Spring 2018 Newsletter


Dear Colleagues,
The academic year 2017-2018 was marked by a cluster of anniversaries: the centenary of the October Revolution (1917), the 60th anniversary of the Sputnik launch (1957), and the 50th anniversary of 1968. REES celebrated these historical milestones by partnering with the other UCIS centers in a series of events (speakers, films, and panels). Of these three anniversaries, the Sputnik launch was by far the least noticed, both in the press and by universities worldwide, though it defined much of the second half of the twentieth century.  For three months in 1957 from October 4th to sometime in January 1958, the 180-pound aluminum beach ball with four extended legs hurtled around the local universe, setting off a space race that culminated a decade later with the US moon landing in 1969.  The event changed our lives in ways we no longer pin to that date, but which reverberate in the work of colleagues far beyond the immediate REES orbit.
As for more local news, the semester has been marked by two departures. They are sad for us, but we tempered it with pride and celebration. First, REES Associate Director Dawn Seckler has taken a brave and transformative step into a new career at Bridgeway Capital, a local non-profit dedicated to regional economic development.  Dawn has been key in shaping the mission of REES since long before she was appointed to the position of Associate Director.  Her example of collegiality, entrepreneurial spirit, generosity, and forward-thinking has taught us all to be better versions of ourselves. 
Our second departure—an equally happy occasion—is the news that REES Academic Advisor Andrew Behrendt has accepted a position as Assistant Teaching Professor of History at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, beginning Fall 2018.  Andrew’s humor, patience, and thoughtful stewardship of our curricular offerings have guided and protected our academic strengths since before I joined the REES staff.  We are very proud that he has moved on to a full-time academic position.  His Pitt undergraduate and graduate advisees will miss him keenly, as we will also.
A significant REES success this semester was a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) focusing on Central Asia.  The award strengthens interdisciplinary connections among Pitt faculty and students across the humanities, social sciences, and pre-professional programs in business and engineering.  Together with Director of the World History Center Dr. Ruth Mostern, colleagues from REES and the Asian Studies Center, the Pitt curriculum design team will develop three new undergraduate courses on the theme of Water in Central Asia. These courses, to be rolled out sequentially in Spring 2019 through Spring 2020, will incorporate experiential learning activities including virtual peer-to-peer exchanges with students at Nazarbayev University (Astana), Pitt’s partner institution in Kazakhstan. Pitt and Nazarbayev students will engage in common readings and videoconference discussions to jointly develop a case study of water problems and solutions in a Central Asian community, thus addressing an issue they know to be of global urgency—the need for clean, sustainable water sources. 
Already this past April, we were delighted to welcome four Nazarbayev University undergraduates to Pitt.  The students presented their research at Pitt’s annual European and Eurasian Undergraduate Research Symposium, organized by REES, the European Studies Center, and the International Business Center.  We are hoping for more such visits and research collaborations.
As you will read below, this newsletter takes the opportunity to showcase relevant Central Asian content developed by Sean Guillory (REES Digital Scholarship Curator,, who has hosted a series of invaluable podcasts on the region on Sean’s Russia Blog, a rich forum for discussion on cultural issues ranging from deaf culture and internal colonization to LGBTQ activism, punk rock, and the political life of vodka (to subscribe, go to 
The NEH grant is further enhanced by the substantial Pitt collection of Central Asian films, located in the Media Resources Center (Hillman Library) and curated by Vladimir Padunov (Slavic)(see listings by director at  The value of this collection has recently been leveraged, thanks to James Pickett (History) and Dan Pennell (Hillman Library Slavic Curator), by 230 recent acquisitions of Soviet-era, low-print run primary source editions and Uzbek historical documents. 
In addition to its library holdings, Pitt benefits from the University of Pittsburgh Press, home of the leading Central Asian monograph series in North America, edited by Douglas Northrop (University of Michigan).  The Press series, Central Eurasia in Context, currently comprises 18 monographs, three of which have won prestigious awards, and dominates the listings on Best Books on Central Asia in 2017.
Thanks to Jennifer Murtazashvili (GSPIA) and others, REES looks forward to hosting the 19th Annual Conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society (October 25-28, 2018), offering 70 panels with approximately 300 participants from all over the world who will present research focusing on Central Asia, the Caucasus, Iran, Afghanistan, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, Inner Asia, the Black Sea region, the Volga region, and Eastern and Central Europe. Pitt is proud to have been selected as the 2018 host. For further details on the October conference, visit CESS 2018 at Pitt.
These emergent strengths have led REES to put together the newly launched Central Eurasia Initiative, a collaborative effort of REES and the Asian Studies Center.  This Initiative currently has nine participating faculty. It's main purpose is to further Pitt’s significant academic programming focused on the vast and diverse region that connects East Europe to West Asia through the Middle East and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

