Institute Staff


Principal Investigator

Alan Timberlake, Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures, Columbia University, is the Director of the East Central European Center.  After 14 years at UCLA, he taught for 21 years at the University of California at Berkeley until he came to Columbia in 2008.  He served as chair at all three universities: a total of twelve years in all.  He has taught  courses in philology at Stanford as a visitor a half dozen times.

Timberlake’s teaching and research focuses on language.  In his home department at Columbia he teaches courses on Slavic linguistics and philology.   In 2011 he instituted a Global Course including material from all major Slavic cultures.  (He has active command of Czech and Russian and reads other Slavic languages and Lithuanian.)  In addition, he teaches two or three courses per year in general linguistics, including recently “Language and Society,” which included discussion of language allegiance among diasporic communities in America.

From his interest in language and society has emerged an interest in migration.  In 2011–12 he directed the Harriman Core project on Peoples in Motion, devoted to migration.  In connection with that project he organized or co-organized three international conferences on migration:   “The Second International Conference on the Great Migrations:  Asia to America” (December 1–2, 2011), “Labor Migration in the Post-Soviet World (Impetus, Experience, Effects, Policy)” (March 2–3, 2012), “Russian-Jewish Migration Across Borders, Across Time (October 15–16, 2012).

Abstract (Timberlake):  Immigrants from countries of East and Central Europe to the United States arrived bearing the culture of their homeland (confession, marriage rituals, food, etc.) and they arrived speaking their home language but little English.  The pressure to assimilate and to replace the language of origin with English has been relentless.

The erosion of the language of origin often occurs over three generations:  (1) charter generation is (nearly) monolingual, (2) transitional generation is bilingual with functional differentiation (origin language in the home and community, English outside, at which time the charter generation may rely on the children to mediate between them and the outside world), and (3) assimilation to English, leaving behind memorized phrases or songs signalling “symbolic ethnicity” (see the classic study of Fishman*). Language is maintained by an ethnic group on a local level, in proportion to the vitality, cohesion, and autonomy of a specific diasporic community:  the healthier and larger the community (employment in the community, fraternal organizations, local media, Saturday schools and summer camps), the longer the language of origin will be maintained.  This is the case, for example, in select concentration of Hungarians in Cleveland, Poles and others (Lithuanians for a time) in Chicago, and Serbs and many groups in the New York area.

The pattern of assimilation was established in the second half of the nineteenth and continued thereafter through the immigration following World War II.  Maintenance of community and language has been undermined by exurbanization, upward social mobility and greater economic integration and exogenous marriage, and aging; ethnic groups have been only partly replenished by new immigrations.  The older pattern may well be changing in the post-1989 world, as more worldly immigrants know English on arrival and continue to travel between the United States and the origin country.  It is an open but intriguing question whether the changes in immigration after 1989 will accelerate or inhibit language loss among immigrants.


Edward Kasinec A native New Yorker, born and reared in the post-war Czecho-Slovak and Rusyn neighborhood of Manhattan, the son of interwar Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants, Kasinec knows first-hand the personalities and institutions that comprise the complex face of the Slavic immigrations, and has authored articles and memoirs on the subject. Since 1983 he has resided in Forest Hills, a major community of Third and Fourth Wave Russophone émigrés. He holds graduate degrees from Columbia University (M.A., 1968, M.Phil.,1979), and Simmons College (M.L.S., 1976). During the academic year 1971-72 he studied at Moscow State University. Kasinec serves as a qualified appraiser, and holds a Certificate in Archival Studies from American University ( l971), and a Certificate in Appraisal Studies (Fine and Decorative Arts, 2010) from New York University. His professional career includes service as Reference Librarian/Archivist for the Harvard University Library and the Ukrainian Research Institute Library (1973-80); Librarian for Slavic Collections, University of California, Berkeley, Library (1980-84); and Curator, Slavic and Baltic Division, The New York Public Library (1984-2009 ). He presently holds appointment as a Research Scholar and Staff Associate, Harriman Institute, Columbia University. Kasinec has published more than two hundred refereed articles and books, and has been acknowledged in as many academic publications.

