Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia in the Madison Community

CREECA works in many ways to fulfill its mission as a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Centerthrough both face-to-face and online engagement. While the world’s social dynamics have shifted tremendously, CREECA’s commitment to public service and outreach has not. Be on the lookout for online entertainment, activities, resources, and opportunities from CREECA such as the “Engaging Eurasia” fellowship opportunity for K-14 educators.

But first, we want to acknowledge the many CREECA members who have been busy in 2020 by volunteering their time and lending their expertise to represent Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia in the community, particularly at professional development opportunities for K-12 educators. Here is a sample of four exciting outreach events that friends of CREECA have participated in lately.

Immigration Workshop for Educators: Poles in Wisconsin 

Historic preservation consultant Susan Mikos recently presented on the history of Polish migration to Wisconsin at a workshop for educators on large-scale migrations to Wisconsin. The two-part February workshop, coordinated by the Institute for International and Regional Studies (IRIS) in partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District, featured key experts who were invited to tell the migration story of groups who have hailed from southeast Asia and Europe.   

Mikos presenting on the history of Polish migration to Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy: Ryan Goble)

Mikos is the author of Poles in Wisconsin, part of the People of Wisconsin Series published by the Historical Society Press. At the workshop, Mikos described Wisconsin as a “very Polish state” with 9.3% of Wisconsinites claiming Polish ancestry—the highest in the nation. Mikos narrated how the Polish population in Wisconsin grew exponentially after the Civil War, though Poland would not become an independent country until 1918. She described how mass Polish migration was driven largely by economic reasons, with peasant farmers coming to big cities like Milwaukee with a vision of owning land and working as farmers. While only 10% achieved this goal nationally, a stunning 30% of those in Wisconsin realized this dream! CREECA recommends Mikos’s book to those interested in learning more about the Polish migration story. 

International Festival at The Overture Center 

The Overture Center’s annual International Festival is a free event for families to celebrate many of the world’s rich cultures and traditions, and the CREECA region was of course well represented. At this year’s festival on February 29, families sampled international cuisine, appreciated art from around the world, and learned about the impressive global connections that Madison businesses maintain 

Lithuanian dance group, the Žaibas Lithuanian Dancers of Madison, Wisconsin, at The Overture Center’s International Festival. (Photo Courtesy: Žaibas).

IRIS hosted a booth at the International Festival to represent and promote its eight area studies centers. At the booth, curious kids had an opportunity to learn how to write their names in Russian. CREECA outreach coordinator Sarah Linkert said that the IRIS table received a lot of traffic and positive attention from 466 parents and kids over the course of the day. The festival is also known for its selection of more than 30 performances by local artists. Yid Vicious, the Madison-based klezmer band, entertained audiences with their Yiddish folk sounds; participants were also treated to a performance by the UW Madison Russian Folk Orchestra; IRIS assistant director for outreach Nancy Heingartner performed with the Lithuanian dance group, the Žaibas Lithuanian Dancers of Madison, Wisconsin. Missed the event? You can still experience some of the costumes, music, and dance in this video of the team’s performance. This free, family event is certainly one to keep in mind for next year, either for your personal enjoyment or as an opportunity to share a bit of CREECA culture with the community.  

IRIS Teacher Book Club: The Man who Spoke Snakish 

As a regional center, CREECA participates in IRIS’s Teacher Advisory Panel/Book Group where local K-12 educators meet four times a year with outreach staff to discuss a regionally-focused book, exchange ideas for collaboration, learn about K-12 area-studies needs, and brainstorm ways to best support local educators.  

Featured expert Professor Tom DuBois with IRIS teacher book club meeting participants. (Photo courtesy: Eleanor Conrad)

The group met on March 4 to discuss the CREECA-selected book, The Man who Spoke Snakish, by Estonian author Andrus Kivirähk. The book is a charmingly odd coming-of-age novel that follows Leemet, a medieval Estonian forest-dweller and the last person who can speak the Snakish language and communicate with animals. Tom DuBois, the Halls-Bascom Professor of Scandinavian Folklore, Folklore, and Religious Studies in the Department of German, Nordic and Slavic, was the featured expert. Using authentic images and recordings, DuBois helped teachers unpack the underlying Estonian history, folkloric traditions, and social realities that are parodied in the novel. The book was very well received, and all participants left with a greater understanding of Estonian history and culture. One teacher even ordered several copies of the book for their high school’s library.  

Central Europe in the High School Classroom 

Matthew Greene, GNS doctoral student, spoke to Oregon High School students about Central Europe.

When 20 11th and 12th graders enrolled in a “Go Global” social studies class at Oregon High School learned that their spring break trip to Asia had been abruptly canceled due to the novel COVID-19 virus, their teacher contacted CREECA for help preparing for a last-minute alternative trip to Central Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary). CREECA helped connect them with Matthew Greene, a GNS doctoral student, who spoke to the class about Germany and the Czech Republic since 1989. Csanád Siklós, IRIS assistant director for students and curriculum, presented “Hungary’s Long 20th Century” to the class. Other CREECA colleagues shared resources behind the scenes: David Danaher for the Czech Republic, Łukasz Wodzyński for Poland, and European Studies for Germany. Although the alternative international experience was also unfortunately canceled, Greene still was able to acclimate high schoolers to the region before K-12 schools closed throughout Wisconsin. Greene’s story is an excellent reminder of the many ways we all can adapt and be flexible as cultural ambassadors during challenging, unprecedented times. 

Written by Ryan Goble and Sarah Linkert