Importantly, the expansion of our Central Eurasian programming has not come at the expense of our other core areas. As our readers are probably aware, in spring 2018 REES participated in a larger collaborative project of the University Center for International Studies, “The Global Legacies of 1968,” by screening iconic films and organizing panels that reflected on that momentous year in our region.

The end of May also brought a successful conclusion for REES’s study abroad program: “Competing Perspectives on Global Energy: From Western PA to Eastern Europe.” Initially created by our late colleague Susan Hicks, the program was led this year by Vasili Rukhadze (Political Science). It took upper-level undergraduates in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences, plus professional students in Business, Law, and GSPIA, to both national and international sites. Joining them were also Jessica Spradley and Patricia Thompson, affiliated faculty of REES and the Global Studies Center at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). The group met with former and current commissioners while visiting a Range Resources fracking site and the Mark West plant in Washington County. The American Petroleum Institute and the Bureau of Energy Resources at the US Department of State were the next hosts in Washington, D.C.  In Brussels, our Global Energy group met with senior policy analysts from the European Policy Center, posed questions to speakers from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Energy, and engaged with senior scholars specializing in environmental change and EU energy policy at the Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussels. To explore the role that transit states play in regional and global energy policies, this year’s last stop was in Kyiv, Ukraine. While the city welcomed the final game of the UEFA Champions League, our Pitt students and CCAC faculty met with members of the Ukrainian Parliament, senior officials from the National Investment Council of Ukraine, and senior analysts from the think-tank DiXi Group. We thank our partner, the Kyiv School of Economics, for such an excellent conclusion to the program.

To conclude with some final but nevertheless important news: this spring our center has collaborated with the Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies and the Herder Institute for Historical Research in East-Central Europe (Marburg, Germany) to launch a professional development series for early career researchers. After the first three webinars, Dr. Peter Haslinger (Director, Herder Institute) will continue the series in the fall. Upcoming sessions will focus on archives in Eastern Europe and Germany, archival skills, and strategies for career building and publishing in the European Union compared to the United States. As a culmination of this fruitful collaboration with Dr. Haslinger, REES has recently signed a series of agreements with the Herder Institute. In the future, keep us in mind for ideas for academic cooperation with scholars at the Herder Institute or your plans for faculty and graduate student exchange.

Happy reading!
Nancy Condee, Director
Center for Russian and East European Studies

Center News

20th Annual Russian Film Symposium
The 20th annual Russian Film Symposium titled "A Specter is Haunting Russia: History and Cinema" was held on campus from April 30 - May 5 this year, with evening screenings at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room. This year's sponsors included REES, the Slavic Department, the Film Studies Program, the Humanities Center, UCIS, the Cultural Studies Program, and Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Symposium organizer Vladimir Padunov (Slavic) also received a Pittsburgh Foundation grant in support of the event.  The Symposium screened twelve films (four in subtitled DCP prints and eight on subtitled DVD), hosted eight panels with film scholars from Russia, Hungary, and held the US, and two roundtables.

