Pedagogy

REESOURCES: Rethinking Eastern Europe - Revolutionizing the Field with Primary Sources

Vladyslava Moskalets

Choosing interesting and engaging primary sources to work with in the classroom is a weighty task for any history professor, a task that can become a headache before the semester even begins. I recently taught Ukrainian and Eastern European history abroad, after having taught the subject extensively in Ukraine, and this English-language context presented me with new challenges. The diversity of languages in Eastern Europe, the lack of adequate translations, and the scarcity of printed volumes of primary sources forced me to be very creative and sometimes produce quick translations on my own.

The need for such resources has become more apparent over the past two years. Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine triggered the process of rethinking Eastern European studies curricula, which often focused on Russian history and marginalized other narratives. Interest in Ukrainian history in all its diversity is growing, but it can be difficult to address. The lack of properly prepared and readily available primary sources is a major obstacle for university teachers. When I taught classes on medieval Russia in English, I found that the primary sources on medieval websites available in English on the Russian website were biased and supported the Russian national narrative. Jewish Studies in particular is one of the fields that requires revision and deconstruction of commonly used terms, such as “Russian Jew”.

In the spring of 2022, my colleagues at the Center for Urban History in Lviv had an idea for a database of primary sources in English and the original language, which would be available to scholars of Eastern Europe to address some of these issues. The Center for Urban History is a research institution focusing on urban history, architecture, and cultural heritage. The two important tasks of the institution are to popularize history for the general public and to provide educational resources for scholars. Since 2011, the Center has organized summer schools, developed resources for teachers, and encouraged teachers to use the materials in their classrooms.

However, the full-scale war that began in 2022 made us think about paradigmatic changes in the field. Educational tools are needed not only for university professors, but for the broader public. They can help shape our thinking about contemporary politics. Discussions about the necessity of this process took place on various platforms, and our Center felt it was imperative for us to contribute in a practical way. In summer 2022 we held several rounds of discussions on the structure and content of our database, with the participation of scholars from Ukraine and abroad. In the winter-spring of 2022-2023 the database was developed with the aim to be a crowd-sourcing platform and later acquired the name Reesources: Rethinking Eastern Europe. The platform is divided into several sub-chapters that offer different ways for instructors to get involved.

Sources

The main section consists of the collection of primary sources relevant to the teaching of Eastern Europe. They appear in their original language — Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, or Yiddish — and in English translations. To make it easier to navigate, the database is divided by theme, such as architecture, commemoration, displacement, empire, gender, violence, war, etc., as well as by decade. Since the Center’s profile is modern history, the chronology starts from the 1840s. Each source has a short introductory text, which helps the instructor to decide whether it will be useful for the intended course.

For example, here is the introduction to the Yiddish song about emigration “A brivele der mamen” (1907):

“The song was written by a Belarusian composer and singer, Solomon Smulewitz (1868-1943) in 1907. The author also had experience of migration to the United States. The song became very popular. In particular, it was used as a basis for a theatrical production and a film in Yiddish. The work raises the issue of migration caused separation of families. While the son who went to America has a successful life and a new family, his mother feels abandoned. Before her death, she asks her son not to forget to read Kaddish, a memorial prayer for her. The problem of separated families remained common to all migrants, but in this text the Jewish prayer becomes a way to overcome the crisis and pay tribute to family relations, even after death.”

Modules

The teaching modules are the collection of sources on a particular theme. The module can include the text, visual, audio primary sources, list of bibliography accompanying the topic and the introductory text. The modules are prepared by scholars who specialize in the topic and can be used as finished lesson plans. For example, the module on women’s experience in fin de siecle Lviv prepared by Ivanna Cherchovych includes newspaper articles discussing sexual trafficking (“white slave trade”) and prostitution, criminal cases on rape and infanticide, a political essay and a Ukrainian feature film about sexual trafficking. I prepared a similar module on the history of migration in Eastern Europe. My idea was to show the parallel process of migration among Ukrainian, Polish, and Jewish communities and to discuss differences in migration strategies. I have included a newspaper article by the Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Zubrytskyi, which discusses and compares Ukrainian and Jewish migration. The subset of primary sources includes Ukrainian, Yiddish, and Polish songs about migration that illustrate the parallel themes of family separation. The sources have links to the materials in the original language, but all have an English translation.

