Building Ukraine Alive – Suggestions for Hands-on Learning at the Undergraduate Level

Natalie Kononenko


When I first came to the University of Alberta, a local public school called me up and asked me to do a presentation about Ukrainian culture. I thought this was great. Having town/gown interaction encourages interest in higher education. Exposing young students to university faculty increases the chances that those young ones will go on to advanced study. For all of us who teach the various Slavic languages, literatures, and cultures, encouraging interest in Slavic studies is a distinct plus.

But as lovely as serving the educational needs of the public-school system may be, it can prove impossible. The first request was followed by others and I quickly realized that my physical presence at all schools that wanted a unit on Ukraine was out of the question.

Ukraine Alive is born!

I had worked extensively in digital technologies at the University of Virginia where I taught before I was recruited at the University of Alberta. I helped develop a number of education aids. I used digital processing to handle the massive amounts of data that folklore research tends to produce. I built sites for use in my University of Virginia classes. A site for elementary education was a natural evolution of my work.  I will not present a full history of our work here. Some of it has been published. See, for example: “Ukrainian Folklore Audio.” Oral Tradition 28.2 (2013): 243–252.

The first website I produced was Shkola Zhyva, a Ukrainian language resource for bilingual education. First I worked alone, then with a graduate student. Elementary school teachers who were teaching in all-English classrooms soon learned of our site and asked for an English language version. With federal grant support (SSHRC – Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada), this became Ukraine Alive and can be accessed at

The really innovative aspect of and the one that I would like to share with the AATSEEL community is the involvement of undergraduates in website building and presentation. Having undergrads working on an elementary school website has enormous rewards on all levels. The website, because it is built by persons closer in age and experience, resonates with the target users. It contains a wealth of fun and relatable pictures, video, and text. Google Analytics shows thousands of hits. As important is the effect that working on the site has on the undergraduate developers. This is not just a paper that earns them a grade and is then filed somewhere in the depths of one of the current online classroom management systems; this is something that stays and is regularly used. Undergraduate student pride in their work is a joy to see. Because one of the jobs of web building, as I run it, was having the students do a demo of part of the site in one of the local elementary schools, students get first-hand evidence of work being used. They can test what they and their classmates have produced and, if they come back and suggest modifications to the site according to the reactions that they saw, we make the appropriate changes. The sense of accomplishment that this work produces is most rewarding for all.

Let me give the logistics of running a course where undergrads help build websites:

  • Students do research. They go through the existing Ukraine alive website to see what might be lacking or that might be productively expanded or better presented in a different form. They can look at Ukrainian educational resources in any format and they can compare to websites for other languages and cultures.
  • Presentation and discussion. Students present their ideas to the entire class. Their ideas are debated and they then form groups that will work together to tackle the issues to which the class decides to give priority.
  • As the work on the generation of the unit proceeds, each group presents its progress to the class. The teacher presents background information. In the recent past, one of our issues has been gaming and the degree to which gaming can incentivize the learning of a culture the way that it is supposed to motivate STEM subject matter acquisition.
  • Students do presentations in the elementary school classroom. They go as a group and present a general introduction to the site, plus their own unit.
  • Presentation of results back in the university classroom. Students give a short formal talk about their presentation to the elementary school students and the unit that they had worked on, critiquing their own work. They critique both the unit that they built and their own presentation style.
  • Write-up – students produce a course paper. This is a report of work accomplished and an analysis of it. Reports that include theoretical discussion earn the highest grades.

This sort of web-building can be done for any Slavic and East European language. Cultural websites are even more widely accessible and fun to build. Examples might be foods of the Slavic world—or a particular part of it. Students could collect greetings from various Slavic and East European countries and post these. This works especially well if greeting gestures are added to words of greeting. While we do websites for elementary ed., this is not obligatory and work for middle and high school would, I am sure, be welcomed by both teachers and students.

To keep this blog post from getting overly long, I will bring up a few logistical issues that might help others. Bringing the website outside the university and presenting it to potential users can be hard to do. The biggest problem is overcoming public school teacher reluctance. We were lucky because we already had a relationship with teachers and because our university has a Community Service Learning program that sets up partnerships in the community.

My advice—check with your university to see if a community liaison program exists and take advantage of their services. If such a program does not exist, contact the local school board. Once the initial contact is made and once a successful demo is completed, our experience is that you will have more requests for demos than you can handle.

Less direct approaches include delivering a public lecture, preferably well-advertised and covered by the local media and news bulletins on the university website. Most universities are more than willing to advertise innovative programs, especially those that reach out to the community.

Natalie Kononenko is Professor & Kule Chair in Ukrainian Ethnography at the University of Alberta.

SEEB is currently accepting blog post ideas and submissions from graduate students and faculty members. Please visit this page to learn more about our submission guidelines. We look forward to working with you!

Going Public: A Guide for Slavists

This is part of a SEEB series on the “Public Humanities” organized by Jennifer Wilson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at The Ohio State University.

In 2012, Brown University launched the country’s first dedicated master’s degree in “Public Humanities.” With the goal of making humanities research “meaningful and accessible,” the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage has offered courses on radio and podcasting (the Center also hosts its own public humanities podcast, “Public Work”), the history of heritage museums and cultural organizations in Rhode Island, prison education, and public memory. The program also offers courses taught by directors of local organizations such as Lorén Spears, the Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum, who co-teaches a course on “indigenous cultural survival” in Rhode Island.

