Gen X and 1989 in Poland

Posted on November 20, 2014 in Events, Partners, Social and Political Geographies by APM

On Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Alicja Kusiak-Brownstein (Visiting Faculty) joined A. James McAdams (Director, Nanovic Institute), David Cortright (Kroc Institute), and Sebastian Rosato (Political Science) for a panel discussion commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her reflections are reprinted here below.

After being invited to the panel “The Berlin Wall 25 Years On: Its Meaning, Then and Now,” I asked my friends in Poland, who in 1989 were in their late teens and early twenties: how do you remember the fall of the wall?

Though from a far distance, their memories resonate with Prof. A. James McAdams’ observation that the Berlin Wall did not fall so much as it opened. They also embody the point made by Prof. David Cortright that civil society had the leading role in the transformations of the late 1980s. Moreover, those memories, though indirectly, reveal one important quality of the political changes epitomized by the fall of the Berlin Wall: its peacefulness. That quality is too often played down. The fall of the Berlin Wall was certainly a spectacular media event seen around the world. Yet the fall of the wall was just one of a series of events that helped to bring down communism in Eastern Europe over a three-year period. This peaceful dismantling of the communist regimes spared us the trauma caused by military violence, one that could have lasted for generations.

One of my immediate observations, however, was how much the place where one stands defines the point of view, or in other words, how different the fall of the Berlin Wall is remembered by the Poles who at the time lived in the West, and those of us who lived in the East. The West was astounded at the collapse of the wall. Justyna, in 1989 an undergraduate student at University of California in San Diego, said she was astonished to see the reports about the Berlin Wall in the newspapers. “I was very surprised that it is happening now… simply, one beautiful day communism collapsed, and that’s that.” Hania, who worked in a photography studio in Suresne, in the western suburbs of Paris, said she was petrified when she first heard the news. While the French radio constantly played the reports from Berlin, her little shop turned into a discussion club, where clients and employees had heated debates about what that event would bring to Germany, Europe, and the world.

The memories from the Polish side show less surprise. Andrzej’s first thoughts were clear and patriotic: “Damn it! It’s gonna be a great symbol of the fall of the communism. Germans took over us, the Poles, again!” Indeed, in 1989 Poland was in the avant-garde of the political changes in Eastern Block. Following the wave of strikes in 1988, communism had been dismantling peacefully, in conference rooms, through open and the closed-door negotiations. In the spring 1989, the Round Table Talks between the communist government, the anti-communist opposition, and with observers from the Catholic and the Lutheran churches, agreed to carry out the first semi-free election. Held in June 1989, the election brought the overwhelming victory of the Solidarity movement. By November 9, when the demolition of the Berlin Wall began, Poland already had its new government, containing the members of the opposition and the communist political establishment, with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, one of the Solidarity leaders, as Prime Minister.

Some young people took the great political changes as a flow of life. When the news reached Małgosia in her hometown, Białystok, she was preparing for finals in high school: “I was buried with books, notebooks, tired, sleepy, beleaguered by my Polish language teacher. Then, my mother entered the room and said: ‘Małgosia, did you hear that? The Berlin Wall just fell.’ I answered: It’s about time, isn’t it? I had a feeling that this fall of the wall is like… after dinner, mustard.” Doszka, then a student at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, remembers a visit of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl: “While his bus was passing by Planty Park, he waved to ‘the natives’. And then… he suddenly left.” The fall of the Berlin Wall prompted Chancellor Kohl to interrupt his visit in Poland for one day, November 10, yet in the following day he resumed it.

Other youngsters felt euphoria mixed with anxiety. Nearly all of us remember that “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd was being played everywhere. Ola recalls: “I thought: It’s wonderful! The world is changing in front of me. Everything is possible!” In 1990 she traveled with friends from Warsaw to Berlin to the concert “The Wall – Live in Berlin” by Roger Waters and guests, a performance of Pink Floyd’s legendary album. They traveled with no restrictions. Kasia remarked: “I was aware that the world around me was changing, but I was also worrying whether its was happening for real, or whether somebody will soon call it off and everything will be as it always was.” Iza, who when I asked, just happened to be going through archives of photographs and short films from 1989 in Poznań, said: “I am struck by one thing in these images – the faces of ordinary people. Happy faces. So uncommon now.”