SRB Retrospective on Central Asia Podcasts
The increased focus on Central Asia is one of many exciting developments in Eurasian studies over the last two decades. The SRB Podcast has sought to bring this scholarship to a more popular audience by featuring topics related to Central Asian history, politics, and culture. The result has been podcasts touching on Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
The Russian empire was multiethnic and multiconfessional from the get-go, and as a result, Central Asia was a factor in understanding the ethnic composition of Eurasia. Mark Bassin talked about one important theoretical contribution—Lev Gumilev’s Eurasianism—in his The Gumilev Mystique: Biopolitics, Eurasianism, and the Construction of Community in Modern Russia.
Contact with the Muslim world via trade routes and pilgrimage networks influenced Eurasian history. As Erika Monahan explained in an interview on her The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Russia, efforts to incorporate Siberia included trade routes that linked Moscow with Bukhara. Also, as Eileen Kane discussed in her Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca, Central Asia was a starting point for Muslim pilgrimage through the Russian empire to Mecca.
How the Russian empire and the Soviet state conquered and ruled Central Asia is crucial for understanding the state’s nationality policies. In a fascinating discussion on his book, “The Touch of Civilization”: Comparing American and Russian Internal Colonization, Steven Sabol looked at Russian relations with Kazakhs and American dealings with the Sioux to illuminate the imperial convergences of these two land-based empires. Botakoz Kassymbekova explained how the Bolsheviks consolidated their power over Tajikistan in her Despite Cultures: Early Soviet Rule in Tajikistan. And Tim Nunan mapped out in his Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan how many of the practices the Soviet Union used in its Central Asian republics were employed during its war in Afghanistan.
What about today? Patrimonialism, custom and corruption are key forms of governance throughout post-Soviet space. In a comprehensive study, Patronal Politics: Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective, Henry Hale compared ruling systems in Central Asia and other post-Soviet states. Paul Stronski explained how these elements featured specifically in Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan. Judith Beyer discussed the role of custom in jurisprudence in her The Force of Custom: Law and the Ordering of Everyday Life in Kyrgyzstan. Johan Engvall, in his The State as Investment Market: Kyrgyzstan in Comparative Perspective, explained the place of corruption in the buying of state offices.
These are the interviews focusing on Central Asia on the SRB Podcast. There’ll be more in the future, so keep listening!

Russian Language Competitions

On April 7, 2018, more than 70 students from Pittsburgh-area  schools and universities competed in the first annual Western Pennsylvania Olympiada of Spoken Russian, a division of the national competition administered since 1960 by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR).  It was organized by REES, the Slavic Department, and Carnegie Mellon University's Russian Program.  Students from five local schools and three universities took part in the Olympiada:

  • Brashear High School, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Mt. Lebanon High School, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Taylor Allderdice High School, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Hollidaysburg Senior High School, Hollidaysburg, PA
  • Canon-McMillan School, Canonsburg, PA
  • University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA

Students were tested on their communication skills, as well as their knowledge of Russian geography, history, and culture, by judges from the local Russian community and Russian-speaking faculty members and staff from Pitt and CMU. Throughout the daylong competition, students had a chance to meet one another, play Russian games, watch films, eat traditional Russian food, and listen to a live performance by the Pittsburgh Balalaika Orchestra.

This event was sponsored by REES, the Slavic Department, CMU's Russian program, and the Dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

Community College Partnerships

In the past five years, REES and other UCIS centers have partnered with local community colleges in Pennsylvania and minority-serving institutions in the Nine University and College International Studies Consortium of Georgia. Together, we have provided multidisciplinary faculty development workshops on how to incorporate regional and global studies into college syllabi.

As a capstone event for our years of working together, we have convened participants from past faculty development programs to give presentations earlier this year on new modules and curricula. Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh on January 26, 2018, the one-day workshop “Best Practices Showcasing Globalization Across the Curriculum” featured presentations that explored transdisciplinary approaches to campus and curriculum internationalization and debated pedagogical models for infusing the study of world regions into business and history courses. This conference led to fruitful dialogue on bringing our various regional community college partners together with national peers. With this broader network, we anticipate that our partnering institutions will more systematically explore and exchange best practices for globalizing curricula in the upcoming years.

The Community College of Beaver County will also work closely with our center and UCIS colleagues to infuse regional and global studies content into courses in its new Honors College program. CCBC has become an established partner—first of REES, and subsequently of all UCIS centers—since the “Bridging Cultures for Community Colleges” program, a faculty and curriculum development project that focused on East Europe and was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2014-2017 under REES’s leadership. We have already launched the joint initiative for CCBC’s Honors College with a half-day workshop in May 2018.  During this workshop, Pitt faculty and staff unpacked key conceptual distinctions between models that globalize rather than internationalize courses.