Over the last thirty years, Kasinec has lectured on issues of Slavic cultural history, bibliography and librarianship throughout the world, including at Sapporo University, Hebrew University, and many North American and Eastern European institutions. He has served as consultant to library and academic programs at the Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota, University of Texas, the University of Pennsylvania, St. John’s University (Collegeville, Minnesota), Saint Paul ’s University (Ottawa), the National Library of Canada, Princeton University, the Tolstoy Foundation, University of Toronto, and Seton Hall University. Kasinec is a member of a number of professional societies and organizations, among them, the Grolier Club, and serves on the Boards of the Hermitage Museum Foundation, the Hillwood Estate and Gardens, and ILIAC (Moscow and Washington, D.C.).

Robert H. Davis, Jr. is Librarian for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies at Columbia University, and Librarian for Slavic & East European Studies at Cornell University. Prior to joining Columbia in November, 2008, he was—for more than two decades—Associate Curator at the Slavic and Baltic Division of The New York Public Library. During his tenure at the NYPL, Davis dealt successfully with many outstanding representatives of the post-World War II emigrations to the United States. Mr. Davis holds graduate degrees from Columbia University (M.A., Cert. in Soviet Studies, 1987), and the City University of New York (M.L.S., 1989). Since 1987, Mr. Davis has authored four books, and more than sixty articles, reviews, and communications published in various North American, Western European, Russian and East European books and periodicals, a number of which deal with the reading interests and literature of the Slavic-speaking immigrants. Mr. Davis has presented referred conference papers at numerous regional, national, and international meetings.

He is presently responsible for collection development and reference services to Slavic and East European studies communities at two of the most historic centers in the United States, Columbia and Cornell Universities. Mr. Davis now presides over one of the largest collection development budgets in the nation.

Davis has also authored, coauthored, and/or managed a total of nine preservation and access grants funded by various federal and private entities, including the NEH and the Department of Education. He has served as Author and Co-Director for five successful NEH Summer Institutes in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. He was a co-curator of the exhibition “Russia Engages the World, 1453-1825” at The New York Public Library in 2003-2004, and a co-editor and contributor to its companion volume, published by Harvard University Press. This exhibition drew an audience in excess of 150,000 people.

Institute Assistants

Molly Mitlak is a rising senior at Barnard College. She hails from Princeton, New Jersey and is majoring in sociology. Her research interests focus around the sociology of crime and punishment, about which she wrote a research paper this past fall.

Roman Yurchenko is an archival assistant at the College of Staten Island (CUNY) who is an avid researcher in Eastern European, Eurasian, and Medieval Studies. After receiving his BA in history, he received the MA in history from the College of Staten Island  His thesis was titled, “Medieval Kiev: An economic inquiry of trade and exchange systems of Viking-age Emporia,” prepared under the guidance of Susan Smith-Peter and Eric Ivison. Roman is a recent graduate of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science with an archival concentration in rare books & special collections. He is currently training to become a librarian for Russian, Eurasian & Eastern European Studies.

Kathryn Zehr began her intensive study of the Russian language as well as Russian literature and politics from the very beginning of her studies at McGill University.  In those four years, she studied abroad in Moscow at the Academy of the National Economy and conducted translation work for her senior thesis to receive her B.A. in Honours Russian Studies.  Kathryn went on to continue her studies at the graduate level at Columbia’s Harriman Institute, where she focused on Russian foreign policy and wrote her thesis on the Russian media’s coverage of Central Asian migrants in Moscow.  In addition to her studies, Kathryn has also interned at the State Department, Amnesty International and the International Organization for Migration and has also volunteered in student-run organizations, such as McGill’s Russian Undergraduate Student Society and Columbia’s Organization for the Advancement of Studies of Inner Eurasian Societies (OASIES).

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