Associate Professor of Russian Kristen Welsh participated in and presented at the National Endowment for the Humanities’ summer institute “America’s Russian-Speaking Immigrants and Refugees: Twentieth Century Migration and Memory.”
The conference, held at Columbia University, consisted of daily presentations and in-depth discussions, welcoming scholars from a variety of fields including history, religion, sociology, political science, art history, and literary analysis. These top specialists shared their work and examined current broad trends in immigration scholarship.
“My goal was to better contextualize literary works in the broad scope of Russian immigration to the U.S.,” explains Welsh. “The institute was as much about learning as it was about research. Perhaps most importantly, we talked about how we teach Russian immigration and identity as a topic.”
“There are many ways to approach the subject of Russian immigration and identity,” says Welsh. “I am never going to have an entire class of literary majors – which is wonderful, because it means a multitude of perspectives.”
When considering the experience of Russians in the United States, questions of identity and belonging come to the forefront, issues that are often examined in a literary manifestation. Welsh found the conference particularly helpful in generating new and meaningful ways to view these vibrant pictures of life in a social science iteration, too.
“In Russian and American studies courses, we tend to spend a lot of time on the texts as literature, but it is equally as important to show the relevance of these works in terms of what daily life was for these individuals,” says Welsh.
Speakers at the Institute included socoiologists, historians, and scholars of classic Russian literature as well as contemporary writers and museum curators. Many of the guest speakers had, themselves, immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union, or were the children of Soviet immigrants.
“The students I am teaching now are from a post-Soviet Era – the U.S.S.R. and much of what I teach is ancient history to them,” says Welsh, who says that students can often find it difficult to connect with this relatively recent – and very foreign – past. “It was interesting to look at the writing of Russian writers who were born in the United States, for example, and see how their experiences are relevant to this same disconnect.”
In addition to her time in these scholarly sessions, the institute offered Welsh the opportunity to view recent documents about Russian-speaking immigrants and filmmakers, to tour the “Russian treasures” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and to take an excursions such as one to Brighton Beach, home to a high concentration of immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union. The NEH program also provided Welsh with the time and resources to explore the Bakhmeteff archive at Columbia University, which houses some of the most important Russian-related materials in the world.
Welsh received her A.B. in Russian literature and comparative literature from Brown University in 1990. She earned both her M.A. and M. Phil in Russian literature from Yale University. Welsh continued her studies at Yale, and earned a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literatures.
She has served as visiting lecturer at Williams College and the College of William and Mary, as well as a faculty fellow at Colby College and a part-time instructor at Yale. In addition to a book manuscript she is currently working on, Welsh has authored numerous journal articles including “Between the Canvas and the Printed Page: Nabokovian Intertexts and Olga Grushin’s Soviet Artist-Hero” (Slavic and East European Journal 55:1, Spring 2011, 75-92), an invited contribution to a special issue on recent Russian-American fiction and the first scholarly study of this contemporary Russian-American writer’s work.