Online courses

Currently there are six online courses prepared by the Center for Urban History of East-Central Europe. They focus mainly on urban history and sociology. Some of the courses are a compilation of lectures by different scholars, such as “Gender Dimensions of Modernity Spaces” for which there are ten lectures by ten scholars organized around a common theme. Others, such as the course “Neighbors and Strangers: An Introduction to Urban Sociology,” are taught by individual scholars and prepared for the platform. The audio for the courses is in different languages, but is accompanied with English subtitles.

While the primary sources are available to everyone, access to the courses requires registration, which is free of charge.

Syllabi

This section currently contains 34 syllabi from summer schools and educational programs organized by the Center for Urban History. The most useful for the readers of In geveb will be the courses of seven summer schools on Jewish history, which took place in 2011-2017. Initially, the schools were intended for Ukrainian graduate students and young researchers, and later they were also attended by Belarusian, Polish, and Russian students. The participating professors came mainly from Poland and the USA. Each school had a slightly different focus, but the one thing they had in common was an intensive four-week course in Yiddish. These summer programs have indeed contributed to the emergence of a new generation of scholars of Jewish history, and that is why we consider it so important to share the schools’ resources. The curriculum included “Jewish History in Multiethnic East-Central Europe, 1850-1918” by Prof. Theodore R. Weeks, “Jews in Eastern Europe, 1772-1991 with a Focus on Ukrainian-Jewish Relations” by Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, “From Hasidic Piety to Secular Yiddishism: Jewish Culture in Eastern Europe 1750-1939” by Prof. David Fishman, “(De/Re)Constructions of Modern Jewish Spaces in Eastern Europe and their Post-Holocaust Representations. A Short Introduction” by Dr. Karolina Szymaniak, and many others.

Reflections

The last section has little content so far, but we intend to include essays written by scholars on the challenges and successes of teaching Eastern Europe. One of the materials included in the Ukrainian version of the site is an interview with Ukrainian historian from Kherson Oleksand Cheremysin, who shares his ideas about the archives under Russian occupation.

Other resources

The educational platform is connected with other resources of the Center for Urban History, such as Lviv Interactive and Urban Media Archive. Lviv Interactive is a map of the city of Lviv with information about houses, streets, and important people living in the city. It also has a collection of stories set in the city space, such as the text Jewish Lviv. The Media Archive is a collection of media resources from various Ukrainian cities. Sometimes cooperation with instructors helps to expand these databases. One example is a project that arose from the course on digital urban history at the University of Halle-Wittenberg, taught by Dr. Martin Rohde: The students in this course prepared texts on Lviv coffeehouses and their political significance, and wrote biographies of lawyers Hersch Lauterpacht (1897-1960) and Rafał (Raphael) Lemkin (1900-1959), who were connected with Lviv and contributed to the legal terminology on genocides.

One of the main tasks of Reesources is to provide a platform where scholars of Eastern Europe can communicate and share their research, pedagogical tools, and reflections in order to bring into focus previously neglected or under-researched topics. It is an ongoing project and we encourage you to make your own scholarly contributions.

MLA STYLE
Moskalets, Vladyslava. “REESOURCES: Rethinking Eastern Europe - Revolutionizing the Field with Primary Sources.” In geveb, January 2024: https://ingeveb.org/pedagogy/reesources-rethinking-eastern-europe-revolutionizing-the-field-with-primary-sources.
CHICAGO STYLE
Moskalets, Vladyslava. “REESOURCES: Rethinking Eastern Europe - Revolutionizing the Field with Primary Sources.” In geveb (January 2024): Accessed May 20, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vladyslava Moskalets