senior research fellow Anna Shirokanova has presented at the ASEEES Summer Convention. She shares her experience.
ASEEES, the "Association for Slavic, Eastern European and Russian Studies", is a leading academic community studying the Eurasian region and dating back to as far as 1948. Its main publishing journal is the The Slavic Review. Today the Association unites around 3,000 scholars who convene yearly in one of the US cities (the next convention is to take place in Washington, DC, this November).
Summer conventions like this one are biannual and they did not appear until very recently, being previously held in Astana in 2014 and this year in Lviv; for 2018, St.Petersburg has been chosen as the preliminary venue. Summer conventions are a beautiful opportunity to present at a large conference for those who would not go to the USA to speak at a regular convention, while slavists from European and American research centres are also happy to come and practice the language(s) of their interest and to visit the region they love and study. For the last 20 years many scholars have spoken in favour of more local voices to be heard in the research community. As part of this policy of listening to each other, four languages were declared official at this conference: English, Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian.
In contrast to regular conventions that host around 2,500 delegates, this summer meeting organized together by ASEEES and MAG (The International Association for the Humanities), counted around 450 participants from more than 15 countries, from Master students to Professors Emeriti. About a quarter of those listed in the programme represented the US (ASEEES is a US-based association), while one in ten participants represented Russia. HSE is known and greeted well among the ASEEES community.
Even though this was my first oral presentation at ASEEES, I think a smaller than usual number of participants made it even more helpful in terms of communication. This agrees with opinions of other colleagues who frequent international conferences of slavists.
At the same time, judging by the line-up and audience of the sessions, it felt like a few simultaneous but hardly overlapping conferences were held by historians, political scientists, sociologists, linguists, etc. During three days, more than 120 sessions took place which focused on identity, historical memory, gender, politics, religion, language, media, urban studies, and mixtures of those topics. The papers covered very different grounds, both geographically (from post-Yugoslavia to Karelia) and historically (ranging from the Middle Ages to our days). That said, the organizers noticed they had had to turn down every second presentation proposal.
I felt like visiting many intriguing sessions, since big conferences are good for the fact that one can drift away from one's own focused topic and research circle for a while, whereas interdisciplinary perspectives may give extra inspiration and open up new research questions in one's own work.
I found two sessions of particular relevance to me: one in political science, where I presented, and another one on national identity. My session was chaired by Prof. William Rosenberg; other speakers represented Nazarbayev University, Wesleyan University, and the University of Antwerp. Despite the variety of subjects covered, good timing and a responsive audience of about fifty left enough room for a long and substantive discussion.
Another intensive and thought-provoking session which I attended was Idn-8-12, on national identity, which featured the results of testing a new scale of national identity, its measurement equivalence in different regions of the country, and the link between commitment to national identity and social activism. With discussants like the historian Yaroslav Hrytsak even high quality papers become more exciting to discuss.
There were also offbeat sessions tackling subjects like the 'blood libel', a middle-ages xenophobic myth, – which I couldn't have imagined is still studied in scientific expeditions. Now I can.
To sum up, this ASEEES summer convention has demonstrated the following for me:
1. The smaller a big conference, the better (an old truth with acceptable threshold ranging at 25-250 participants).
2. A high position of presenter does not guarantee neither clarity nor relevance of the presentation, nor eye contact with the audience, and vice versa (i.e., standards do vary).
3. Interdisciplinarity at conferences, especially those in regional studies, can be inspirational for own research and papers.
Needless to say, the conference benefited enormously from the rich, multi-language, and multi-ethnic milieu. Held in this geographic spot with a long tradition of cafes, pastries and baroque buildings – rare in eastern Europe and constantly hinting at the Austro-Hungarian empire – the conference sessions during the day were accompanied by the jazz fest happening in the streets of the city.
It is for this kind of rich and stimulating atmosphere that scholars will flow to Saint-Petersburg in two years' time for the next summer convention.