Facebook Live advertisement; photograph by Roxanne Silverwood

Since then, “public humanities” programs, often geared towards graduate students, have been springing up across the country. Central to these initiatives is a desire to think about the potential social impact of the humanities. Advocates for public humanities bemoan the current state of academic research, finding it too often cloistered away behind ivy-trimmed gates and prohibitively expensive paywalls, and are proactively thinking about ways to bridge the divide between universities and the public. Case in point: the University of Washington at Seattle’s Simpson Center offers public humanities certificates and short-term fellowships designed to help students “integrate their scholarly and social commitments.” One recent fellow, Julian Barr, revamped a walking tour of Seattle’s LGBTQ neighborhood, combining research in history, geography, and gay and lesbian studies for the final project, titled “The Original Seattle Gayborhood: A Public Historical Walking Tour of Seattle’s Lesbian & Gay Past.” Similarly, the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship at The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor holds an annual summer workshop called the “Institute for Social Change” where students are trained in “publicly engaged scholarship, pedagogy, and practices.” Rackham also offers students paid internships in the southern Michigan area, including at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

Indeed, for many public humanities programs and initiatives, critically reflecting on the university’s role in the immediate community is often a way to begin conversations about the ways research can and should serve local populations. In fact, my own journey into public humanities work came after I began a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania in my hometown. As an African-American native of West Philadelphia, it was strange to be on the other side of things so to speak, behind the walls that have historically shut people like me out. It dramatically changed my approach to my research, and I became newly eager to think about how my scholarship could engage and give back to the broader public. I began contributing to media outlets like The New York Times and The New Yorker, hoping to bring the lessons gleaned from years of studying Russian literature to bear on contemporary questions of cultural production and social justice. Recently, I wrote about what today’s true crime writers could learn from Dostoevskii about representations of criminality. As scholars with valuable insights into a part of the world that is increasingly making the news, we are in a unique position to offer culturally specific insights that could better inform public debates about the post-Soviet world, an act that would be a social good for the people who live there and could potentially suffer from a misinformed American mediasphere.

The contributors to this special issue have all likewise been thinking through the ways that their scholarly work can have an afterlife in the public realm. José Vergara and Marijeta Bozovic’s pieces both speak to the role of socially engaged pedagogy within the public humanities, with Vergara reflecting on his time as Project Coordinator for the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project (OPHP) and Bozovic discussing plans to adapt her university course, “Internet Cultures,” for students from the New Haven public school. In her contribution, Susan Smith-Peter writes about her experience creating an exhibit on the Russian Revolution for the New York Public Library; Smith-Peter teaches courses on Public History and her essay provides an important snapshot into what that discipline can offer the still nascent field of Public Humanities. For readers interested in how they can bring their scholarship to a wider audience through online writing, my interview with editors Boris Dralyuk (Los Angeles Review of Books) and Maya Vinokour (All the Russias) can provide some useful insights into the process and possibilities that writing for the public presents. Likewise, Katherine Bowers discusses new trends and opportunities in open-access publishing that can help scholars reach a broader and more diverse public.”

It is important to mention that much of the energy behind public humanities programming and institutionalization stems out of a recognition that the adjunct crisis has hit humanists especially hard. With an increasing dearth of stable employment for humanities PhDs, many public humanities programs have emphasized how their coursework and research fellowships can aid students in finding careers outside of academia. Most notably, the American Council for Learned Societies (ACLS) created a Public Fellows program that places recent humanities PhDs in jobs in government and non-profit jobs. ACLS has successfully secured jobs for fellows at places like the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Smithsonian Museum, and New York’s famed storytelling venue “The Moth.” This special issue hopes that alongside the very important conversation about the role of public humanities in helping graduates find meaningful work outside of higher education, we also consider how vital this new movement around socially engaged, publically accessible scholarship might be for those of us still within the academy as we fight not merely to save the humanities as they have been historically constituted (often in spaces that have excluded minorities and vulnerable members of our society), but to save a new, impactful, public, and truly humanistic version of them.   

Selected Public Humanities Projects by Scholars of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures:


Enthusiasm (Victoria Donovan, St. Andrews) –  “Enthusiasm’ is an innovative, interdisciplinary one-day arts event brings together musicians, members of the community, archivists and historians to take a radical look at a little-known historical episode that links Merthyr and the South Wales Valleys to the Donbass in Ukraine and asks how the legacy of this past continues to resonate in our social, cultural and political landscape today.”

Immigrant Stories (Co-editors Ani Kokobobo, University of Kansas, and Anne Lounsbery, New York University) – Hosted by All the Russias (the official blog of the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russian at New York University), this initiative compiled first-hand immigration stories from students and scholars in the field of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  

Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature and Leadership (Andrew D. Kaufman, University of Virginia) – A community-based course that brings college students together with residents of a maximum security juvenile correctional center to discuss Russian literature.

Crime and Punishment at 150 (Co-organized by Katherine Bowers, University of British Columbia, and Kate Holland, University of Toronto) – An outreach initiative that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the publication of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment (1866) through a series of public events and digital projects.

Going Public: A Guide for Slavists

A Series on the “Public Humanities” Organized by Jennifer Wilson


SEEB is currently accepting blog post ideas and submissions from graduate students and faculty members. Please visit this page to learn more about our submission guidelines. We look forward to working with you!


Writing in Public

An Interview with:

Boris Dralyuk (Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books)

Maya Vinokour (Assistant Professor at NYU and Editor, All the Russias’ Blog)


This interview is part of a SEEB series written and organized by Jennifer Wilson on the “Public Humanities.” Interview responses edited and condensed for clarity.

“The Knowledge”
Portland Center for the Public Humanities at Portland State University
Designed by Harrell Fletcher


Jennifer Wilson: Can you each say a bit about your respective publications and how they’re distinct from other forums academics might be interested in writing for?

Boris Drayluk: The Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) is for the most part an online publication, although we have a print component. We publish three pieces a day and cover a wide range of subjects; we’re not simply a book review. We have about fifteen section editors who oversee genres ranging from the hard sciences to the humanities to memoir to science fiction. In terms of why academics might want to publish with us—our venue allows them to speak in more accessible terms, terms not devoid of specificity but aimed at a broader audience. As disciplinary discourses get narrower and narrower, we aim to broaden the conversation. We also attract half a million readers a month from all parts of the globe. Few academic publications can reach that kind of audience. I think that’s inherently appealing.

