Category Archives: Author Blog

What Stalin can teach us about raising refugee children

Stalin’s Ninos presents in fascinating detail how the Soviet Union raised and educated nearly 3,000 child refugees of the Spanish Civil War. In this post, author Karl D. Qualls discusses the research that went into the project, revealing the Soviet transformation of children into future builders of communism and highlighting the educational techniques shared with other modern states.


Calisthenics at One of the Spanish Children´s Homes in the USSR

By Karl D. Qualls

As I talk to friends and students about children put in cages in the United States and schools bombed in Syria, I remind them that even Stalin treated some (though not all) refugees with great humanity. I’m not trying to whitewash Stalin. I know very well the atrocities. However, research serendipity can lead to some remarkable revelations.

I came across the material for Stalin’s Niños in 1995 (!) when I was doing pre-dissertation work. I was confused as to why there would be boxes of materials in a Moscow archive about boarding schools for Spanish children. Each time I went back to Moscow over the next decade to finish my dissertation that became From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II (Cornell, 2009) I checked to see if anyone had been working in the main fond in the State Archive of the Russian Federation. I didn’t know anything about the topic and thought I might be able to find a story to tell out of the 2,500 item groups. My two children were learning Spanish in school and refugees started becoming more frequent in the news after I began my research around 2010, so it seemed like something timely to do. I don’t like rehashing well-worn historical events – a legacy of my time studying with Richard Stites; I prefer new stories, and there was nothing in English on the topic and only a handful of oral histories in Spanish.

Spanish Pioneers with the Puño Salute at the Artek Pioneer Camp

With my curiosity piqued, I sought to understand why the USSR accepted nearly 3,000 refugee children from the Spanish Civil War. Refugees typically trek to contiguous countries hoping to soon return to their homeland. Refugees also are typically neglected by their “host” countries, as was the case in Britain and France for the niños. In the Soviet Union, however, the children arrived in sea-side resorts like Artek, were housed in deluxe hotels, and eventually studied in well-appointed boarding schools that far exceeded the conditions of their Soviet counterparts.

As I read through the oral histories that began to be collected about fifty years after the dislocation, I was amazed at the glowing terms with which most of the Spaniards described their time in the USSR. “It was like paradise,” said one child, “after living in hell.” Phrases like this forced me to consider why this was, especially because the Spanish children had to live through the horrors of WWII and the Nazi invasion. As engaging as the memories of the children are, they could not tell me anything about Soviet intentions and they are almost silent on educational practices. This shouldn’t surprise us; our memories tend to recall moments of joy and sadness and rarely the prosaic and banal pedagogical strategies employed by a geography teacher. I therefore moved from the conclusions of other scholars’ oral histories to investigate the causation for those memories.

Embassy of Vietnam (formerly Home No. 7)

As I read in the nearly untouched archival files, it eventually became clear. The Soviet system of “non-Russian” education in which children learn Russian as a second language and their subjects in the native tongue, when applied to the niños, created a hybrid identification I call Hispano-Soviet. The niños’ national cultural values – their Hispanidad – of language, song, dance, and more blended with Soviet values of comradery, hard work, patriotism (for two homelands now), friendship of peoples, and much more. In short, the boarding schools for Spanish children fostered the “national in form, Soviet in content” that was typical for the era.

When we examine the educational practices in the schools, we find a blend of uniquely Soviet approaches like the “non-Russian” education above with the more widely modern educational practices common in democracies and dictatorships of disciplining bodies and minds while instilling patriotism in young minds. Most of these primarily poor working-class kids, particularly the girls, would have had little to no access to education in Franco’s Spain. Soviet boarding schools taught them how to stand in line, wash hands and linens, and respect people in positions of authority. Time discipline came in the form of thoroughly scheduled days that moved students through study, meals, and leisure. The most important part of disciplining bodies was the regular health care that took pains to inoculate, provide adequate diets, and to control epidemics.