We hope that the resources made available through these various Title VI-funded collaborations with REES and more broadly with UCIS will make a significant impact on the ongoing internationalization efforts on campuses in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

Faculty/Staff News

Nancy Condee (Director of REES, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures) was a guest of the University of St. Andrew (Scotland), where she gave a talk (“Russian Cine-Politics 2017: Memory, Amnesia, and Risk”) in November 2017. In London, she participated in a professional roundtable (Women in Film: Gender Equality and Diversity Do Not Come by Themselves) as part of London’s Russian Film Week.

Prof. Condee served as a Jury Member at London’s Russian Film Week (November 19-26, 2017) for the Main Competition. She also served as a jury member for the ASEEES Vucinich Prize Committee, which is convened to choose “the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year.” 

Media contacts for the Fall period included November 2017 interviews with TASS (Il'ia Dmitriachev;; (Maksim Ryzhkov;; as well as with the independent media project Meduza. All interviews concerned contemporary Russian cinema and Russian Film Week (London).

Recent publications include a chapter on contemporary Russian cinema in the volume Cinéma russe contemporain, (r)évolutions (ed. Eugénie Zvonkine; Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2017), as well as two edited pieces on the website All the Russias (Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia), New York University (7and 9 August 2017; available at and

Volodia Padunov (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures) was awarded a Pittsburgh Foundation Grant in support of the Russian Film Symposium.

Student News

We are proud to announce that a number of our certificate students garnered prestigious national awards this spring. Nathaniel Tapsak, who graduated in April, will be spending the next academic year in Slovakia on a Fulbright Teaching Assistant Award. Likewise, another April graduate, Nicholas Bersin, got a Fulbright ETA to Graz, Austria. Cian Stryker was selected for both a Boren Scholarship to learn Farsi in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and a Fulbright ETA to Russia, opting to delay graduation in order to take the Boren. Emily Bucklen, currently a junior and an Air Force ROTC Cadet, also won a Boren to Central Asia – in her case to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Three of our certificate students won awards in the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR) 2018 National Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest. In Category A, Level 4, Pablo Lindsay won a Silver Medal and Melissa Shostak received an Honorable Mention. In Category B, Level 1, Marika Olijar received an Honorable Mention.

Morgan Cyron, a native of New London, Pennsylvania, is a third-year student studying chemistry and minoring in materials science and engineering with a certificate in Russian and East European Studies and was given an honorable mention as a Goldwater Scholarship candidate.  Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in materials science and engineering or chemistry and conduct research in the national defense sector, developing new materials to defend against chemical and biological weapons.

Student Awards
Daniel Beresheim - Communications- Russian
Robert Cimmino - Law/GSPIA- Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian
Florence Helbing - Slavic- Russian
Chloe Kay- GSPIA - Russian
Matthew Lynn - GSPIA- Russian
Luke Panciera - GSPIA- Russian
Emma Mamula - Slavic- Russian
Karenna Oner - Administration of Justice- Turkish

Student Conferences
The Graduate Organization for the Study of Europe and Central Asia (GOSECA) held its 15th annual conference on March 23-24, 2018, co-sponsored by REES and the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG). It featured a keynote address by John Deak of the University of Notre Dame, who spoke on the intersection of law and political violence in the last days of the Habsburg Empire.

REES, in conjunction with the European Studies Center and the International Business Center, also hosted the 17th European and Eurasian Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) on April 13 with support from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Selected students from educational institutions throughout the US and abroad presented their original research projects, featuring a wide variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives. The URS was especially pleased to welcome a group of four students from Nazarbayev University (Astana, Kazakhstan). As always, another year of successful conferences was made possible by the collaborative efforts of student and staff organizing committees and faculty/graduate student discussants. We thank them for their work!

The following REES certificate students presented at the 2018 URS:  Madeline Kehl, Mitchell Luckman, Emma Mamula, Marika Olijar, and Cian Stryker.


Center for Russian & East European Studies
University Center for International Studies
4400 Wesley W. Posvar Hall
230 South Bouquet Street
Pittsburgh, PA  15260

(412) 648-7407

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Center for Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies · 4400 Posvar Hall · 230 S. Bouquet Street · Pittsburgh, Pa 15260 · USA

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