Saturday, November 11, 2017

ASEES Conference

Although this blog is the product of amateurism, I have often wondered what the Association of Eastern European and Eurasian Studies annual conference looks like.  This year, with the conference only twenty minutes from my campus in downtown Chicago, I felt obligated to finally attend.  The experience of sitting in professional panels and roundtables was both exhilarating and intimating.  I realized how of course how far my blog is from anything even approaching original research.  In fact, I was once again reminded of the character in Don DeLillo's short novel, White Noise, who founds the interdisciplinary field of Hitler Studies but can't read a word of German.

In any event, it was good to see how scholars of Russia and the Soviet Union talk to one another.  Intimidated by the erudition and professional expertise of both the presenters and the attendees, I scarcely asked a question of anyone.  In fact, with some discomfiture I realized how community college students must feel when they enter my office, the office of a dean, with little prior postsecondary experience.

On the bright side, it was wonderful to be at this conference in the centenary year of the Revolution, and to hear Laura Engelstein and other major scholars discuss the historiography of 1917 at this particularly significant moment in time.  I was particularly impressed by panels on nationalism in Eastern Europe in 1918,  masculinity in the Soviet Union of the postwar era, and biographies that cross the revolutionary divide.

When I told my wife, a well-published professor of electrical engineering, of my experience at the conference, she asked me why I had attended at all.  Her point was that professional conferences are usually geared toward specialists rather than community college administrators who spoke not a lick of Russian and hadn't taught a class in several years, and had in fact never taught a specialized class in Russian history.  She of course had a point, and certainly I immediately wondered whether it would make sense to attend again, insofar as I didn't even know enough attendees to network properly.  On the other hand, coming home from the conference, I reflected on that fact that writing this blog has at least positioned me as the kind of generalist who could comfortably attend sessions in a variety of areas on all manner of subjects.  Being a generalist doesn't lead to publications, but it can perhaps make for an enjoyable conference experience.

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