Now What? Eastern European Scholars Wrestle with Cultural Identity
Twenty-two leading educators from Eastern Europe will gather at Yale University for a ground-breaking conference, the first ever to address how to teach the humanities in a post-Communist world. The conference, “Curricular Development in the Humanities: 1945 to the Present,” will take place at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies in Luce Hall, 34 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven, from Monday, July 29, through Saturday, August 10.
Some of the participating scholars have been jailed for their political opposition to Communist repression in the past. Now in positions of power, they are coming together to find out how American universities, in general, and Yale, in particular, deal with the issues that challenge the humanities.
“Our own so-called crisis in the humanities is nothing compared to the crisis in Eastern Europe,” says Michael Holquist, chair of the Council on Russian and East European Studies and a director of the conference. “National literary tradition, language, and history are all being recreated in the newly-formed countries. Since these are the materials for constructing a new national identity, these people have a chance to make a real difference for the future,” he says.
For decades, the U.S.S.R. dictated to the universities within its sphere what to teach and how to teach it. Today, educators in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, the Slovak Republic, and Ukraine are setting the course for themselves. At Yale they will explore alternatives, catch up on the past 50 years of American critical theory, and discuss what direction they want to take.
The humanities conference is one of nine summer institutes organized by the International Center at the University of Tubingen, Germany, and the only one taking place off site. Established four years ago to bring scholars from Eastern Europe and the West together, the International Center is a consortium of 18 universities from nine countries. The summer academy is the center’s major initiative.
Academic directors of the Yale program are Professor Cyrus Hamlin, chair of the German Department, and Professor Holquist. Yale faculty participants will include Gaddis Smith, Larned Professor of History and former director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies; Alan Trachtenberg, Neil Grey, Jr. Professor of English and American Studies; Richard Brodhead, dean of Yale College and A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English; Vincent Scully, Sterling Professor Emeritus and lecturer in the history of art; Robert Shulman, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and professor of chemistry; and Peter Demetz, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Germanic Languages and Literature.
Visiting scholars include Beata Klimkiewicz, Slovak-born television commentator and faculty member at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, Poland; Dumitry Ciocoi-Pop, rector of Lucian Blaga University in Romania, poet, philosopher, and journalist; Jacek Holowka, rector of the University of Warsaw; and scholar/ administrators from seven other nations from all levels, including department heads, deans, university presidents, and deputy ministers of higher education.
The program will present the approaches American academics have taken to the humanities since World War II, beginning with the development of general education and progressing to new criticism, the growth of American Studies and other area studies, the rise of literary theory, the relationship between literature and other arts, the link between science and the humanities, and how the humanities interact with the public sector.
“This conference will have an impact that extends far beyond the two weeks of seminars,” says Professor Hamlin. “We don’t have any agenda to impose; we want to create a space for reflection on alternatives at a time when decisions are being reached that will last for decades.”
The conference is sponsored by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, the Council on Russian and East European Studies, and the Tubingen University Internationales Zentrum, with additional contributions from the Beinecke Rare Book Library, the Chopivsky Family Foundation, and the Kempf Memorial Fund.