Maya Vinokour: All the Russias tries to embody a hybrid space, or something like the “third space” that coffee shops are supposed to be (not home, but not work, either). I like the idea of a publication that is academic but also open to experimentation, speculation, and even (or especially!) weirdness. As editor, I want the blog to be as heterogeneous as possible, so anything that’s of interest to the field is fair game. I would also say that 500 words, our stated minimum for submissions, is a low barrier to entry. The short form can be really helpful in that it requires low commitment, but offers a high potential for visibility. The blog has a wide and quite diverse readership, as I’ve learned over the past few months. I frequently get emails from people who are not in the field either with comments or submissions. They’re not involved in the formal academic pursuit of Russian, East European, or Eurasian studies, but they’re reading the blog and interested in what it has to say.  In terms of how we’re distinct from other places academics might publish, we take from a variety of contributors—both those entirely outside academia, and also from undergrads all the way to full professors and beyond. My ideal version of the blog is a panoply of voices and people who are all experimenting with new ideas.

JW: What kind of work by scholars do you typically publish and what kinds of writing would you like to see more of from them?

BD: Because we are, at least nominally, a book review, we tend to receive pitches for reviews. The kind of work I’d like to see from scholars of East and Central European and Eurasian studies would be reviews of important academic titles and translated fiction, as well as reviews of fiction yet to be translated—and not just reviews, but essays and think pieces on trends in their disciplines. One piece we published by Maya is exemplary of that. It was a review in shape, but also much more than that: a broad essay on books by Sorokin and Pelevin that have yet to be translated into English. I want our publication to push the conversation, to enable new translations, and to familiarize people outside of the discipline with work they should know. I want readers to clamor for new work, for new translations.

MV: We generally feature things that offer cultural or political observation, but also like to include posts pertaining to local matters in New York City. Anytime there’s an interesting new play or exhibition in New York or an event at the NYU Jordan Center, we try to illuminate it. It’s a combination of being tied to the origin of NYU and the Jordan Center and also looking out at the world beyond. In terms of the kind of post I’d love to publish more of in the future: ideally, All the Russias would become a really experimental forum, a laboratory for working out new research directions that may not be fully fleshed out. It could be really cool if people were willing to go out on a limb and feature things that they were just beginning to work through (although of course I understand how risky that can feel!).

JW: What do you think scholars, particular those with backgrounds in our field (Slavic, Eastern Europe and Central Asia studies), have to offer the public sphere?

MV: We’re obviously living through unique and interesting times, to put it lightly. I think in a way there’s a positive aspect to this for us as scholars in the humanities. We’re living in this unresolved and terrifying ideological free-fall, which means there’s also demand for explanations and narratives, for new means of theorizing this world we’re living in. As scholars of Russian and East European Studies, the most obvious thing that we have to offer is cultural insight that would be helpful in public policy matters. More broadly, as scholars of REEES literature and culture, we have this privileged access to a rich philosophical, social, and aesthetic tradition. If we learned to present it in the right way, in the most powerful and beautiful way, I believe we could parlay it into those insights that people are really craving. Personally, as a scholar of Russian literature, I feel pretty uniquely positioned to deal with the “accursed questions” which, in the past, the Anglo-American world felt largely free to ignore. But it can’t do that anymore. As humanists, we hold the intellectual and epistemological keys to thinking through all of these challenges. And that’s where places like LARB and All the Russias fit in—as bridges to a wider world.

BD: As humanists, as people who study literature, and as translators—Maya and I both translate—we have faith in literature’s explanatory power. We believe that the humanities can offer answers that no other discipline can offer,, especially when it comes to logo-centric cultures. Writing matters a great deal in the Slavic realm. These are cultures that have invested in the written word, and their literatures give us clues to a world beyond the confines of any book.

JW: Both LARB and All the Russias’ have featured numerous essays and interviews by academics. What in your experience are some of the most common challenges scholars face in adapting their writing style for a wider audience?

BD: The real challenge is that people are trained to speak to certain audiences. This isn’t just true of academics. If you work in a machine shop, you’re geared to speak to other mechanics. Academia is a kind of machine shop. Specialists have a jargon, a shorthand by which they communicate their ideas. When speaking to a broader audience, academics have to let go of that shorthand. They have to unpack terms they’re no longer used to unpacking. That is a challenge, but a challenge that can be easily overcome in the course of an edit. It’s just a matter of reminding contributors of what it takes to speak to a broader audience. [laughs] They remember what it’s like to speak to outsiders—you just have to remind them. The skill is never lost. It’s like riding a bicycle.

MV: I like this idea that it’s a process of re-socialization. [laughs] Everyone knows what it’s like to read something that’s captivating. The idea is just to identify that element in your own work and say it in the first sentence. That’s my most common comment: the interesting nugget that the piece was written to showcase is in there, but it has to come out quickly. Scholars want to qualify claims and equivocate and prepare the ground for whatever idea is coming, but when you’re writing something between 500–1200 words, you have two sentences to reveal that nugget or you’re in trouble.

BD: It was at one point the case that people who were specialists in their fields were expected to speak to a broader audience. And I think today’s academics want that too. They spend 15–20 years digging into something for a reason. And they’re eager to explain that reason.

JW: What kind of feedback have you gotten from academics who’ve written for LARB and All the Russias? What, if anything, have they shared with you about the experience of writing for the public? 

BD: I can’t even count how many notes of gratitude I’ve received from academics. People are deeply gratified, especially when they see comments on the bottom of the page from general readers. They enjoy receiving emails that acknowledge the value of their difficult, lonely work — emails from friends and relatives, as well as from perfect strangers. It’s a wonderful thing for me to see as an editor.

