A Message from the CIUS Director | The Changing Face of Ukrainian Studies

It will come as no surprise to anyone that we live in a world where constant and often radical change is now the norm. We experience this first-hand in our daily lives, which are being dramatically transformed by the relentless march of technological innovation that creates new ways of doing things and quickly relegates traditional practices to the dustbin of history. Not only has the pace of everything accelerated, but the flu­idity of the environment creates the feel­ing that everything is in flux and could fun­damentally change at any moment.

The work of scholars has certainly evolved in many different ways in the span of my own lifetime, and it continues to incessantly change as I write this text on my relatively new computer-which, along with my phone, will become out­dated in a few short years. In just a couple of generations, researchers have gone from accessing books and archival materials in rooms filled with typed index cards to calling up digitized documents, and increasingly books, in sec­onds on their desktop or portable computers. In many cases, it is now no longer necessary to physically visit libraries or archi­val holdings, or to travel to an office to be able to work. When we once used to think that the introduction of photocopying in archives was an enormous leap forward after having to labori­ously copy-in hand, usually with a pencil-texts that were brought in from an off-site storage place, today such docu­ments can frequently be viewed and printed out in mere min­utes while sitting at one's desk half a world away from the origi­nal source material.

In terms of Ukrainian studies in particular, a tectonic shift took place when the Berlin Wall came down, followed shortly afterwards by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which swept away the strict controls that had once been placed on intellec­tual contact across ideological and national barriers. Suddenly, it was possible for Western specialists on Ukraine to interact normally with their counterparts in Ukraine, and to access with relative ease the primary and secondary materials needed to do serious fact-based research. And whereas scholars in the field once corresponded with colleagues by handwritten or typed letters sent by what is popularly known as "snail mail," they now connect instantaneously by electronic mail or text message, or talk directly over their computers and by phone, often without exorbitant charges.

This facility of communication, however, also comes at a cost, as it is possible for students and scholars to reach out with requests for help and information from virtually anywhere on the planet simply by using a speakerphone, mouse, and key­board. One result for CIUS is that collectively the institute and its staff members receive hundreds of such queries on a weekly basis, the unstated expectation being that a response will be forthcoming in days, if not hours. Certainly, one of the great challenges that we face (and it is not wholly negative) is dealing with the sheer volume of emails and calls that we routinely get asking for our attention, effort, and time. Meanwhile, the con­stant traffic of scholars and students from Ukraine coming to Canada, or Canadians going to Ukraine, to conduct research or to take part in academic gatherings sponsored by the institute, also consumes a growing amount of staff energy, typically involving arranging flights, accommodations, and the process­ing of paperwork.

To be honest, keeping pace with the ever-changing environment that affects Ukrainian studies is a struggle, and we sometimes fall behind in our attempts to fulfill our multifaceted mission and to keep abreast with new opportunities as they become available to us. Nevertheless, CIUS has made significant progress in several key areas, one of them being digitization of the wealth of resources that we have pro­duced over the years. The best example is our ongoing Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine initiative, which is making the con­tent of our groundbreaking English-lan­guage print encyclopedia available in a regularly updated and expanded edition that is a mere mouse click away. That the encyclopedia is currently being visited 1,500 times a day speaks volumes about how it has become an essential tool for anyone wanting to know anything about Ukraine from a reliable and readable source. A growing number of our publications, and our East/West and Ukraina Moderna journals, can also be found online, and this process is continu­ing as we go forward with new materials being issued in down­loadable formats.

Another area where CIUS is effectively using the latest tech­nology involves posting video recordings of many of the semi­nars that we host at the Univ. of Alberta. Thus, it is now possible to watch presentations of some of the latest research being undertaken by leading and young scholars in Ukrainian studies on our Facebook page, which supplements the information on our website with more current developments. Video conferenc­ing of meetings and live streaming of some events are likewise being utilized by CIUS, and will no doubt become more common features of our operational and public engagements. In a similar vein, when it comes to the study of contemporary Ukraine, scholars working at the institute today can easily follow what is happening in Ukraine on a minute-by-minute basis, through the Ukrainian media and a host of news compila­tions and blogs. Ignoring any of these changes in the ways of doing business is not an option if the institute is to survive and remain relevant in the future.

Notwithstanding the difficulties that change can bring, the new developments that impact Ukrainian studies are mostly welcome ones. Certainly, the veritable explosion in the number of talented students and scholars working in different branches of the field is something to be celebrated, especially since it includes both researchers in Ukraine and those who are not ethnically Ukrainian. In many respects, this is the most exciting development in Ukrainian studies, which has achieved much greater prominence in Western institutions and beyond. Although in some ways the critical role once played by CIUS during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath has been diminished, at the same time the institute is able to redefine itself and to refine its areas of focus. With the support of our friends and donors, CIUS is successfully adapting to the changes taking place in academia and the world at large.

I am confident that the institute will remain at the forefront of Ukrainian studies outside of Ukraine, while continuing to con­tribute in a major way to the advancement of scholarship in Ukraine and to its further integration in the international aca­demic arena.

Jars Balan