For most of us, the Fall of the Berlin Wall was just another, though spectacular, TV event in the time that Padraic Kenney has called “the Carnival of the Revolution.” The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in November-December 1989 was awakening memories of the Warsaw Pact’s invasion during the Prague Spring of 1968. Many of us recall the anxiety around the events in the Baltic States. In August 1989 approximately two million people formed a human chain for a distance of nearly 420 miles, across the territories of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian Soviet Republics. That peaceful demonstration, known as the Baltic Way, followed the Estonian declaration of sovereignty in 1988. The outcome of the events in the Baltic States was the ultimate test of whether the change was for real, or whether the Soviet Union was going to wake us up with kalashnikovs. It did not. The subsequent “parade of sovereignties,” when all other Soviet republics declared their independence, led to a peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Yet, many of us remember also the bloody collapse of the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, instigated by protests in Timișoara, in December 1989. The images from the execution of the Ceaușescus came as a reminder that there are other ways in which political systems collapse. In the following year the wars in Yugoslavia began, getting news big coverage in Eastern Europe. For eight years, daily footages were pushing in front of our eyes images of the horrors of the civil war: mass murders, mass rapes, ethnic cleansing, waves of refugees, and the destruction of the cultural heritage. When the Berlin Wall was falling and millions of people peacefully called for political change all over Eastern Europe, few of us imagined that soon we would see reports of genocide.

1989 was the year of high spirits. The level of activism among young people was very high. It seemed like we were all involved in something—amateur theater, amateur press, music, politics, religious and self-education groups, free travel without money, fraternization, “the first joint and getting high!” University students, who were still very much radicalized, called for impromptu gatherings, and did not miss any opportunity to protest on the streets, challenging the infamous armed troops of the militia—until then a symbol of the brutality of the communist regime. The armed militia for its part actively tried to avoid clashes with students. In Polish cities “the walls” were falling on every street.

The Berlin Wall outlasted its fall, transformed into gravel, and went on a world tour. In the autumn of 1990, Hania travelled from France to Poland, through Berlin. She went to the wall, chipped off, as she said, “one of the last remnants from the Berlin Wall,” and brought it to Poznań. She said she could not do otherwise: “I remember when my father and I travelled to East Berlin to buy the photography accessories. My father had a little photo-studio in Zbąszyń. Before crossing the border with Poland, we were parking our Syrena [a car] in the woods, disabling the engine of the car, and hiding the photography paper, films, etc., as it was illegal to carry them across the border. While in Berlin, my father was always taking me by the Berlin Wall, saying: ‘Remember my child, behind this wall is freedom.’ Soon after, her piece of the wall reached my hands.

In the spring of 1990 university history students in Poznań began occupying, and eventually took over, the big and hideous residence of the communist party, located in the city center. They did it to chase communists away, and to solve the permanent housing problems of their own department, squeezed in one building with all possible modern languages and literatures. This was the building where I began my history studies.

In 1991 the spirit at the university was still anarchic. After a class on the theory of history, instead of going home, we stayed and talked with our lecturer, and with whoever wished to enter our seminar room. We were smoking like chimneys, drinking beer and strong tea, and discussing our present and our future—that is history in the making. Once, a young artist entered the room, listened for a while, then grabbed something from his pocket and said: “Would you like to hold a piece of the Berlin Wall… for a while?” That piece of wall, Hania’s piece, with smudges of paint, circulated from hand to hand. We did not treat it as a relic. We knew that we could do with it anything we wanted, including throwing it through the window. And that was the Berlin Wall. Now dispersed, circulating in a million fragments throughout the world. The feeling of great opportunities and the open world was overwhelming and palpable. Yet, as history taught us, it did not last long.

