This post is part of a series on the 2015 Northwest Regional Conference on Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies. This annual event was hosted by the Ellison Center at the University of Washington.
Thirty-five presenters and session chairs convened at the Simpson Center at the University of Washington on the first Saturday in May for the 21st Annual Northwest Regional Conference for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies (REECAS NW). Nine panels – packed with presentations ranging from teaching Russian language to heritage speakers, to literature, politics, arts, architecture, ethnicity, religion, to gender identity and women’s role in society – sparked the interest of almost 50 Conference attendees.
This year’s theme was “Between East & West: Identity, Opportunity & Security in the Post-Communist World.” The plenary session, moderated by the associate professor and Ellison Center Director Scott Radnitz, took on the East-West topic by focusing on the Ukraine conflict with an engaging discussion between Oleksandr Fisun, a Carnegie Fellow at UW and political science professor at Kharkiv National University, Christopher Jones, associate professor in the Jackson School, and Volodymyr Lysenko, research scientist and lecturer at UW’s Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity.
“It was useful to hear various scholars’ takes on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, from various perspectives, including deeper historical perspectives,” said Tiffany Grobelski, a PhD student at the Geography department of UW and REECAS NW audience member. “Many of the talks were quite pertinent to current events, and that was interesting to consider.”
Some presenters traveled far to participate in the conference this year. Two Russian language teaching experts from Moscow State Pedagogical University flew in from Russia for another UW-hosted event and shared their insights at one of REECAS NW’s morning panels. They spoke on teaching bilingual children and motivating students to a lecture hall full of Russian language teachers from the Pacific Northwest.
Alexandra Dvoriantchikova, an independent scholar affiliated with Florida International University, traveled all the way from the east coast.
“Russia and Central Asia are not very popular areas of research in South Florida, where much attention goes to South America followed perhaps by Middle East,” Dvoriantchikova said. “The interest in them is growing, however, but at this time there is no equivalent of the REECAS [NW] conference here. REECAS [NW] allowed me to participate in a conference focused entirely on my area of study. Therefore the feedback I got on my research came from other scholars who are very well versed in my field.”
Local scholars who have attended REECAS NW in years past continued their involvement. Veronica Muskheli, a PhD student at UW’s Slavic Languages and Literatures department, presented her paper Gender and Genre: Formulaic Detective Stories Aimed at the Female Audience in Contemporary Russia. She appreciated the opportunity to hear about the current work of researchers she had met at previous REECAS NW conferences – such as Michael Seraphinoff whose presentation was part of an art and architecture panel Muskheli chaired.
“This was the first time I chaired a session, so for me, that was the most important and memorable about my experience at the conference,” Muskheli said. “It was a milestone of my development as a researcher.”
Grobelski, who is considering submitting her research for next year’s conference, found the conversations at REECAS NW panels to be dynamic and engaging.
“I think the most valuable aspect is that participants come from many different disciplines,” she said. “I learned a lot about how linguists are studying the region, for example, that actually has some relevance to the work social scientists like myself do. I wouldn’t get this kind of exposure if I went to a more ‘closed’ disciplinary conference. I also like the collegial atmosphere; even though there are accomplished scholars in attendance, they don’t feel the need to use intimidating jargon or treat any question as any less important than others. Instead the atmosphere is open and intellectually curious.”
Presenters, as well as attendees, found the opportunity for networking with fellow scholars interested in the REECAS region, to be among the most valuable takeaways from the day-long event. Muskheli found particular value in the experience for graduate students.
“As a grad student, you should participate in REECAS [NW] because it is a validation of your research, because you can get tremendously insightful comments, and because it gives you a great sense of camaraderie and allows you to establish meaningful contacts with other researchers,” she said.