MV: Another thing you learn in academia is to never let anything out unless it’s in its most glorious polished form. It’s understandable. You don’t want to appear not fully together or incur the disapproval of your peers. People also worry about getting “scooped” in some way. And all of that is normal, and even conditioned into us by the structure of the profession. But I do think it’s vital for spaces to exist where people actually feel comfortable to be more informal. Man is a social animal, and the way that we develop our intellectual apparatus is by displaying it to other people and having a conversation about our ideas. So I try to balance that spirit with people’s comfort in sharing their ideas.

JW: For someone interested in publishing with LARB or All the Russias’, what advice would you give? 

BD: Write to me! I’m at We do like a robust pitch that explains the importance of a given topic, but we’ll take a one-line pitch and spin that out as well. We’re willing to work with writers on just about anything. Give us a try. We’d like to hear from you!

MV: People can reach me at, and before that I encourage them to check out our style and submission guidelines. I’m excited to hear from people with ideas, whoever they may be—whether you’re just entering the field, adjacent to it, outside of it, whether you’ve published a little or a lot. The main thing for me is that you have some insight or thought you want to share. So when in doubt, just pitch or submit! The way that something like a blog works best is if it’s intellectually open and curious.  

Selected examples of public writing from scholars in the field:


Boris Dralyuk is a literary translator and the Executive Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. His recent publications include 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution (Pushkin Press, 2016), as well as translations of Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories (Pushkin Press, 2014 and 2016) and Mikhail Zoshchenko’s Sentimental Tales (Columbia University Press, 2018).

Maya Vinokour is Assistant Professor in the Department of Russian & Slavic Studies at NYU.

SEEB is currently accepting blog post ideas and submissions from graduate students and faculty members. Please visit this page to learn more about our submission guidelines. We look forward to working with you!



The Public Humanities, Prison Education, and Our Hidden Interlocutors

José Vergara


This article is part of a SEEB series written and organized by Jennifer Wilson on the “Public Humanities.”

As I leaf through the notebook I used while teaching courses at Oakhill Correctional Institution, I can picture many of the moments, both large and small, that transformed the way I now think about the humanities. There was the time we discussed Kafka’s brilliant and frustrating short story “Before the Law,” and one participant announced, despairingly, “This dude took me somewhere I didn’t want to go.” Then there was the conversation about Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths” that led us to draw and explore different conceptions of time in a session that remains my favorite classroom experience to this day. As part of a creative writing workshop I ran, the students’ writing introduced me to a whole host of characters: the punch-drunk boxer and the jazz musician; the eponymous Gogol-esque hero of “A Tale about a Nose”; and Chop Chop the superhero pig whose creator invested as much thought into the imagery as into the sound of his dynamic texts. There was also the story of a lightning bug caught in a jar. With each flashing of its lantern, the author Scott explained, it grew more and more aware of the passing of its life.

I can attempt to retell the stories I heard within the bare room on the second floor of the prison’s education building, but my own words fall short. They remain only a pale glimmer of their original forms. What I can impart instead is the significance of these encounters. In Oakhill, a men’s minimum-security prison located about twenty minutes south of Madison, Wisconsin, I witnessed immense talents gone unnoticed by society and a pure desire to learn and engage with new material that rivals that of any so-called traditional college student.

My time at Oakhill began in June 2011. I decided to go through the prison’s training session after hearing from a friend about her experiences teaching there, and I began offering courses two months later. Eventually, in 2013, a number of volunteers teaching fiction, poetry, and creative writing came together to form the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project (OPHP). We received two major grants that allowed us to both cover our expenses (copies, books, mileage, etc.) and to create a dedicated position, a Project Coordinator who would oversee all operations and communication. As Project Coordinator, which I served as for over a year, I recruited volunteers to teach classes on new topics such as art, history, and theater. I likewise organized a travelling exhibition entitled Artists in Absentia that featured the art, music, and writing of participants. My goal in all these efforts was twofold: to diversify the educational opportunities provided to the men in Oakhill and to expand the exchange between the incarcerated individuals and the outside world, from which, of course, they often feel estranged. My hope was to permit the exhibition’s audience to see the humanity in the art produced by the contributors, and, while they needed little help in finding their artistic voices, we gave them a wider venue to showcase their talents.


Past, Present, Future – Dreamer and the Dreamed 
Ryan B.
Artists in Abstenia

Old School
Terrence K.
Artists in Abstenia

The statistics regarding prison education programs’ positive effects on recidivism, post-release employment opportunities, institutional expenses, and the general well-being of everyone involved, from incarcerated individual to correctional officer to warden, have been well documented. According to a report by the RAND Corporation: “Inmates who participate in correctional education programs had a 43 percent lower chance of recidivating than those who did not.”1 These are very real and very substantial factors to consider as we advocate for the public humanities and for broader prison reform.

My own involvement in the OPHP, which should be noted is not a credit-bearing program, was, of course, excellent professional training. But most of all, it was the single strongest affirmation of what I, and many of us, do: read and absorb ourselves in stories that in many ways transcend differences in space, time, and experience. In a prison, everything is stripped down to its essentials of pen, paper, words, minds. Nothing else, but much more. We were simply fellow enthusiasts seeking to learn about the worlds around us and to have meaningful conversations about the imagined situations found in those readings. Sometimes, as when we discussed Waiting for Godot, our conversations would swerve toward personal experiences related to being incarcerated for lengthy periods and the mental anguish that comes with that uncertain state. More frequently, we came to understand better more universal dilemmas, such as the pain of loss as expressed in Hamlet and Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory.

Teaching at Oakhill was also a lesson in humility and perspective. The men there did not always need to hunt for symbols or to link a text to a particular theory. It was instead enough to appreciate the art on its own terms, to allow the writing to provide insights into our own behavior, and to see how others live through these texts. As a quote from my notebook (jotted down after a co-instructor tried to invest too much meaning into a participant’s technique) read: “I just write, bro.”

