Citations for 2012 Recipients

Excellence in Teaching at the Pre-College Level 2012

Elena Lokounia and Elaine Kukin, Baltimore International Academy

The Baltimore International Academy [BIA] is a total immersion charter public elementary school where students may enroll in a Chinese, French, Russian, or Spanish classroom. Most of their class day is conducted in the target language. Five years ago, in 2007, Elena Lokounia, was appointed Principal. Born and educated in Russia, Elena lived and worked in France for two years before emigrating to the USA in 2000. She taught in the Robert Goddard French Immersion School in Lantham, Maryland, before coming to BIA, where she is now Head of School. Elena was the first to involve BIA students in the Mid-Atlantic Russian Olympiadas, where she continues to serve as a judge and a recruiter of judges.

Elena, together with the lead Russian teacher at the BIA, Elaine Kukin, worked with MD Olympiada Co-Chairs Jim Sweigert and Lee Roby to create a set of appropriate materials and procedures. The ACTR Board accredited these materials so that the school could receive official recognition for their participation. Such accreditation is important for public school accountability. Without Elena's advocacy, perseverance, and great gifts for working collaboratively, this initiative would have moved much more slowly.

The primary author of these teaching materials was Elaine Kukin. Students rave about her classes, which include a total immersion 6-week summer camp at the BIA that invites students from other Russian programs in the area to volunteer as interns. Together, Elena Lokounia and Elaine Kukin created the only Russian total-immersion program in Maryland, with no model to draw on beyond the Goddard French School. Creative patterns of interaction are now emerging between "traditional" and immersion programs at all levels, from Elementary to High School. Collaboration is vital, because in Baltimore as elsewhere, the Russian classroom has become at times hard to fill. Mandarin and Spanish are proving to be the more “popular” (that is, the more “practical”) choices for families. Elena and Elaine work tirelessly to publicize the importance of studying Russian, even as Mandarin bursts at the seams. At times like this, dedication is heroic. We are honored to present these two pioneering educators with this joint AATSEEL award.

Excellence in Teaching at the Postsecondary Level 2012

David Birnbaum, University of Pittsburgh

David Birnbaum does two things extraordinarily well that relate directly to success in the classroom — his own, and that of his colleagues. Both are the result of the recent globalization of Slavic Studies in the academy, and both have been under-recognized in the awards process. Each is crucial to our survival as a small but discrete and professionally viable field.

First, he runs a highly complex department that interacts with other units at the university: The Center for Russian and East European Studies, Global Studies, Film Studies, Cultural Studies, Woman Studies. All these units offer a vast array of courses each semester, taught or taken by our colleagues; David navigates this impossible four-dimensional teaching puzzle with grace, elegance, his characteristic wryness, and extraordinary good will. He allows his colleagues to explore other opportunities (for buy-outs, for cross-listing, for the odd pedagogical experiment), so that Slavic in the long term can become an indispensable part of other programs at the university and an innovator in its own right. He always sees a departmental solution that all positions can live with.

The second success is his inventiveness and generosity in his own professional area. The growth zone of Slavic Studies world-wide is the 20th century. Look at David’s academic specialties on his website: the computer processing of medieval Slavic manuscripts, Slavic linguistics, diachronic and synchronic phonology and morphology. This is not Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Bulgakov or Tarkovsky. The material does not teach itself, and it will never be taught easily to the multitudes. But David makes his skills matter to the multitudes by his contributions to Humanities computing more generally, and to better communicate his Slavic courses, he prepares staggering and memorable classroom experiences with handouts, power-point slides, conceptual examples. He maintains what seems like impossibly high standard for students, but they rise to it — at first unevenly, and then consistently over the semester. Walk by his office: rare is the time that there isn’t a student in it. PhD students turn to him, and he mentors them all on publications, fellowships, job prospects, exams. This mentoring is an important aspect to a broadly defined notion of teaching, and often goes uncounted and unsung. For these and other reasons, we are most gratified to decorate David with an AATSEEL award.

Distinguished Service to AATSEEL 2012

Sibelan Forrester, Swarthmore College

One lovely detail catches your eye in the Question-and-Answer segment of Sibelan's profile page on the Swarthmore departmental website. When asked what other areas or disciplines she had studied in addition to Russian, she mentions South Slavic and folklore — both of which, she says, "helped me to see how all aspects of culture are in a matrix of discourses and traditions. The way fabric is used in a quilt is not the worst metaphor." There are several things right about this answer, coming from a senior professor in a small elite college where she is the only tenured person in Russian. Without a quilt of different fabrics, you don't have a field. So while answering for Imperial and Soviet literary culture, Sibelan made time to stitch in several other Slavic communities, languages, and worldviews. An accomplished scholar in Russian poetry — especially Marina Tsvetaeva — she soon became known as the center of a great deal more.