Patriotism, in this case patriotism for two countries, took place primarily but not exclusively in the classroom. History, geography, and politics courses taught about the Soviet and Spanish experiences. But even in the sciences students would study flora and fauna and natural resources of the Soviet Union that was then used to explain the country’s abundance. Frequent visitors to the children’s homes – including artists, military officers, and heroes like aviator Valery Chkalov – spoke with the children about how the regime’s investment in them had allowed them to do great things for others. Role modeling like this became a seminal tool for remolding the Spanish children and youth much as it was for Soviet students more generally.

Soviet Officer Visits with Spanish Children and Youth

Even during the 1941 arduous evacuation deep into the Soviet interior to avoid the Nazi advance, Soviet educators did all they could to maintain proper schooling. With teachers mobilized to the front, educational materials in short supply, ink freezing in the Siberian cold, and local officials reluctant to provide food and shelter, the niños’ lives took a turn for the worse. Many had to resort to theft to survive. Three remember finding their blind camel dead in the snow and finally having meat in their diet. Adolescents left the boarding schools to take jobs in factories, and many tried to enlist in the Red Army to fight the fascists, seeing WWII as a continuation of the Spanish Civil War. As the war came to a conclusion and they returned to homes outside Moscow, the youngest of the original refugees again felt the largess of the regime with well-appointed schools and regular outings to the zoo, museums, the Bolshoi, parks, and more. Unlike their older peers who went into factories during the war, these younger Spaniards increasingly entered higher education and became professionals, some assisting Fidel Castro in rebuilding Cuba, others becoming prize winning Soviet artists and athletes.

Those who chose to return to Spain as relations normalized in the mid-1950s found that their Sovietness was at least as important as their Hispanidad. Women in particular realized that in this case western Europe was backward because Francoist misogyny prevented them from using their professional training. Many highly trained men also became laborers instead of leading the professional lives they had in the USSR. The obscurantism of the Catholic church and its support for Franco’s abuses led many of these former refugees to return to their “second homeland,” the Soviet Union.

There was a long journey to completing this research. I had to teach myself a new language (Spanish), retrain from an urban historian to an historian of education, childhood, and nationality policy. My knowledge of the Spanish Civil War was spotty, so I had a lot of catching up to do there as well. I thought these sacrifices were worth it because I had so much archival material that was begging to be interpreted by someone.

Stalin’s Niños came about completely by accident, but it complicates our notions of Soviet educational policy, national identification and nationality policy, and commitment to internationalism. Equally importantly, it places the oral histories and handful of memoirs into a historical context, moving beyond aging memories to explore Soviet intentions and practices, successes and failures.

Quite surprisingly, Stalin’s Niños can teach us how to treat refugees, and especially refugee children, more humanely. “Relief” organizations are only now beginning to understand that refugees need to have their dignity as human beings affirmed and restored. This comes from education and meaningful work. Warehousing refugees in camps and children in cages dehumanizes them. The Spaniards’ overwhelming, although not exclusive, praise for their Soviet upbringing reminds us that refugees can become friends, allies, and essential contributors if only given the opportunity.


Karl D. Qualls is the John B. Parsons Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of History at Dickinson College.

 

The Lived Experience of Water

Recently released from UTP, The Wonder of Water: Lived Experience, Policy, and Practice is an edited collection that reminds us of our primordial belonging to and need for water – a relation so essential that it is often taken for granted in policy development and decision making. The chapters are written by some of the world’s leading phenomenological thinkers who tackle subjects from flow motions to urban river restoration.


Ingrid Leman Stefanovic

If you are like most people, you will have begun your day by brushing your teeth, flushing a toilet, washing your hands and face and, then, tea or coffee was probably a necessary part of your breakfast. As you moved through these morning activities, you will have taken for granted the fact that safe and secure water was ready and available.

For many of us in the developed world, that ready availability of water is accepted on a pre-thematic level: it is only when the water is turned off that we explicitly realize how vital it is to our existence. As others have said, try going three days without water to recognize its ontological value.

The Wonder of Water: Lived Experience, Policy, and Practice, brings together thinkers who are attuned to the fundamental importance of water to our embodied lives. They each hope to shed some light on the fact that our water policies and practices should be informed not simply by abstract principles but by that deep need that we each have, as beings composed 60% of water, of this basic, life-giving liquid.