Let me put that one piece of the Wall in context: children grow up fast in a time of political or social turmoil. While holding that piece of the wall, I was thinking about the moment Martial Law was declared in Poland, in 1981. It was the response of the communist regime to the Solidarity movement. The night before the declaration of Martial Law, my mother and I stood by the window in a dark room of our apartment house, by the road which connected Poznań—the biggest city in western Poland—with the largest Polish and Soviet military bases. Though all the windows in the apartments around us were dark, we knew that all the residents are up, and were doing the same as we did: counting the tanks and military vehicles passing under our windows. I remember after my mother reached one hundred, she burst in tears. Yet, more important than the number of the tanks, was whether they had the red star on them. If they did, it meant that Poland had been invaded. If not, there was still a chance that we could avoid a civil war by negotiations. So, holding a piece of the Berlin Wall eight years after that traumatic event, which I still can vividly see, it seemed somehow surreal.

That evening, this piece of the wall opened up the memory bag for others as well. My experience appeared to be modest compared with that of my older companions. Gwidon, our teacher, as an undergraduate got involved in printing and distributing dissident flyers. Dragged by the militia from the dorm, he remained in prison for half a year. He was beaten during interrogation, though as he always admitted, “not severely,” and eventually released for lack of evidence. Other friends shared their anecdotes about confrontations with the armed militia, mostly recounting physical and moral wounds, bruises, and proudly explaining how they avoided being raped. The tone was not heroic, but picaresque. After all – we were young. And what stands out most from the memories evoked by the fall of the Berlin Wall was the euphoria of freedom and of youth. From the perspective of personal and collective memory, the grand politics appear as nothing more than a colorful background to those things that my friends and I identify as the most important for us, then: love, friendship, activism, exploring the world, and ourselves in the world.

Why do I think this series of memory postcards is important to remember? Because, no matter how historians, politicians, or social scientists evaluate the Revolution of 1989, its most important characteristic was that, for the most part, it was peaceful. It came as a result of negotiation. Had it been otherwise, the memories I just recalled would be very different. There is great value in a peaceful resolution of political conflicts. In the case of East Europeans in 1989, it saved our youth and many lives. Thanks to the peaceful, though noisy, fall of the Berlin Wall, we do not remember it as clearly, as we remember our own most colorful and noisy years.

I would like to thank Justyna Beinek, Małgorzata Fidelis, Andrzej Kałwa, Dobrochna Kałwa, Marzena Lizurej, Izabella Main, Anna Muller, Aleksandra Sekuła, Izabela Skórzyńska, Katarzyna Stańczak-Wiślicz, Błażej Warkocki, Hanna Zaworonko-Olejniczak, for sharing with me their memories.

Student Spotlight: Molly Seidel

Posted on September 4, 2014 in Students by JACF

Welcome to a new academic year, and to a new year of students returning from trips funded by the Nanovic Institute!  To kick off the year, we would like to present Molly Seidel, a Junior majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Science. Molly traveled to Ireland last summer to participate in the Cultural Landscapes of the Irish Coast (CLIC) project, and she has a fascinating and entertaining story to tell!

Seidel, Molly 13-14 smallerGoing to the field for the first time for archaeology work, I knew that I should expect the unexpected. I had traveled thousands of miles to Inishark, an abandoned island off the coast of Western Ireland, for the chance to participate in the Cultural Landscapes of the Irish Coast (CLIC) project.  CLIC is a multi-year project led by Notre Dame professor Dr. Ian Kuijt that works to preserve the cultural heritage of Irish islanders, a perfect opportunity for an anthropology student like me to work with ND professors, professional archaeologists, and other undergraduates.  Inhabited from the Bronze Age to the mid-20th century, Inishark is is a cultural treasure trove for archaeologists, rich with the history of Bronze Age pastoralists, Medieval monks, and hardy farmers of the 19th century.  This year we were focusing on excavating a large home from the 1800s, working with historical records and oral histories of the islands to document the settlement patterns of the island.

Early in the month-long project I was relishing my newfound excavation skills by uncovering various large stones and artifacts under the layers of thick sod and dirt, but I was having a bit more trouble with interpreting what I found. I kept finding pieces of crumbly white rock near larger stones that seemed to make up a larger structure, but it must have collapsed many years ago to leave little more than a disordered pile of rocks. I was digging where a wall of the house should theoretically be, so I asked Frank, one of the professional archaeologists in the group, to take a look. Frank is literally and figuratively a giant of Irish archaeology, his six-foot-five frame slightly stooped from decades of experience digging Medieval and contemporary sites all over the country, so I knew he would be able to give me the advice I needed.