At its best, the public humanities is an exchange, rather than a one-way street. At Oakhill, for example, the men would frequently thank me and the other volunteers for offering classes and for visiting the prison. The truth is that my gratitude extends to them in ways they can never know. Teaching at Oakhill demonstrated to me that we can blend the personal with the literary, the emotional with the theoretical, and in doing so, we can come to profound conversations in any classroom. I realize that this idea will not necessarily come as a revelation to most; it was not exactly to me either. Yet my time in prison only solidified that belief and made me a better instructor for it. What the humanities—and not just of the public variety—do is reveal the way others might live. For many of the men in my classes, though by no means all,  this process let them consider their own pasts, as well as the effects of their actions on their victims. The humanities thus bridge gaps in our understanding and bring us at least a little bit closer to recognizing another’s perspective. In our conversations about poetry and history, we similarly learn to appreciate the way others think and feel. I felt this each time I went to Oakhill.

In turn, the public humanities aim to redirect the conversation from a feedback loop within universities toward others who may have been underrepresented or underserved by our communities of higher education. The costs of the prison-industrial complex remain vast, but as a volunteer instructor at Oakhill, the one that always struck me as a remarkable pity was the loss of perspectives that comes from having so many people locked away. I can only speak for myself, but I know I was enriched by the men with whom I debated the merits of magical realism and the meaning of death in Anna Karenina.

We should all be so lucky as to spend at least one evening discussing favorite short stories with our hidden interlocutors in prison.2

1   See, for example, the following report produced by the RAND Corporation:

To learn more about prison education opportunities near you, please visit the Prison Studies Project directory. For a fascinating look inside San Quentin State Prison, listen to the podcast Ear Hustle, which was co-founded and co-produced by people currently incarcerated there.

José Vergara is Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian at Swarthmore College. His research interests include comparative literature and the Russian novel of the long twentieth century. Having recently completed the Inside-Out Instructor Training Institute, he is looking forward to offering courses in a prison again soon.

SEEB is currently accepting blog post ideas and submissions from graduate students and faculty members. Please visit this page to learn more about our submission guidelines. We look forward to working with you!



The Russian Revolution and Public History: Expanding America’s Story

Susan Smith-Peter


This article is part of a SEEB series written and organized by Jennifer Wilson on the “Public Humanities.” For more information on this series, see this post.

All of Russia was talking. At every street corner and shop, Russians were taking part in a flood of debate. So say many eyewitness accounts of the Russian Revolutions of 1917. As an associate professor of history at the College of Staten Island in the City University of New York, I wanted to recreate this dialogue, at least to some degree, both in my class and by presenting the story of the Russian Revolution to the public. Later, this experience informed my ideas of how Slavists can interact with the larger field of public history as part of public humanities.

The class I chose for my experiment was HST 701, Historical Methods, the introductory class for our History MA program. As a class, we learned about different historical schools and then saw how these approaches shaped how historians wrote about the Russian Revolution. In addition, because our department had recently received approval for its Advanced Certificate in Public History program, I decided to share the class’s work with the public through an exhibit at the New York Public Library (NYPL). The library’s rich collection of Slavic materials has been an inspiration for my work, as well as that of other scholars, and presenting a selection of this collection would draw attention to these holdings, which have been distributed among different divisions since the closure of the Slavic and Baltic Division in 2008.  

While working on the rich collection of Russian photography at the NYPL for another project, I had come across an album from Bessie Beatty, one of the Americans who wrote about the revolution in her book, The Red Heart of Russia, which the class could read and compare with the photographs in the album. From this beginning, an exhibit focusing on American perspectives on the Russian Revolution took shape, through which we would explore how Americans presented the March and November Revolutions to the world.  

Halfway through the class, a routine catalog search showed that the NYPL had the John Reed collection of posters and proclamations. Among them was the printed declaration from Lenin announcing the fall of the Provisional Government and the arrival of the new Bolshevik government.  Reed had described in Ten Days that Shook the World how he had tossed these proclamations out of a car the night of the November Revolution.  Now, here was a copy of this proclamation that he had saved himself. It was an easy choice for the exhibit.

The Russian Revolution: American Perspectives,” an exhibit at The New York Public Library, Nov. 8-19, 2017.

Creating the exhibit itself required a synthesis of researching the history and selecting the objects that could convey that history. The class, in addition to reading classic works of history including on the Russian Revolutions, also analyzed the Americans’ photograph albums about the Russian Revolution held at the NYPL, and collectively came up with a checklist of items to exhibit. One of my students found a poster representing the Bolshevik Revolution as a red wave sweeping away the clergy and bourgeoisie, and successfully argued that this Soviet poster should be the central visual piece of the exhibit. We met with members of the NYPL exhibitions team to discuss our vision for the exhibit, providing the students (and myself) with real-world experience in the process of curating an exhibit.

The show, titled “The Russian Revolution: American Perspectives,” was open November 8–19, 20171 during which time I gave tours for college students and found that there was a real interest in the topic. I also organized a one-day event at which I and other scholars of U.S.-Russia relations (including William Bensonhunt, David Fogelsong, Lyubov Ginzburg, and my MA student Peter Scasny) took part. It was well attended and the audience had many questions about Russian-American relations, both in 1917 and today. The semester after the class had ended, my colleague at the College of Staten Island, who was teaching many of my former students in his MA class, asked me, “What did you do to them?  All they want to talk about is the Russian Revolution.” It seemed a little bit of the festival of talk that marked the revolution itself had made its way across time and space.

This semester, as I taught HST 718, Public History, I began to think more about what this particular experience might have to offer the field as a whole. As it is presently practiced, public history is a field that trains professionals to present history to the public in museums, historical societies, parks and elsewhere. The professional body, the National Council on Public History, provides a framework of case studies and theoretical works on its website that helps to define it.2 One of the aims of public history is to provide communities with access to their own history by collecting and presenting it..

The 1917 exhibit on the other hand provides a framework by which to have a public history that brings in global as well as American stories.