Certainly, it is important that rational thinking and evidence-based science inform decisions and policy making around water. Many books on water ethics and water security do an excellent job at covering complex policy issues. However, The Wonder of Water uniquely argues that we need to ensure that the deeply personal, embodied, imaginative, ontological interpretations of the value of water equally inform policy conversations.

Consider, for instance, how every day the news media highlights the growing risks of climate change to our health and to the well-being of the planet. Fewer and fewer skeptics deny the anthropogenic causes of climate warming and, increasingly, there are calls for substantive policy change in favour of more sustainable lifestyle choices.

Whether manifested through more serious droughts or deadly floods or rising sea levels, the reality is, as UN Water pointed out in 2019, that “water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change.” Moreover, “the world is on the brink of a deadly crisis, as the combination of water stress and climate change creates a dangerous outlook for children.”[1] UNICEF recounts the stories of 12-year-old Swapna who, after Cyclone Roanu hit Bangladesh, returned home to find her neighbourhood, including all the trees, gone; or how a father in Zimbabwe, struggling to feed his family after a severe drought, was forced to sell his daughter for a few goats. In Canada, we have whole communities operating on boil water advisories. And then there is the reality that every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by unsafe water and lack of sanitation.[2]

Our book is meant to remind us that each of these lives, and others like them, are at risk and, consequently, meaningful policy changes cannot wait. Climate deniers and environmental skeptics should be invited to look each of these children in the eyes and ask themselves whether these children’s everyday embodied pain and suffering do not matter. “Policies” and regulations affect real lives. They are not simply articles of debate for conferences or international meetings. Rather, the urgency of enacting water policies that are effective and comprehensive comes from the realization that individual lives, emotions, physical health, and happiness are affected by high-powered decisions that themselves must be meaningfully informed by the lived repercussions of those policy choices.

Certainly, environmental decision making should be informed by statistics and quantitative data. Our point is, however, that a different kind of thinking – one that is less calculative and more originative, discerning, and perhaps reflecting even a kind of poetic sensibility toward individual human experiences – needs to drive policy making.

So, Part One of the book aims to remind us of what the lived experience of water might mean, not only in terms of human priorities but also relating to non-human animals and the breathing planet. Part Two shows us how water defines place, not simply as a geographical location but as the embodied projection of human understanding of the world in which we find ourselves. Part Three offers examples of how policies and decisions arise in different communities that are informed by diverse practices and ethical perspectives. The book begins and ends with poetic reflections, reminding us that policies must be driven not only by calculation but by mindful, discerning commitment to our embodied, revered, existential experiences of water.

Overall, the book invites the reader to re-engage with the lived experience and wonder of water, not only because human rights demand safe water or the benefits outweigh the costs of providing water security, but because, simply put, without water, there is no life. This fact we can never take for granted.

***

To read an excerpt from The Wonder of Water, click here.


Ingrid Leman Stefanovic is Dean of the Faculty of Environment and professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. She is also a professor emerita in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

[1] Please see https://www.unicef.org/wash/waterandclimate/

[2] Please see https://www.unicef.org/wash/

 

 

Epidemics and the Modern World

Epidemics and the Modern World surveys the role of significant infectious diseases in history from the Black Death of the fourteenth century to the Zika virus in the early twenty-first century. In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak, author Mitchell Hammond discusses how epidemics are a distinctively modern problem as well as a topic of historical interest.


In 1972, two leading virologists, one of whom had won a Nobel Prize, suggested that “the most likely forecast about the future of infectious disease is that it will be very dull.” In Western countries, at least, infectious disease seemed to be on the run after the introduction of antibiotics, the expansion of childhood immunizations, and the success of campaigns against smallpox and polio. Many experts glimpsed a bright future.

Now this optimism seems very distant. Even before the SARS virus appeared in 2003, many scientists agreed that the world was entering a new era of so-called “emerging infectious diseases.” The outbreak caused by the coronavirus—a pathogen that resembles SARS in many respects—reminds us that infectious diseases pose a distinctive set of challenges for the modern world.

