Dear Colleagues:

In June of 2013, Columbia University’s Harriman Institute hosted a three-week NEH Summer Institute that looked  critically at the substance of the terms “diaspora,”  “transnational,” “accommodation,” and “memory” through the specific prism of the four distinct waves of twentieth century Russian-speaking immigration to America. 

The NEH Summer Scholars selected for the 2013 program, together with an extraordinary array of some fifty master teachers, scholars, and social services and community representatives addressed three core questions: First, what are some of the methodological and conceptual (ethnic identity maintenance, inter-generational and inter-ethnic relations, etc.) issues to consider in any approach to the study of the Russophone emigrations?  Second, what were some of the particular characteristics, motivations, and experiences of each of the four waves?  Finally, can we create a sophisticated narrative synthesis of the “Russophone Experience” in America that could be integrated into broader courses on American politics and immigration, sociology, and ethnic studies, or that might constitute “stand alone” courses in teaching curricula?


The proposed study plan for the  2014 Summer Institute takes on an even more complex task: an examination of such questions in the context of immigrants and refugees from multiethnic, multi-confessional East Central Europe.  According to the American Community Survey of the 2010 Census of the United States[1], twenty-one million Americans self-identify their family’s ancestry as Eastern and East Central European.  Not a large number in a population of 313,914,040, and yet the contributions of immigrants from these world regions to the socio-economic, scientific, political and cultural life of the United States have belied their numbers.

As this region is large and diverse, the Co-Directors have chosen to examine only a selection of ethnic groups  from this world region.  Therefore, the proposed institute dedicates specific days to twentieth century Baltic (Estonian & Latvian), Western Slavic (Czech/Polish/Slovak), South Slavic (Croatian & Serbian), Hungarian, and East Central European Jewish immigration to the United States following World War I, during the interwar period, after World War II, and in the post-Communist period, as well as the community organization, political influence, and everyday life of people of East Central European backgrounds in the U.S. across this time period.

As in 2013, our core goals are to enrich the historical narrative of immigration to America by identifying both unique aspects as well as commonalities among the diverse groups studied, and to strategize how to weave these strands into the warp and weft of American immigration and global history.

Among the questions we will address are:

  • What were the “push” and “pull” factors that prompted them to leave their homelands, and then settle in the United States?
  • What were the demographic characteristics of successive immigrant waves of each ethnic group?   The immigrations were often splintered, divided by generational and demographic differences; level of education; urban versus rural; denomination and confession, and geography.   How did these characteristics vary over time, and how were they influenced by the circumstances under which a particular group left the sending country, and arrived in the U.S.?  To what extent did immigrants identify themselves as members of a particular “ethnicity” or “nation”?  For example, the earliest post-World War I (and pre-war) immigrants from multi-national empires often had little (or a deeply conflicted) sense of “national” identity.
  • How significant was return migration?
  • What were some of the challenges faced—both those endemic to foreigners coming to a host society, and those divisions and conflicts that originated from within the immigrations themselves?    To what extent did institutions—churches and synagogues, fraternal organizations, learned societies, archives, museums and libraries, etc.—serve as both community coping mechanisms and as links to the homelands, or had to be established anew?  As immigrants and the children of immigrants have assimilated, what has happened to these organizations?
  • What were the relationships between those who left, and those who stayed?
  • How—and in what ways and with what means—did organizations and individuals from East Central Europe  influence American foreign policy?[2]  How did homeland governments try in turn to “use” immigrant communities?
  • What were the forms of adaption and acculturation and attainment of these immigrants in letters, arts, and sciences?

Content, Study Plan Implementation, Institutional Context. 

The typical 2014 Institute Day is structured around a format of three distinguished presenters- panelists who deliver informal, analytical, “provocative” (rather than factographic or descriptive) remarks, and  then engage and build upon one another’s comments, carrying on a dialogue with Summer Scholars over a common , hosted lunch and in a brief afternoon session.  In 2014 we will have nine such lunches, with prearranged menus (accommodating any special dietary needs) for the Summer Scholars, Presenters, and special luncheon guests.  Assigned seating will place a designated “Summer Scholar host” (announced at Orientation day, June 8) with at least one Presenter or special luncheon guest at each of four tables.