Russian-American relations are not without consequence, both in the past and today and so it is important that it also be included in public history. This is an opportunity for Russianists and other Slavists to get involved in reaching the public. Public historians are committed to telling a diverse range of stories, but few of them have a background in the histories or languages of other countries.  Slavists could partner with public historians in institutions around the country to show that America has been engaging the world for a long time. Programs like the College of Staten Island’s Advanced Certificate on Public History can teach its students how to tell the many stories of America in the world and the world in America. In this way, we can get Americans talking about the world.

Susan Smith-Peter in front of the NYPL exhibit.

1 (Accessed May 25, 2018).

2 (Accessed May 25, 2018).

Susan Smith-Peter is associate professor of history at the College of Staten Island/City University of New York. She is the author of Imagining Russian Regions: Subnational Identity and Civil Society in Nineteenth-Century Russia (Leiden: Brill, 2018) and has published widely on regions and regionalism.

SEEB is currently accepting blog post ideas and submissions from graduate students and faculty members. Please visit this page to learn more about our submission guidelines. We look forward to working with you!



The Ins and Outs of Open Access

Katherine Bowers


This article is part of a SEEB series written and organized by Jennifer Wilson on the “Public Humanities.”

In November 2017 two projects of mine were published within a matter of days of each other. The first was a journal article, which came out in Gothic Studies, the flagship journal of the International Gothic Association, and the second a book chapter, which came out in a volume I co-edited with Simon Franklin for Open Book Publishers, an open access scholarly publisher based in the UK. When I tweeted about the new publications, both received the typical favorites and re-tweets, but it quickly became clear that there was a stark difference between them. In the case of the Open Book Publishers volume, people began reading it almost immediately. Open Book Publishers keeps count of some data about its readers and the book garnered hundreds of reads in the first week; at the time of writing (7 months later) it is somewhere around 2100, astronomic figures when you consider typical academic book sales after six months. Simon Franklin and I are particularly pleased because the book has easily reached many readers in Russia; for those interested, OBP has blogged about their Russian readership here.

However, almost immediately I began to receive a stream of emails about the Gothic Studies article. All of the emails asked me for access as the journal hadn’t yet been mailed to subscribers by its publisher, Manchester University Press, and the online version was locked behind a significant paywall through Ingenta Connect, a subscription digital content hosting and delivery service. Even worse, when the article was first published, even I, its author, did not have access to the printed version without paying the $33.50 plus tax fee Ingenta charged. I was unable to access more than the table of contents through my institutional library, and when I emailed colleagues with access through other Canadian, UK, and US research libraries, they, too, were locked out.

The point this sad tale of academic publishing strife hits home is that open access publishing helps get research disseminated and read widely, including to and by those without institutional access to content hosts such as Ingenta, JSTOR, Project Muse, and others in this vein. Surely this is the goal we all have: after all, we publish research in order for others to read and ideally engage with it.

Navigating Open Access Publishers                                                     

So how does one go about publishing open access? There are several ways to do this, as outlined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative. The first option – called the “gold” route – is to publish with a press or journal that is open access, in whole or in part.

Examples of dedicated OA publishers include OBP (mentioned above) or UCL Press (the first fully OA university press in the UK), or an OA journal such as those hosted by the Open Library of Humanities or, specific to our field, Modern Languages Open or KinoKultura. OA presses typically operate on a model that allows users to read for free on their websites, but charges them for print-on-demand or ebook versions, while OA journals tend to be online only.

Hybrid OA presses or journals have an open access publication option that authors can choose, often for a fee. Some examples of hybrid OA presses with Slavic lists include Cornell University Press (through Cornell Open) and Academic Studies Press (which has a new OA line); both of these were made possible through an NEH-Mellon Open Book Grant, which also has enabled past titles to appear OA, with the promise of more to come. In terms of journals, Slavic Review is a hybrid OA journal with open access publication possible for articles through the Cambridge Core. This list of presses is by no means exhaustive; more presses and journals with open access options can be found by searching the Directory of Open Access Books or the Directory of Open Access Journals.

Publishing OA isn’t free; in most cases an OA fee will be required from authors to offset the publisher’s costs. UCL Press charges £5000 for a 100,000 word book with additional fees for extra words or color illustrations, although some limited grant funding is available for authors to offset or cover these costs. OBP states on their website that they do not require a fee, but that they ask for authors to pay for publication costs with grant funding, if possible (my co-edited volume’s publication, for example, was funded through a larger project grant from a UK funding body), but they have recently set up a Patreon to help support their OA practice. Journals, too, charge a fee for “gold” OA publication. In the case of Slavic Review this fee is $2980, while Modern Languages Open has a $750 (discounted to $600) fee. In the case of MLO, financial support is available through the Liverpool University Press Authors’ Fund for early career or precariously employed researchers who wish to publish with them but do not have access to the needed funds. Had I had the resources to fund it, I could have published my Gothic Studies article “gold” open access because Manchester University Press is a hybrid OA publisher. Publishing in Gothic Studies as part of MUOpen would have cost me £950.

These fees seem high, but they are part of the OA “gold” model that is inescapable. Publishing OA eliminates or significantly decreases the profit that journals and presses get from limiting access, and the losses must be made up somewhere in order for these businesses to continue to operate. Each of the content hosts I named above – Ingenta, JSTOR, Project MUSE – does also work with publishers who wish to publish open access on their respective platforms: Ingenta Open, JSTOR Open, and MUSEOpen. However, publishers pay to host their content OA on these services, while institutional subscriptions or individual paywall fees pay for hosting of non-OA content. KinoKultura was pioneering in our field in that it was an early OA peer review journal and publishes research articles without requiring fees of authors, but it is also a scholar-run and self-hosted operation and does not rely on a larger press for content hosting or dissemination.

The Ins and Outs of Self-Archiving

So what if you can’t afford open access or these presses and journals aren’t a good fit for your research? There is always the second route – the “green” route – of publishing open access, a practice known as self-archiving. Because so many research bodies and academic institutions now mandate that research published with their support be made openly available, many publishers and journals have policies that enable authors to publish a copy of their own work on a personal website or in an institutional repository. This practice is known as self-archiving.

