Archive for the ‘General’ Category

In Support of Language Training

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Late last week I drove over to Lawrence, Kansas to attend the day-and-a-half-long conference/birthday party marking the 50th Anniversary of KU’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREES). Formally constituted in 1960 or, perhaps, 1961 (who’s counting?), KU CREES is among the longest running of the nation’s Russian/East European area centers that emerged in the wake of Sputnik’s launch. Since 1965, it’s been a National Resource Center offering language training,  degree-granting programs, and serving as a resource for K-12 teachers, post-secondary educators, business, media, government, and military.

The crux of the conference involved a series of presentations by KU CREES alumni and current faculty focusing on the Center’s past, present, and future. Guest speakers included one of the Center’s founding members, Richard De George (KU Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, of Russian and East European Studies, and of Business Administration), and several of its most prominent graduates, including John C. Reppert (Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall Center for Security Studies), Thomas Wilhelm (Director of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas), and Glen Howard (President of The Jamestown Foundation).

As one would expect for an event such as this, a good deal of time was devoted to extolling KU’s considerable accomplishments in promoting the study of all things Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian. Speakers also focused  remarks on the continuing relevance of an area-studies approach to fostering and sustaining knowledge of the world beyond America’s borders. The most striking aspect of the presentations, however, was a recurring meme that cut across each one of the conference’s dozen or so talks: the vital importance of studying foreign language. Every one of the event’s featured guests (and the vast majority of attendees) owe their current stations in life in no small part to the fact that during their educational career they seized upon the opportunity to not only study, but to master, one or more foreign languages.

Setting aside liberal arts agit-prop regarding the inherent, humanistic value of knowing another culture’s language, there are immense “practical” advantages to be gained from acquiring language skills: from raising one’s standardized test scores, to broadening employment opportunities, to significantly improving fluency in one’s native language. Students looking to get the most “return on investment” in their education would be hard-pressed to do better than investing time and energy mastering a foreign tongue.

It’s not easy. Depending on the target language it can be very difficult and time-consuming. Despite myriad “advances” in instructional technology the acquisition of a foreign language still boils down to a great deal of memorization and repetitive practice. But it is far from impossible. (I started my own language training in Russian relatively late — during my sophomore year at KU).

It’s the one piece of advice I have constantly given students during the course of my teaching career. If you learn nothing else in school — learn a foreign language!


Monday, September 7th, 2009

sharpeyedWhile Dave Stone has been hard at work generating new posts and site content, I’ve been working behind the scenes trying to make sure that his efforts don’t go for naught.

It turns out that over the weekend a nasty attack against WordPress-based blog sites (like TRF) was discovered by Lorelle on WordPress. According to reports, the hack exploits security breeches present in older versions of the blogging software. Bloggers who haven’t yet updated to the most recent edition of WordPress (2.8.4) should do so quickly. The download can be found HERE.

To all appearances we managed to catch things in time. I spent the better part of the weekend manually backing up the entire site and installing the new software. Readers of TRF shouldn’t notice anything different. In the off chance that you do, please drop me a note through the “Contact” page.



Revenge of the Nationalities?

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

[This is the third of a four-part series of posts concerning "The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America." For background information on this series, click here. Previous installments: Part One and Part Two]

Revenge of the Nationalities?

Despite the impressive work being done in the broad subfields of cultural, political, social, and military history, the most important trend to have emerged since 1991 has been the growing interest in the geographic and cultural “peripheries” of both Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Recently awakened to the place of non-Russian ethnic groups in the history of the country (thanks to their role in the collapse of the USSR) and increasingly influenced by the methodologies of geographers, anthropologists, ethnographers, and comparative sociologists, erstwhile Russian historians and newly emerging scholars have been at the forefront in developing scholarship relating to ethnicity and nationality within Russia proper and in those regions that Russians today refer to as their “near abroad:” Central Asia and the Caucasus.

From under the Rubble

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

[This is the second of a four-part series of posts concerning "The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America." For background information on this series, click here. For Part One, here.]

From under the rubble

Although the years that immediately followed the demise of the Soviet system were accompanied by widespread and significant transformations in the field of Russian history, it cannot be said that these changes were themselves brought about by the historic events that transpired in and around 1991. A paradigmatic shift in Russian historiography was already underway by the time that the USSR had entered into its final stages of decay. Increasingly influenced by the “linguistic turn” that had earlier transformed the historiography of Western Europe, Russian historians were moving away from the issues and concerns that had defined the totalitarian–revisionist dispute towards cultural analysis based on methodologies devised by linguists and literary theorists.1

  1. John Toews, “Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience,” American Historical Review, 92 (1987): 879-907 []

A Brief History of Russian History, 1945-1991

Monday, December 10th, 2007

[This is the first of a four-part series of posts concerning "The Past, Present, and Possible Future of Russian History in America." For background information on this series, click here.]

A brief history of Russian history, 1945-1991

Although the scholarly study of Russia’s past may be said to have begun as early as the mid-eighteenth century with the publication of Mikhail Lomonosov’s Short Russian Chronicle (1760), Russian history, as an established academic field, is a relative newcomer to the United States.1 Originating in Slavic language programs created near the turn of the twentieth century first at Harvard (1896) then, later, Berkeley (1901) and Columbia (1915), Russian history did not truly come of age in the United States until well after the Second World War.2 After languishing for over half a decade as a woefully under funded and exotic subject principally of interest to the children of immigrants, Slavics rocketed to academic prominence thanks to the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA). Passed in response to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, Title VI of the NDEA aimed to address America’s perceived national security needs by providing for the training of international experts, especially those possessing skills in less commonly taught languages viewed critical to the nation’s geopolitical interests. Under the initial terms of the congressional mandate, the federal government funded nineteen “language and area centers” to facilitate the expansion of language instruction and related subjects in higher education. Title VI simultaneously created three other programs: modern foreign language fellowships (today known as Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships); international research and studies; and language institutes. Along with the language and area centers, these programs “formed a comprehensive approach to foreign language and world region education intended to prepare the United States for current and future global challenges.”3 Even though Title VI was international in scope and intentionally designed to promote the study of regions around the globe, owing to the centrality of the USSR to then contemporary American domestic and foreign policy considerations, the study of Russian language, culture, and history benefited greatly from the initial and subsequent reauthorizations of the program. More than any other factor, Title VI was responsible for the rapid development of Russian history in the United States.

  1. George Vernandsky, Russian Historiography: A History. (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1978), 3 []
  2. For a brief account of these earliest programs, see Horace G. Hunt, “On the History of Slavic Studies in the United States,” Slavic Review 46:2 (1987): 294-301 []
  3. A brief history of Title VI programs is available on the home page of the U.S. Department of Education. See, The number of language and area studies centers (or, National Resource Centers as they are now known) has grown to over 165 today []