Humans have always had diseases, but we have not always had epidemics or pandemics as we understand them today. Before the later nineteenth century, some diseases certainly spread widely but it was difficult to discern their movement over large distances. A turning point was reached in 1889, when the so-called “Russian flu” began several sweeps around the world. Steamships and railroads transported pathogens swiftly across oceans and continents. The flu could be followed more or less in real time because lines of telegraph cable were knitting the world together. This was a modern pandemic—an episode in which microbes and ideas simultaneously spread independently around much of the world.

Our many experiences with the coronavirus today similarly remind us that epidemic diseases are not a holdover from a primitive past when humans were defenseless against natural forces. On the contrary, today’s new infections arise from a world in which organisms and landscapes have been shaped to suit human purposes. Massive use of antibiotics, farming on an industrial scale, and deforestation are some activities that increase exposure to pre-existing pathogens and the evolution of novel pathogens. Once an infection has human consequences, diseases spread faster than ever because the pace and scale of travel have never been greater. The forces that spread disease are not limited to one location or group of people. Pandemics reveal us, all of us, to ourselves. As Ron Barrett and Georg Armelagos recently put it: “microbes are the ultimate critics of modernity.”

Image 2.1 from Epidemics and the Modern World: Mary and the Christ child with pox sufferers.

Another lesson relates to the objectives that I had for this book and my courses at the University of Victoria. Just as we explore today’s emerging diseases with the best tools available, our knowledge of past epidemics is enriched when we incorporate insights from the natural sciences. Epidemics and the Modern World attends to science with focus boxes that develop key concepts at greater length. For example, genomic data gathered from corpses has transformed our understanding of the impact of bubonic plague in Eurasia and Africa after 1348. Studies of arthropods, including hundreds of mosquito species, inform our view of how diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, or Zika virus disease might affect our future.

Such investigations do not answer all our questions, and we cannot accept scientific claims uncritically, especially with respect to the distant past. However, a fuller understanding of both human and non-human biological forces can steer us away from superficial explanations of events. In particular, it can steer us away from stereotypes about how certain societies or peoples bear more responsibility for epidemics than others. The forces that drive the emergence of new diseases today are global forces that belong to everyone.

I finished writing Epidemics and the Modern World before anyone had heard of the new coronavirus. I write this post without knowing what will ensue in the short and long term. But it is clear that epidemics not only influence our modern world, they manifest its essential character.


Dr. Mitchell L Hammond is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Victoria.

To read the the Introduction of Epidemics and the Modern World, click here.

Communication and the Human Experience

Due for release this February, Introducing Communication is a new textbook featuring discussions on issues and challenges associated with mass globalization and new technologies. This smart and sophisticated text encourages students to reflect on how these consequences and implications come to bear on how we live and communicate. Author Amardo Rodriguez explains why his new textbook can be used in any introductory communication course.


By Amardo Rodriguez

Every fall, I teach the introductory communication course at Syracuse University. It is a large lecture course and a core requirement for our majors and minors. In preparing to teach this course a few years ago, I read every introductory communication textbook I could track down, both in print and out of print. What I found was simply striking. Nearly all the textbooks focused on only one perspective of communication – viewing communication in terms of messages. The reason for this is most likely because this is how the National Communication Association defines communication.

However, there are many other ways to define communication that are much more amenable to a world where divergence is increasingly more valued than convergence. We can, for instance, view communication in terms of problem-solving, as in helping us navigate and appreciate our diversity and complexity. From this view, communication becomes a problem-solving activity.

Suffice it to say, I never had any intention or ambition to write an introductory communication textbook. Initially, I was only seeking to develop a textbook for my introductory communication class, as I could find none – either in print or out of print – that could do what I believe any introductory textbook should ultimately do, which is to give new students a rigorous and comprehensive survey of the diversity of perspectives, heritages, and concepts that define a discipline.

Over the last five years I have committed myself to creating a textbook that my students will find both challenging and enlightening, meaning one that is intellectually rigorous and culturally fascinating. What has ultimately come from all of this writing and rewriting is an introductory communication textbook that I am confident many instructors and students across the US, Canada, and the world will find just as intellectually rigorous and culturally fascinating.

Introducing Communication covers eight different perspectives and introduces an array of concepts from around the world. It discusses why the study of communication is important in terms of deepening our understanding of the human condition, enlarging how we frame and resolve human problems and struggles, and appreciating the different perspectives that communication brings to the study of the human experience.