You can look up any publisher or journal’s self-archiving policy on the UK-hosted SHERPA/RoMEO database, which has a color scheme for explaining what is and is not allowed:

In this scheme, Slavic Review and Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes are green and both allow post-print (that is, accepted, post-review, but pre-copyediting and proofing) versions to be archived by authors, but Russian Review is yellow and only pre-print (the submitted version before reviewer’s comments are incorporated) is allowed. SEEJ, SEER, and MLR are white, and each has a specific policy. SEER’s policy states that a post-print or publisher’s version (the version from the publisher’s website) can be archived after a 2-year embargo period, while SEEJ’s policy allows for immediate archiving but requires permission from the journal and then specifies that only a publisher’s version may be archived. MLR’s policy includes a 1-year embargo and then states that only a post-print can be archived. The intricacies of what is allowed and what is not may seem confusing, but the best practice is always to check SHERPA/RoMEO and, if any confusion remains, to inquire directly with the press or journal. Additionally, this helpful blog post helps shed light on what all of these terms – pre-print, post-print, publisher’s version – actually mean: Understanding Your Rights: Pre-Prints, Post-Prints, and Publisher Versions.

If I had thought to do this with my Gothic Studies article before publication, I could have self-archived the post-print version as Gothic Studies is a blue journal, giving those who wished to read it access to, at least, the accepted, post-print version, if not the published, post-proofed version. Manchester University Press was extremely helpful in facilitating green OA publication, even providing a special version of the article for self-archiving. This version is not the version published in Gothic Studies; it is not formatted for the journal, but, rather, appears as a Word doc, and it has not been through the final copyediting and proofing stage. In the case of my article, this means that some of the footnotes, which the editor queried, are incorrect (or in one place missing a page number!) and there are a few minor typos and stylistic infelicities. However, this version is the one that was officially accepted by the journal after I incorporated the peer reviewers’ suggestions.

Institutional and Shared Repositories vs Academic “Social Networking”

“Green” open access publishing or self-archiving is wonderful in that it can open up research that would otherwise be closed off behind paywalls or inaccessible to those without certain institutional affiliations. There are also several ways to self-archive. You can do it yourself, creating a personal website and hosting your own self-archive. This option works well for self-publicizing but means that your work will be read only by those who happen across your site. A classic model is the institutional repository, which hosts research created by those affiliated with the institution. This can be a great option for hosting material, and often institutional archivists are very flexible and helpful. One drawback is that those who change institutions, as is the new normal for those in precarious employment in our field, may find that their research becomes scattered across several different institutional repositories. Another issue is that not all institutional repositories are created equal: some appear in Google Scholar, but others do not.

To address this issue, some scholars have turned to academic social networking sites like ResearchGate or Both ResearchGate and are for-profit companies and their business models raise some ethical concerns as they profit off of users’ freely uploaded research. in particular drew sharp criticism in 2016 when some users were asked if they would be interested in paying to have their work “recommended” by the site’s editor. A number of essays caution against trusting sites like ResearchGate or to host your scholarship and offer alternatives including Paolo Mangiafico’s 2016 blog post “Should you #DeleteAcademiaEdu? On the Role of Commercial Services in Academic Publishing,“ Sarah Bond’s 2017 Forbes piece “Dear Scholars, Delete Your Account at” and Jon Tennant’s response to it. If the goal of conscientiously publishing “green” open access research is making it available to all, exploitative sites like ResearchGate and defeat that goal. Furthermore, many presses and journals do not consider these sites to be legitimate repositories and uploading work to them violates authors’ copyright agreements. This helpful post from the UC Scholarly Communication Office, “A Social Networking Site is Not an Open Access Repository,” includes more information as well as this illustrative chart.

The Humanities Commons

A better option is a model like the Humanities Commons CORE. This is an academic repository that was initially created by the MLA through a grant from the Mellon Foundation to address issues of access, as outlined in Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s essay “Academia, Not Edu” from October 2015. offers free academic social networking with a research repository and the option to host a personal or research website without fear of corporate exploitation, organized by academics, with a focus on openness and inclusivity. Work uploaded here is freely available for all to read, whether site members or not. Better still, ASEEES is a piloting organization, so there is already a home for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies on the site, which promises to be a great resource for our field as it becomes more populated.

Coming full circle, I conclude with the question that opened this post: why publish scholarship open access? I have made conscious choices to publish open access and to add my work to the Humanities CORE because I firmly believe that scholarship should be accessible to everyone. On an aside note that I don’t have space to discuss in detail here, the field of open education – a growing initiative to make educational and teaching materials free for anyone to access and reuse, promoting open, accessible, and inclusive learning worldwide – is also engaging in this conversation in a related area; as part of the open education movement, the Humanities CORE includes Open Syllabus and Open Pedagogy collections.

This blog post has detailed the current – as of 2018 – state of open access publishing in our field, but there is room for growth in the future. The vision of bodies such as the Open Library for the Humanities, a humanities-based OA library that seeks to reimagine models of scholarly publishing and dissemination in the arts, humanities and social sciences, is forward-looking, and the future is open and inclusive. Particularly in fields like ours, which unite scholars from multiple countries and institutional cultures, and in the current climate of job precarity and underemployment, it is important that the research that defines us as academics be available to foster and develop the conversations and connections that are necessary for the continued strength and vibrancy of our field.

Dr. Katherine Bowers is Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia, A specialist in nineteenth-century Russian literature, she is working on a book on the influence of European gothic writing on Russian realism. A list of recent publications — and their corresponding Open Access links — can be found on her ASEEES Commons site.

SEEB is currently accepting blog post ideas and submissions from graduate students and faculty members. Please visit this page to learn more about our submission guidelines. We look forward to working with you!