The final days (June 25-29)  of the Institute are devoted to presentation and discussion of the individual Summer Scholar projects.  These sessions provide the participants with valuable peer feedback on their projects.

In addition, The Co-Directors have incorporated a number of features that have proven to enhance the Summer Scholar experience.  First, organized social events (hosted by, and at the personal expense of, the Co-Directors) take place at the beginning and towards the end of the Institute.

The Institute has designated June 12, 15, 21, and 24 as Project and Curricular  Research Days, providing substantial blocks of unscheduled time for our Summer Scholars to digest the ideas presented, and to conduct their own institute project research by tapping in to the expansive resources of  Columbia University and the greater New York City metropolitan area.  Columbia’s libraries are open late, allowing privileged access and borrowing of materials on evenings and weekends.

On Project Research Days, building group camaraderie through informal “pizza and a movie” nights.  During this first such evening in 2014, the Co-Directors propose to lead an informal discussion of Hollywood’s depictions (e.g., “Gran Torino,” “The Deer Hunter”) of the East Central European immigrant.  Depending on group interests, other evenings might also feature readings of the literary works of Thomas Bell, Louis Adamic, Willa Cather, the Serbian-American poet, Charles Simic, to name but a few possibilities.

Participant Selection.  Applicants will come from a broad pool of educators in the fields of sociology, history, literature, and anthropology (among other disciplines), as well as library and museum curators.  Given the significant academic interest in transnational diaspora and migration studies evident at recent conferences of the American Studies, Public History, Asian Studies, Middle Eastern, and Slavic, Eurasian, Jewish  and East European Studies associations—we would anticipate a large and diverse pool from these areas.  Because it is expected that the issues addressed, and the approaches taken by this Institute might benefit teachers and researchers in immigration studies with an interest in other world regions, a reading knowledge of the vernacular languages of East Central Europe will not be required, and all of the “highly-recommended” readings are in English (although bibliographies of works in east Central European languages will be available as well).   Therefore, the Co-Directors will strive to reach out to other area studies specialties—Latin Americanists, Asianists, Islamicists, Africanists, Jewish studies, International Human Rights, etc.—for potential Summer Scholar applicants. The Co-Directors will solicit practical assistance from other Columbia colleagues in the Latin American, South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Jewish Studies, reaching out to educators in the broadest possible bandwidth.  The deadline for all applicants will be March  4, 2014.  Successful applicants will be contacted March 31, 2014.

The Co-Directors and Principal Investigator will review all applications, with preference given to junior and mid-career teachers at both four-year and community colleges from throughout the country. Research and public service librarian-educators, and museum curator-educators  from institutions with robust public education and outreach programs, advanced graduate students and independent scholars will also be considered.  Applicants will be asked how they hope to apply the experience to their teaching, scholarship, and curatorial work, and all those selected must provide a brief abstract (125 words) for posting  of their Institute research project by April 7, 2014

Out of town participants will have the option of staying in a very reasonably priced graduate residence rooms on campus, conveniently located directly beside The International Affairs Building.  ] In past Institutes the vast majority of Summer Scholar do indeed avail themselves of the housing arranged for by the Co-Directors.


Most Sincerely,


Alan Timberlake, Faculty Principal Investigator

Robert H. Davis, Jr., Co-Director

Edward Kasinec, Co-Director

Kevin Hallinan, Fiscal Officer

[2] Many of the interwar leaders of East Central European countries—for example, Tomasz and Jan Masaryk of Czechoslovakia, the Polish pianist and diplomat Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the lawyer and Carpatho-Rusyn activist Gregory Zatkovich, the Latvian politician Karlis Ulmanis, as well as post-World War II  leaders such as Valdas Adamkus of Latvia, or the Serb politicians Milan Panic and Radmila Milentijevic—all lived for an extended period of time in the United States, and all have exerted an influence on American foreign policy.

National Endowment for the National Humanities

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Web resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.