She helped to elevate the status of translation to a scholarly art. She organized and monitored panels on Croatian and Serbian topics — reminding us that long before there was an East-West divide in Russian Studies there was a North-South axis. Her roster of courses taught includes a seminar on The Muslim in Russia. She raised gender consciousness in a field that has been traditionally hesitant to embrace new ideologies, serving as president of the Association of Women in Slavic Studies at the end of the 1990s. Sibelan later played the same galvanizing role for the academic field of folklife, serving as President of the Slavic and East European Folklore Association in 2006-2007. This public-spiritedness and leadership has been reflected in all her AATSEEL activities over two decades, which culminated in a six-year tour of duty starting as President-Elect in 2005 and serving through to Past President in 2010.

"Service" to an institution or field is often an unsung thing, and always a time-intensive one. Most of what matters is turning up, following through, answering back, keeping accounts straight without losing a smile. Slavic is a small field in a troubled world. It won't go under, but it needs people like Sibelan serving it constantly on many fronts. A fitting portrait for Sibelan's service comes from her own essay "Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East," just re-published as an Appendix to a 2012 Penguin Classics paperback titled Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler: "Modern encounters with Baba Yaga and what she represents still reaffirm our strength, cleverness and worthiness, teaching us how to win treasure or understanding out of loss, fear and pain" (p. 430). We are delighted to honor Sibelan for her distinguished service to so many fields, and to AATSEEL.

Outstanding Service to the Profession 2012

Wayles Browne, Cornell University

It is difficult to imagine a single Slavic linguist who has not benefited from Wayles's astounding knowledge and his readiness to share it. There is a general feeling in the field, particularly on empirical matters, that if Wayles doesn't know the answer, or where to go to get an answer, then nobody does. Given the breadth of his expertise and his good-natured curiosity about almost every facet of language study, Wayles has been the perfect candidate to approach as an outside reviewer in tenure and promotion cases, the ideal book review editor for SEEJ (Linguistics) and, later, for the Journal of Slavic Linguistics. For virtually every conference imaginable within Slavic linguistics, Wayles is the reviewer of choice for abstracts. At AATSEEL, Wayles is known for attending every linguistics panel and contributing to the discussion after each paper — or leading that discussion. Indeed, he has attended AATSEEL on a regular basis over a period of 30 years, with or without a paper of his own to deliver. This concept of "service to the profession," which is focused as much on listening as on talking, as much on feedback as on monographs, is being honored today.

Wayles' primary area of research is in the Serbo-Croatian speech area (Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian, known today as BCS), though his language expertise extends to Bulgarian, Macedonian, Polish, Belarusian, Rusyn, and Russian. He is equally broad in his facility with the wide range of theoretical models in circulation. He has mentored, either in an official capacity at Cornell or via the unofficial "Ask Wayles" channel within Slavic linguistics, several generations of aspiring colleagues, including many who now hold prominent positions within Slavic linguistics. He wrote the "Serbo-Croat" chapter for the 1993 volume The Slavonic Languages (Routledge), which was known at the time as the best single sketch of BCS. This work was later superseded only by Wayles' own 2009 piece, "Serbo-Croat: Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian" (co-authored with Greville Corbett, one of the world's leading typologists). Wayles' work extends to less well-known Slavic languages, such as Belarusian, to which he adapted Jakobson's famous one-stem verb system, and Rusyn, in which Wayles analyzed the clitic system. It appears that the recently published Festschrift honoring Wayles and devoted to work in South Slavic will now have to add a second volume to include his Polonist and Russianist colleagues.

For one can serve languages as well as fields, and formal parts of speech as well as speakers. Wayles serves them all. An impeccable scholar and dedicated teacher, he has done heroic labor in bringing visibility to the linguistic complexities of the Slavic languages, helping to ensure the (very strong) position of Slavic within the broader linguistics community.

Outstanding Contribution to Scholarship 2012

Stephanie Sandler, Harvard University

It is hard to know where to start with Stephanie Sandler, who for decades has pulled together so many different and distant edges of the profession. Stephanie began at Yale University with a dissertation under Victor Erlich on Pushkin's Boris Godunov — which became the best book on that masterpiece in English, Distant Pleasures: Alexander Pushkin and the Writing of Exile (1989). At Amherst College for many years, she never ceased being a Pushkinist, but branched out to other fields: contemporary Russian poetry (especially Olga Sedakova, Elena Shvarts, and Elena Fanailova), generating essays, anthologies, and translations that allowed these poets to live miraculously beyond Russian. She does poems better than anyone (and poems are the hardest things to do); but she also talks about film (supposedly an easy and accessible thing to do), devoting a large and illuminating section of her 2004 book Commemorating Pushkin to wonderfully inventive movies.

Her 21st century at Harvard has seen workshop after workshop, forum after roundtable, where Stephanie is the guiding light. Her editions and translations are beginning to win prizes. At AATSEEL conferences she has sponsored poetry readings that are a major draw of our gatherings. And the work in progress is tantalizing: "Dreaming the Real," "Music for a Deaf Time," "The Creative Work of Translating," and a book on "Contemporary Poetry in Russian: Breaking down the Walls." Everything Stephanie touches come to life, and generates a group of enthusiasts around it. We are honored to recognize her scholarship.