Dear Colleagues,

I am addressing this message to a wider audience than those of you who are already members of the Early Slavic Studies Association (ESSA).

ESSA has been making strides forward recently. During the past year we expanded our book prize award to three awards – a monograph prize, a translation prize, and an article prize.

This year’s winners were:

Monograph Prize Winner:
Paul W. Knoll, “A Pearl of Powerful Learning”: The University of Cracow in the Fifteenth Century (Brill, 2016).

Monograph Honorable Mention:
Erika Monahan, The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Eurasia (Cornell University Press, 2016).

Translation Prize Winner:
Moshe Taube, ed. and trans., The Logika of the Judaizers. A Fifteenth-Century Ruthenian Translation from Hebrew Critical Edition of the Slavic Texts Presented Alongside their Hebrew Sources with Introduction, English Translation, and Commentary (Israel Academy of Sciences And Humanities, 2016).

Article Prize Winner:
David Goldfrank, “Litigious, Pedagogical, Redemptive, Lethal: Iosif Volotskii’s Calculated Insults,” Russian Review 75, no. 1 (January 2016): 86-106.

We have an excellent newsletter edited by Talia Zajac that tells us about news of the field twice a year. ESSA also co-sponsored (and co-funded) a Workshop/Conference at Harvard University on April 8th, 2016, on “Portraits of Medieval Eastern Europe.” In addition, the organization co-sponsored the participation of the Russian scholar Mikhail Krom (European University in St. Petersburg) at the Association for Slavic, Eastern Europe, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).

At our last business meeting in November at the ASEEES Conference in Washington DC, we confirmed the decision made at the previous business meeting in Philadelphia that we would continue to use the ASEEES yearly conference as the venue for our yearly ESSA conference. That way we can utilize the resources of ASEEES, and it is a conference that a significant number of our members would be attending anyway. Each year we have a large number of panels, and the ASEEES organizers have been very good about not doubling (or tripling) up early Slavists panels in the same session. To be sure, scheduling overlaps do occur, but my personal experience is it is a lot better now than it was twenty or twenty-five years ago.

Finally, I would like to address the assertion that has been made that early Slavic studies is “a dying field.” One can certainly understand why that assertion is being made. With the end of the Cold War, Slavic studies has seen a general constriction. Our field of early Slavic studies has lost positions dedicated specifically to early Russian history, such as at Harvard University, University of Chicago, and the University of California, Berkeley. New positions that are advertised continue to privilege those Slavists who study more recent times. We have no place to train early Slavist students in the specialized disciplines of paleography, filigranology, sphragistics, text criticism, historical linguistics, etc. Those young scholars who wish to pursue studies in the early Slavic field have to find some way on the own to pick up knowledge of these disciplines. Funding for the early Slavic field has largely dried up. Once upon a time, we could piggy-back on government funding of National Defense Foreign Language and National Defense Education Act scholarships, but no longer. Applications for funding of specific research projects, if they are in the early Slavic field, are given low priority.

At our last meeting, we formed a “Committee of the Future” to present to the organization as a whole at our next meeting ideas for how to address (and perhaps redress) these problems.

Yet, if one looks at the quality of the scholarship that we are producing, it is outstanding by any measure, including monographs, editions, translations, edited collections of articles, and journal articles. Young scholars are entering the field and finding a way to do it. There are Ukrainian Studies Centers at Harvard University and Edmonton, Canada, that are sympathetic to and support early Slavic studies. Early Slavists have infiltrated the editorial side of publishing at such journals as the Russian Review, Russian History, and Canadian-American Slavic Studies. In that sense, our field has never been healthier. It is a bit of a conundrum, but, as the Emperor Joseph II said in the film Amadeus, “There it is.”

All the best,
Don Ostrowski
President, ESSA