This introductory communication textbook also highlights the consequences and implications that come with different ways of defining, understanding, and studying communication, and it presents a robust and rigorous examination of these different consequences and implications. The book is ideally suited for persons who teach any kind of introductory communication course and are looking for a text that is theoretically rigorous, intellectually expansive, and pedagogically elegant.

My textbook is different to other introductory communication textbooks in three important ways:

I. It introduces students to a diversity of perspectives that I am yet to find in any other introductory communication textbook. I highlight how these different perspectives fundamentally expand and deepen our understanding of communication.

II. It highlights communication issues and challenges that are impacting peoples from around the world as our spaces and distances collapse and implode. For instance, I discuss how the proliferation of new kinds of technology is contributing to the demise of the world’s linguistic diversity.

III. It introduces students to communication concepts from all corners of the world and showcases the contributions of different cultures and peoples to our understanding of communication. I discuss concepts from African cultures, Middle Eastern cultures, Asian cultures, and Indigenous cultures. The book functions as a global introductory communication textbook by moving beyond the Western bias that permeates every introductory communication textbook and still fundamentally defines our understanding of communication knowledge.

This textbook could be used in any corner of the world without the instructor having to worry about promoting or propagating Western biases. In fact, the book looks critically at the Western hegemon that shapes how we define communication knowledge. It would therefore be ideal for any instructor looking for a textbook that introduces students to a global view of communication.

I have been using early versions of this textbook in my own large lecture class for the past five years and obsessively revising and polishing the text based on student feedback. The feedback has always been positive in terms of the book being accessible and interesting. The unsolicited comments from students have also been encouraging. Here is one humbling example:

Dear Professor Rodriguez, I want to start by thanking you for writing this textbook. I usually do not do the reading for any of the classes I take, but when the time came to read your textbook, I learned something new about myself. . . . I have learned that if something seems so out of the ordinary for me, it may make total sense to someone else. . . . If someone were to ask me for help to define communication, I would just hand them the textbook and tell them to read it. There are so many perspectives I learned that I didn’t even know existed. Thank you, Professor Rodriguez, for enlightening me. Keep on doing what you’re doing because not only have you enlightened me, you have enlightened many others.”

In addition to the book itself, I believe professors will find the Instructor’s Manual to be quite valuable. It has many supplementary readings from The New York Times that will help students appreciate how the concepts and perspectives found in the book expand and deepen our understanding of current events around the world. It also has relevant TED Talks, classroom discussion questions, and suggested essay questions. The accompanying Test Bank includes multiple-choice questions that reinforce key concepts and ideas. Like the book, I wrote these instructors’ materials with my students in mind, and I hope they will be useful to you and your students as well.

Mavis Gallant: Fighting the Get-It-All-In Syndrome

In this week’s blog post, Marta Dvořák, author of the newly released Mavis Gallant: The Eye and the Ear, discusses the making of her book, grounded in her friendship with Gallant (Paris-based master of the short story), and a common interest in visual and sound culture.


By Marta Dvořák

Mavis Gallant (left) and author Marta Dvořák (right) share a mutual birthday celebration at the Café Vaudeville. 11 Aug, 2005. Photo credit: Marta Dvořák

When I first met Mavis Gallant at a reading she gave at the Village Voice bookshop in Paris, I never dreamed that I would be reading to her two decades later, when poor health and failing eyesight confined her to her Left Bank apartment. Or that, along with her other close friends, I would take her to her final resting-place, the Montparnasse Cemetery, to be surrounded by the artists the young Mavis had crossed an ocean for. At our first meeting, the writer was delighted when I told her my favourite Gallant story was a quirky fantasy I’d just discovered in a magazine I’d been asked to review. It turned out to be her favourite too, and we found ourselves allied against The New Yorker, which had rejected the story for stomping all over plausibility. When Gallant realised we had the same birthday, August 11, she dubbed us the Leo twins, and our professional relations morphed into a strong friendship to which the very private (and famously prickly) writer granted a fierce loyalty. And triggered in me an equally strong loyalty. So naturally when my Gallant book project began to take shape, it blended essay and not-quite biography. I wanted to offer readers material drawn from private conversations and letters which would give insights into the woman in her whole habitat. Oh, not what she had for breakfast, of course. Rather her backstage views on life and art, what she read, who she saw, the pictures she liked, the films she watched, the music she listened to: questions of inclination, taste, perception, influences, and experience, all connected to writing itself.