Internet Cultures and the Public Humanities: Murmurs from New Haven

Marijeta Bozovic


This article is part of a SEEB series written and organized by Jennifer Wilson on the “Public Humanities.”

1. Internet Cultures: The Course

In the spring of 2018, with my colleague and collaborator Marta Figlerowicz (Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature), I set out to teach the most challenging course of my career to date. Our lecture course on “Internet Cultures” (taught in the pilot run to 50 students, ranging from first-years to graduating seniors, from English creative writing to Computer Science majors) aimed to pioneer an interdisciplinary but humanities-centric approach to studies of the Internet within Yale’s undergraduate curriculum.

Photo: nicolasnova / Flickr

The core ambition of the course is to offer students a historical overview and comparative cultural contexts for understanding the digital world that surrounds us, and which the majority of us use daily with little understanding of how search tools, categorization systems, citation counts, and more shape and limit our knowledge. Seemingly overnight, human beings learned to use and depend on computer networks for work, military operations, pursuits of scientific knowledge, religious proselytizing, political organization, searches for mates and social communities, illegal activities, and infinite varieties of play. For virtually every scholar I know working today, research and pedagogy begin and end on a computer. Yet we usually behave as if that mediating, shaping, and limiting context weren’t there. The very size and speed with which this gargantuan “cultural production” has become central to our lives defies understanding, much less study.

To harpoon the whale, we divided our course into three units: Histories, Networks, and Cultural Practices. We opened with the origins of the Internet, its prehistories in early computing and fantasies of the thinking machine, and the cybernetics craze. How did the ideologies of the Cold War shape the development of the Internet? Why did the Soviet Union fail in its networking efforts? From this historically oriented unit, we moved to a discussion of the social media and networks associated with the so-called Web 2.0. This unit serves as an introduction to interdisciplinary network studies, borrowing elements from computer science, network analysis, linguistic anthropology, and quantitative sociology—and incorporates practicum sessions in Yale’s Digital Humanities Lab. Our third unit ends the course with a cultural studies approach to a sampling of current online cultural practices—from re-mediations of experimental verse, art, and performance to hacktivism and global piracy.

While we felt that we ourselves were learning (and indeed, lecturing) on the fly, responding to near constant and un-ignorable daily crises in the news (net neutrality, Facebook’s algorithm change, Cambridge Analytica, the Russian hacker “red scare,” YouTube shootings), our behemoth somehow lumbered to a successful close with excited students and piles of inspiringly thoughtful final papers.

2. Internet Cultures: The Vision

The next prong of the “Internet Cultures” initiative is more ambitious still, and will need to wait for the next iteration of the course (planned to be offered every two years). The vision is to use our newly popular undergraduate course to develop humanities-based educational outreach in collaboration with the New Haven, Connecticut public school system. What do we gain when we commit to diverse and cross-generational conversations: with international scholars who began studying “new media” well before the Internet existed, but also with ostensibly “digital native” local high school students?

As a subject matter of so much popular interest, “Internet Cultures” seems particularly well situated to translate from the university curriculum to high school pedagogy and community outreach. Our hope is eventually to develop a funded summer program for New Haven high school students, taught each summer after the Yale lecture—borrowing from the same materials, and inviting recent undergraduate students into the classroom as co-teachers. Throughout, we will try to emphasize self-reflective, collaborative, networked, and open-access approaches, as well as a fundamental commitment to educational outreach and to public humanities engagement.

We mean to provide motivated New Haven high school students with new knowledge and skills; to bring them into Yale classrooms, libraries, and humanities laboratories; and to introduce them to undergraduate student mentors. Part of the dream, of course, is to recruit talented and underrepresented students into the humanities—something we generally fail to do before the undergraduate level, unlike our colleagues in STEM fields. (While our colleagues in the sciences have well-organized outreach programs and corresponding university infrastructural support—in part due to national funding structures—nothing of the kind exists in the humanities on any significant scale.) Meanwhile, the educational exchange would offer Yale students teaching and mentoring opportunities, outreach experience, and exposure to new areas and methods of research. We are trying, in other words, not only to make an impact through our own efforts, but also to teach generations of humanities students to incorporate outreach into their own research and pedagogy.

Every institution has its own pathways for outreach: ours is in a position to be generous. To get off the ground, we are relying on a number of new, established, and re-imagined institutional partners: the Yale Digital Humanities Lab; Whitney Humanities Center; Center for Teaching and Learning; Summer Undergraduate Research Initiative; and emerging Pathways to the Arts and Humanities. Each pledge of support, in our experience, made it easier to win the next.

Internal support for the “Internet Cultures” course, working group, and symposium (facilities, technical and administrative support, and funds) came through the Whitney Humanities Center, Digital Humanities Lab, and Center for Teaching and Learning. The Summer Undergraduate Research Initiative program, affiliated with the Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity, brings a diverse group of undergraduates to Yale for eight weeks every summer.  The experience familiarizes students with the kind of work expected in graduate school; provides insights into careers based on PhD-level training; and fosters confidence regarding their own abilities and potential. Working with the Associate Dean of Diversity, we plan to integrate our summer high school program with this existing initiative. Working with the Director of Public School Partnerships, in turn, we are developing relationships with New Haven public schools through the new Pathways to Arts and Humanities at Yale, modeled on the well-established local Pathways to Science program.

Ultimately, we hope to establish Internet studies within Yale’s undergraduate humanities curriculum, and to give such studies a prominent place within the university’s outreach programs. We hope to create a shareable syllabus and lecture materials across several departments, programs, and ultimately institutions; and to develop a working model of outreach and resource-sharing practices in the humanities.

Wish us luck—or better yet, join us.


Marijeta Bozovic is an assistant professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures; Film and Media Studies; and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University.

SEEB is currently accepting blog post ideas and submissions from graduate students and faculty members. Please visit this page to learn more about our submission guidelines. We look forward to working with you!