By Mark Lipovetsky
I am writing this column in the wake of the AATSEEL conference in San Francisco and at the beginning of preparations for next year’s conference in 2018. Thanks to the efforts of Kevin Platt, Elisabeth Durst, Rachel Stauffer, Jon Stone and other members of the Executive Council, interesting changes have begun to happen in our organization. As the incoming new president I hope to continue and possibly expand this process. Certainly, if you were in the San Francisco Parc 55 hotel in the first week of February 2017, you know this news already. But if you weren’t there, this column is for you.
As you probably know, for the first time we had our conference separately from MLA. This was a big step, but it was necessary — as it secured our freedom to choose the places and, most importantly, the timing for conferences that is more convenient than the first week of the new year. Our choice of February was determined by a poll among the members of AATSEEL, and so was the choice of top cities for our meetings. We all were somewhat nervous anticipating how this change might affect conference attendance. Yet despite our fears, the conference of 2017 was one of the best attended among recent gatherings. The overall total of submissions (including preformed panels and roundtables) increased from 148 last year to 205 this year. And the number at the end of the conference for total registrants was more than 425.
We hope that this tendency will continue in 2018, especially thanks to great hotel rates that our conference manager, Rachel Stauffer, secured for us in Washington, DC. Also in 2017, in terms of members, we have exceeded 700 for the first time in several years. An auto-renew function on the website radically simplifies the process of registration (150 members have already used it).
Another innovation introduced in 2017 is the system of streams — i.e., clusters of panels united by the same topic. The streams were conceived by Kevin and associates as mini-conferences within the large conference. Their purpose is to increase cohesion between panels and to connect scholars of different generations. At the 2017 conference, streams were dedicated to such diverse topics as political forms in contemporary Russian culture, OBERIU and its aftermath, eco-criticism in Russian literary studies, translations in Slavic culture, Dostoevsky, elementary-level language instruction, women’s experience of war as reflected by Soviet and post-Soviet cinema, as well as mimesis in Russian art and aesthetic theory. Perhaps some of these topics will be inherited by our coming conferences, which would create even greater continuity and allow important conversations to continue. The organization of streams certainly requires more effort — both from “stream-leaders” and from Jon Stone, the head of the Program Committee — much more effort than regular conference panels. But the result was rewarding. As far as I can judge, this experiment was very successful, and all streams attracted audiences and generated exciting discussions. It is a testimony to the success of this form that for the conference of 2018 Jon has already received applications for 12 streams (as opposed to 8 in 2017). He is thinking about a different schedule of streams — in two groups as opposed to one, which will allow participants in one stream to attend others.
The conference of 2017 also continued great things that were introduced earlier. This year we had such relatively new but already traditional events as the advance seminars — this year, with Beth Holmgren on performance studies in Russia and Eastern Europe and with Harsha Ram on the physiological sketch in France, Russia and Georgia, a film screening of the documentary Finding Babel with Grisha Freidin’s dazzling introduction and participation of the director David Novack and the screenwriter Andrei Malaev-Babel, coffee with leading scholars in the field, workshops such as one on new course proposals by Benjamin Rifkin, teaching workshops for graduate students, and of course, a keynote address by the winner of the previous year’s prize for outstanding contributions to scholarship – in 2017, this was Michael Katz who spoke about his experience as a translator of Russian classical literature. These events constitute, so to speak, one more stream, or rather mega-stream — featuring prominent representatives of our profession and opening new lines of communication between them and scholars of younger generations. We hope to grow in this direction as well and we will be looking for new forms and initiatives to attract our great colleagues to presentations in these “genres.”
I have one more important piece of news that was announced at the 2017 conference: Irene Masing-Delic and Helen Halva, after years of editing of Slavic and East European Journal are passing the journal to a new team of editors. We all are incredibly grateful to Irene and Helen for all great things they’ve done for SEEJ — beginning with cutting-edge publications in diverse subfields of our discipline and ending with a new cover. Yana Hashamova, Professor and Chair of the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University, will be serving as the editor-in-chief of SEEJ; her colleague, Alexander Burry will be the associate editor. Thank you, dear friends, for taking this responsibility upon yourselves! I am confident that this new team of editors will continue running SEEJ as a highly rigorous and intellectually daring journal, one of the leading venues in our field. Regular publications on topics not limited to the history of literature and linguistic problems, such as film, visual arts, political culture etc., will expand its content and attract new readers. Certainly, this can happen only with the support of potential authors — who are also members of AATSEEL.
In short, AATSEEL is entering a new period — we hope that it will lead us to the revival of our organization and to the reshaping of its identity in dialogue with such larger associations as ASEEES, MLA, or ACTFL. However, the success of this process depends entirely on your creative ideas, critical suggestions, and, most of all, kind support.
University of Colorado-Boulder
AATSEEL President 2017-18