I attended the 49th Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies in Chicago, Illinois, with funding from the Berkeley Language Center. While there, I presented a pedagogy paper and participated in a round table on Transgressions in Library Data.
My paper, entitled “Having It All: Culture and the Four Skills in the Introductory Czech Curriculum,” was part of the panel “Culture in Communicative Setting: Teaching Slavic Languages.” Unfortunately, it was one of 52 panels in the 8 a.m. session on Friday, November 10, and the weather was not kind. Whether due to weather or other circumstances, one of the panelists was not able to attend, and the audience was sparse. However, both my paper and that of my fellow panelist, Erik Houle from the University of Chicago, were well received and generated real discussion. Erik’s paper dealt with examples from classroom and other experiences in which an understanding of “small c” culture was key to comprehension, and he based it on issues in teaching Polish. My paper centered on the integration of cultural sources, here film and literature, into teaching the basic language skills as well as cultural awareness. I incorporated three film clips from the FLFLC collection which I regularly use in teaching Introductory Czech at Berkeley and included information in my handout about how other institutions can gain access to the collection for their instructors. In the discussion period, I learned that one instructor of Russian was already using clips from the collection, and she reassured another interested person that the process was straightforward. My PowerPoint and handout included examples of creative use of written texts and several cloze exercises based on film clips, as well as internet research questions posed to students.
The Roundtable on Transgressions in Library Metadata included presentations by cataloguers, librarians, and an end user (myself). The contributions of the cataloguers are of great interest to end users, since they explain the poor quality we so often encounter in WorldCat. Particularly relevant for those of us who work with less commonly taught languages, there are errors in identification of the language of the publication, the author, and even the subject matter. The professional librarians and cataloguers gave numerous examples of these and other errors and placed the origin of many, though not all, such problems in the fact that underfunded libraries, including some of the most prestigious academic libraries, no longer hire cataloguers with the requisite language skills and instead farm out the cataloguing to outside companies, which themselves may not actually have the staff with the necessary language skills either. They also addressed ways in which end users can help improve WorldCat by letting their university librarians know about errors.
The panel entitled “Czechoslovakia: The Radically Changing Status Quo: Clementis, Patočka, and Czech Exile Publishing,” was also very interesting. In particular, Josette Baer of the University of Zurich, presented excerpts from the writings of Clementis in an examination of his character and raised the question whether he should be presented as a perpetrator or a victim. She concludes that he is both but singles him out as a particularly interesting personality among the victims in the Slanský trial. Francis Raska’s paper “Sixty-Eight Publishers and INDEX: Relations between the Most Significant Post-1968 Czechoslovak Exile Publishers” detailed the degeneration of the relationship between the two publishing houses, the Canadian Sixty-Eight Publishers and the West German INDEX, seeking to determine whether the primary cause was political or personal differences.
Finally, one of the highlights of the conference was actually related but external: the conference organizers arranged that all attendees be given free admission to the Chicago Art Institute, so that we could see the exhibit Revolutsiia Demonstratsiia, a remarkably extensive and well-curated collection of art and artifacts from the Russian Revolution and the early years of the Soviet Union. I had thought that I could drop in on this exhibit and leave in about an hour, expecting it to contain well-known posters and a few paintings. In fact, the exhibit has many rarely seen objects in a variety of media, many from private collections, and it extends through many rooms. When one thinks one has done, one has not done, for it has more.