February 11, 2021 Meeting of Area Studies

Time and Location of Meeting

February 11, 2021

Agenda Details


Area Studies Division Meeting

February 11, 2021


Online Zoom Meeting

  1. Sign up for Note Taking
  2. Approval of the Minutes from December
  3. Bob Geraci Research Presentation
  4. Discussion Items:
    1. Concerns to Raise with Dean Wilkin on Behalf of Division
    2. Discussion of Faculty Concerns about the Building Project
  5. Reports

Minutes Details


Area Studies Division (ASD) Meeting

University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign

February 11, 2021; 10:00am-11:00am CT

Online Zoom Meeting Minutes (DRAFT)


Present: Mara Thacker (Chair), Atoma Batoma, Paula Carnes, Kit Condill, Katie Ebeling, Bob Geraci, Shuyong Jiang, Antonio Sotomayor, Kristen Allen Wilson (Guest), Steve Witt


Meeting started at 10:04 am


  1. Sign up for Note Taking
  • Atoma agreed to take the minutes for the meeting.
  1. Approval of the Minutes from January
  • Shuyong moved to approve the Minutes of the January 2021 ASD meeting, seconded by Atoma. Minutes were adopted.
  1. Bob Geraci’s Research Presentation

Bob gave a Power Point presentation on the research he is doing for his book titled, Imperial Bazaar: Commerce and Ethnonational Identity in Russia-Eurasia

Using maps, Bob started by defining the historic and geographic parameters of his research: this covers the period of 1700-1917, with epilog on Soviet and Post-Soviet periods; the topical scope is commerce, including trades of all kinds of industry both large and small, but the emphasis is put on multi-ethnic’s urban areas in boarder regions of the Empire, trading populations of large cities in particular.

Next, Bob presented the documentation he is using for his research. He explained that he is not using much of quantitative data since his research is about cultural history. Instead, he is using qualitative data, both unpublished documents as well as published ones. Unpublished documents include archival documents, State documents, memoirs of Government officials, whereas published documents comprise writings of economists, memoirs of merchants, industrialist, newspapers, library sources, novels, stories, plays and secondary historical letters.

Bob stated that the central theme of his book will be what he calls the “trope of (ethnic) Russian commercial inferiority,” a set of beliefs and claims that has been remarkably persistent over at least two centuries in which Russians are compared unfavorably with both foreigners and with non-Russian minorities within the empire. Frequent components of the trope include the ideas that Russians (or alternatively Russian merchants) “have little aptitude for business,” “are not adventurous or seafaring people,” and “seek quick, high profits above all else.”

Finally, Bob summarized the detailed organization of his book and presented his chief findings and theses. Besides the above-mentioned trope, the most important of these are that although the Russian population may have made some progress toward inter-ethnic tolerance before 1917, the tsarist state never eased up in its attempts to give advantages to Russians and curb the commercial power of minorities.  As both state and society often turned to statist solutions for the latter purpose, the book will argue, multi-ethnic rivalries in commerce may have made Russians especially receptive to socialism in 1917.

Questions and discussion

In his presentation Bob had stressed the notion of negativity as part of the construction of Russian national identity. Antonio pointed out the apparent contradictio in terminus and went on to suggest that the concept of negativity might be a positive, “critical eye” in the construction of national identity. Kit also had a question but due to lack of time he promised to email it to Bob after the meeting.

  1. Discussion Items:

The Library building project

At Mara’s request, Steve summarized the comments shared by Ralph Mathisen with the Faculty senate on the Library renovation plan. According to Ralph, the implementation of this plan which comprises two phases, is projected to cost something over $200M. Given the inability to raise that much money due in part to the impact of Covid-19 crisis on the University budgets, the Library is proposing to proceed with the less expensive #50M first phase of the conversion of the Undergraduate library into a special collection facility, postponing the implementation of the second phase of the plan, ie the renovation of the main Library, until 5 or more years down the road.

Steve’s summary of Ralph’s shared comments generated the following questions from the ASD meeting attendees:

—Paula: I had suggested that we slow down the building project but was told that since we have the money and the momentum, we should use them.

-Mara: we need to understand the concerns behind the objection to Paula’s suggestion.

Steve: I wonder how this is going to affect IAS.

Shuyong: what global impact this is going to have?

Antonio (a member of the Faculty senate): I am trying to help but I see a lot of challenges. We are just trying to figure out…

Paula to Steve: who is behind this movement? Only the humanities?

Steve: I guess other groups are involved, but not sure

Bob: I think History department took the initiative, but not sure if they are involving other groups

-Steve: not sure how the (Library) spaces are going to work.

Paula: No way to know how the spaces are going to work when we resume work in person at the Library

Steve asked for our feedback on a related document that he had uploaded.

Mara thanked Steve for bringing this issue to our attention.

Meeting was adjourned at 11:00 am.