The 25th AABS Conference in Philadelphia

May 1, 2016

From 26-28, the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS) hosted its celebratory 25th conference at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Over 200 guests came together from over 100 different institutions and 15 countries.

The topic “Global, Glocal, and Local: Distinction and Interconnection in the Baltic States” allowed researchers from a wide range of fields to participate. These included historians, political scientists, linguists, literary scholars, art, theatre and music researchers, museologists, and archivists etc. Five parallel sessions took place at once, so it was not easy to decide which ones to participate in. The range of topics was also widespread, which, as is usually the case at these kinds of conferences, offered the chance for not only discussion, but also for silent reflection and placing ones own topic in a larger context.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who spent a week in the USA with his wife on a working visit, gave the conference keynote address. President Ilves defended his Masters degree in Psychology at University of Pennsylvania in 1978. He recalled his time at his alma mater and how little was known about the Baltic countries then. The President’s speech focused on Russian aggression politics and what role Baltic scholars should have in today’s complicated political situation. He emphasised the importance of continuing to inform the world’s politicians of our history and geopolitical experience. Thus, President Ilves wished the academic community strength for continuing in their everyday efforts.

BaltHerNet was represented by a number of members. Maarja MerivooParro from the Tallinn University spoke on the topic of “Exploring the Cold War Estonian Diaspora through Popular Music.” Kristine Bekere’s (Latvian Academy of Sciences) topic was “The Latvian Diaspora’s Involvement in the Processes of Latvian State Independence Renewal, 1989-1991”. Laura Laurušaite from the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore spoke about relics of Soviet mentalities in contemporary Lithuanian and Latvian (e) migration literature.

The session “Museums in Dialogue with Society: The Baltic Diasporas Story in Museum Expositions” was dedicated to Baltic diaspora memory institutions. One of the initiators of the Latvians Abroad Museum and Research Centre, Maija Hinkle, spoke on the topic “Refugees and Emigrant: The Latvian Diaspora Story as Told by Latvian Abroad Museum and Research Centre.“ VEMU’s Chief Archivist, Piret Noorhani, gave an overview of Tartu College, the Estonian Studies Centre and VEMU’s Collections with a more detailed focus on VEMU’s Cultural Program, especially on the work done with exhibitions. The independent Lithuanian researcher Audrius Plioplys’ topic was “Hope and Spirit: Informing the Public of Stalin’s Atrocities.“ The representative of Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, Irene Chambers, spoke on the topic of “Gathering Memoirs for Future History.“

Many friends of BaltHerNet were also present at the conference. Maira Bundža from Western Michigan University, who has attended BaltHerNet conferences in Riga and Toronto, spoke about web archiving in the Baltic countries. BaltHerNet’s old friend Valters Ščerbinskis was also at the conference and now works at the Latvian National Library. He spoke on the topic “The Educated Class and the University: Jewish Students and Their Societies at the University of Latvia Between the Wars.“ Marin Laak and Triinu Ojamaa from the Estonian Literary Museum, one of BaltHerNet’s partner organizations, have also participated in a number of BaltHerNet events. This time their topics were “Global Networks of Local Literature: Estonian Literature in Books Abroad“ and “Memoirs of an Exile Musician as a Source for Study of Cultural Contacts“ respectively. The latter lecture was presented at the “Exiles as a Source of Knowledge and Action” session. The diaspora theme was also addressed in the sessions “Literature, Trauma and Healing”, “Memory and Trauma in Baltic Literatures”, “The Global Baltic Migration, Diasporas, Minorities”, and “Politically Active Diasporas”.

The cultural programme at the conference offered exhibitions and the presentation of work by Baltic filmmakers in addition to a party and reception. The AABS general meeting was also held, where the conference coordinators, Janis Chakars and Bradley Woodworth, were thanked. The new president of AABS was also announced; Giedrius Subačius will be taking over the organisation’s directing role from Mara Lazda. At the meeting, a photo was taken of about 40 young scholars who had come to Philadelphia with stipends from AABS and Yale University. It was great to see a large number of young faces among the delegates. What else could this mean besides the fact that AABS will continue to bring together Baltic scholars from all over the world.

Piret Noorhani