Marta Dvořák interviews Mavis Gallant for the Journal of Commonwealth Literature at the renowned Le Dôme Café in Paris. 21 May, 2008. Photo credit: Agnès Vérè. See DOI: 10.1177/0021989409342146

Getting the French habitat we shared into my manuscript implied reintroducing Gallant as a late modernist in the context of her times. What she liked to read, look at, and listen to was often what the early modernists clustered in Paris did, namely Flaubert, Chekhov, Picasso, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Stravinsky, Louis Armstrong, and Proust. Just what made Joseph Roth one of Gallant’s favourite writers? What game-playing did she enjoy in Ulysses, and what did she dismiss as “linguistic taradiddles”? Such adventures in sampling invited me to place Gallant in time and space, within North American and continental modernisms and postmodernisms. Reaching both forward and back, just what were her affinities and specificities with regard to other writers on the Canadian and international scenes? How could Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant be said to exemplify two different strands or senses of realism? My investigation might explain why Carol Shields in private referred to “the divine Mavis, the divine Alice” — both short story giants and the only two members in her “divinity division.”

Well, I had barely started on the Paris connection when I tripped over the book I’d just co-edited, Translocated Modernisms, which addressed certain late modernist Canadian visual artists and writers through the transnational and interdisciplinary exchanges they’d experienced in Paris. I realised that when Mavis moved to Paris in 1950, the city wasn’t just the place where the Big Four (Mansfield, Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf) had invented high modernism. It was still the planetary hot spot where visual artists, musicians, performing artists, and writers from all parts of the globe rubbed shoulders and borrowed and stole each other’s finds. I remembered that Mavis, never happier than in an artist’s studio, loved pictures and music, and I wanted to light up the representational techniques she shared with these fields. I also recalled that Mavis and the moving pictures had grown up together. She told me how she’d reeled with pleasurable shock at the huge silent black-and-white images she’d been taken to see — images which would catalyse her creative imagination.

Oh boy, so now I’d also need to plug my book into visual and sound culture. I set out to identify areas of convergence between the aesthetics of breakage of, say, Cubism, jazz, and (post)modernist literature like Gallant’s, whose sleights-of-hand and tonal shifts had puzzled general readers and dazzled scholars and writers. I finally distilled things down to the disruptive notions of syncopation and dissonance. This was a stunning breakthrough. Not just because it had never been done before, but also because it gave me a new angle from which I could do what I’d wanted to do most — show how Gallant’s work works. I saw that a stress on image and rhythm — the eye and the ear — could be the ideal basis for hands-on micro-analyses. I wanted these adventures in in-depth readings from a wide range of her stories and recently-reissued novels to light up what happens on her pages and how. I wanted to identify the writer’s unique thumb-print.

When I took stock of all my material and all my intentions, the manuscript looked like a python which had swallowed too many meals. I was still struggling with the challenge of mixing the personal and the impersonal. But the real trouble was with the book’s double approach — reading Gallant through her adopted Paris and down a winding twentieth century that neo-modernist scholars had begun to rediscover. I finally sent off a full proposal to UTP, pointing out that there was a bifurcation in the material which would allow me to split the book into two should that be preferable (published successively or concurrently with another interested publisher). My acquisitions editor wrote back that the manuscript was teeming with ideas but yes, a tad unwieldy. He invited me to concentrate on Gallant’s relations with art, film, and music, and was especially enthusiastic about the chapter devoted to the satirical techniques Gallant shares with visual caricaturists. You guessed it. What he wanted was the part I hadn’t written yet.


Learn more about Mavis Gallant: The Eye and the Ear

Marta Dvořák was born in Budapest, raised in Canada, and went on to become professor of Canadian and World Literatures at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she became a close friend of Mavis Gallant.