Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Baltic and Slavic Studies Conference, Seattle 2010

This was a unique conference in a variety of ways. I had not attended one of the biennial conferences of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS) since 1994, when I last attended and presented as the Latvian Studies Center Librarian. It has taken me this long to get back to my academic roots. Unfortunately, many of the scholars I once knew have already passed away, retired or have moved to live in Latvia.

I believe this is the first time that AABS has held a joint conference with another association, this time with the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study (SASS). Since both organizations are interested in Northern Europe, the histories and concerns of their countries often intertwining, this seems to be a good match. Plus, the University of Washington has programs in both. It was a bit disconcerting to not know almost any of the people at the opening reception, but then I talked to one energetic young man, who was a Dane studying at Tartu University (in Estonia). He helped me see how it all fit together. Of course I did find a group of Latvians at the bar. My panel was attended by Scandinavians as well as Balts, and I attended at least one Scandinavian presentation. At the final banquet, I sat at a table with a Finnish historian, Danish novelist, Lithuanian-American that works for Microsoft, and another Latvian-American. In the end I thought this was a very successful combination.

The other unique factor was the volcanic eruption in Iceland. I just thought of it as an interesting natural phenomenon, not realizing that it had stopped all air travel in Europe. Thus this conference, which was supposed to be full of presenters and participants from Europe was suddenly substantially reduced. Instead of 400 attendees, they only had 300, instead of 41 panels with 134 presenters there were only 26 with 79 presenters. My panel was to have 4 speakers and a discussant – I was the only presenter and luckily the discussant was from the Embassy of Estonia in DC, so she was there, as was the chair of the panel from the University of Washington.

Though I enjoyed presenting on the topic of Baltic National bibliographies at the Slavic studies conference in 2008, here the discussion was very alive and productive. Did I know they were passing a law in Estonia about requiring electronic versions of deposit copies of publications? No - very interesting. The conversations I had in this conference encourage me to continue my research in this field.

I ended up running around between panels and venues, as I wanted to see certain people present, and was interested in a variety of topics. Andris Straumanis presented on Latvian anarchist publications in the early 20th century. Guntis Smidchens was concerned about the bloody language of a popular song from the peaceful singing revolution in the Baltics, Aldis Purs looked at different versions of an incident from Latvia in 1929, where four youths were detained for public drunkenness. This led to his contention that the history of the period has to be researched from more than the political viewpoint. Laura Dean is researching the sex tourism in the Baltics. Brent McKenzie looked at “dark” tourism – tourism based on death – cemeteries, occupation museums, and strange tours that enact being arrested, etc. Marie-Alice L’Heureux looked at Soviet modernism architecture in the 1960’s by comparing two developments in Finland and Estonia, both originally planned organically, the Finnish one creating a successful community, while the one in Estonia moved away from the original plans into huge, awful, monotonous block housing without landscaping that reminds me of Cabrini-Green. Anne Jenner looked at Heritage collections in universities, especially the Swedish American Historical Society collection at North Park University in Chicago. I had numerous interesting conversations, including one with a librarian from University of Wisconsin – Madison.

I went up to the University of Washington Suzzallo Library to view an exhibit put together by Michael Biggins, who is the head of International Studies, Slavic and East European Studies and Baltic Studies. (He is the one that took on my Latvian Studies collection, gave it a good home and continues to develop it.) In honor of the joint conference, he created an exhibit called "Echoes of Three Woodlands: Scandinavia and the Baltics in the Northwest and at UW." The exhibit showed how much these three regions have in common. There were exhibits of books and artifacts, mostly on folklore, music, and culture, but the thing I found most fascinating was the photographs. There were blown up photos of the Scandinavians in Washington going back to the late 1800's. My favorite photo was of three young men and a young woman with their chaperone, sitting on the beach with a case of wax cylinders of recorded music and a phonograph to play them on. The predecessor to iPods and boom boxes. There was also a section on Baltic Americans in Washington State, a photographic exhibit of about 30 people, accompanied by a paragraph with their story of being a Baltic-Americans. This exhibit has traveled to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

I don't know how many places do this, but in the Minneapolis airport I saw a vending machine for Rosetta Stone language packages. No prices listed. It was next to a vending machine from Best Buy.

I have decided to keep my comments on the places I am visiting during conerences separate, so you can read about my thoughts on Seattle and my wonderful trip to Mt. Rainier in Maira's Travels.

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