I expressed my befuddlement at what exactly I was digging, whether it really was a wall or just a pile of rocks left over from clearing fields. He knew right away what he was looking at, expert eyes quickly assembling context clues from the area, but he wanted me to think a bit more before he gave me the answer. “The clue for this spot is that white rock,”he stated in his thick Irish accent. “Once you identify it you can understand the context of this area, how the white rock relates to the other stones and features in the site.”

“How exactly do I do that?”I was stumped. I thought the crumbly stone might be a part of a wall, but had no way of being sure with so many stones laying around in disarray.

Frank chuckled at my confusion, then offered “I want you to taste it.”

I must have given Frank a look that implied my total disbelief, so he picked up a piece of the rock, brought it to his lips, and licked it to show that he wasn’t kidding me. “See? You can really taste that limey zing that tells you it’s mortar.”I laughed, shrugged, and tried tasting it myself. He was right; the powdery rock had a slight zing to it rather than the neutral taste of dirt I expected. “And since we know that it’s mortar, that tells us that it’s holding together these larger stones to make a wall,”he said as he grabbed his own trowel, kneeled down, and started digging away.  He excavated more in five minutes than I had in the past half hour, exposing more large stones and small white rocks laid out in a straight line in either direction. With new insight, I could see the places where the mortar fit between larger stones, and suddenly a defined wall of the house seemed to materialize right in front of me. Though the structure had been there the whole time, it took some expert instruction from Frank to help me see the site a little differently in order to more fully understand it.

Seidel, Molly 13-14 (2) smallerDuring the month I spent in Ireland, I had many moments similar to this one as I gained various technical and analytical skills vital to archaeological field work. It is clichéto say that there are some things that you just cannot learn from a book, but I was amazed at how different and intricate archaeological practices were in the field from the lessons I had learned sitting in a classroom. I never could have gotten a feel for changes in soil gradient by just leafing through a textbook, and never could have tasted the difference between mortar and granite while sitting in a lecture hall.  I also relished the chance to learn from professional archaeologists like Frank, closely observing him at work in the field to discover the proper way to hold a trowel or shovel-shave a sod wall, and listening to fascinating stories of local culture tied to the artifacts we were uncovering. My experience in Ireland showed me how archaeology is practiced in the real world, and I am so grateful to the Nanovic Institute for supporting my research and education beyond the classroom. Nanovic gave me the chance to move beyond my comfort zone and see the world in a new way, to open myself to new experiences and to explore incredible places like Inishark. This trip taught me a lot of things, but most of all I’ll always remember Frank’s advice that I shouldn’t be afraid to get down and dirty by licking a few rocks.

Student Spotlight: Thomas Boyle

Posted on June 9, 2014 in Students by JACF

Boyle, Thomas 13-14Thomas Boyle is among the Nanovic Institute’s first students to return from a summer research trip already!  He is a rising Sophomore majoring in architecture.  With our Summer Travel and Research Grant, Thomas traveled to Spain to conduct research on La Reconquista and Andalusian architecture.  He promptly sent us an account of his trip:

Andalusia is unique place within Europe. Remnants of Roman, Visigoth, Muslim, and Spanish architecture exist alongside one another as markers of the prosperity and rich cultures that have dominated and transformed the area. Thanks to the support of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, I was able to travel to two Andalusian sites, the Alcazar of Seville and the Mezquita (Cathedral) of Cordoba, to investigate the conversion of these Moorish buildings after the Christian reconquest of Iberia in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. I also visited the Alhambra of Granada, another significant Moorish structure used as a palace for Ferdinand and Isabella, but did not conduct in-depth research on the complex.

In Seville, Spain’s fourth largest city, I encountered a charming historic city center filled with plazas, parks, fountains, and beautiful buildings centered around the fortified Royal Alcazar. Still used as a palace for the Spanish royal family, the complex developed bit by bit over several hundred years. There is a fantastic mix of architectural styles in the Alcazar, including Moorish, gothic, classical renaissance, and of course, Mudejar. The Mudejar style is what occurs when traditional Arabic architectural forms are built for Christian purposes, resulting in a remarkable mixture of aesthetics and cultures. Surrounded by all of this, I got to work. By systematically sketching, photographing, and reading about the site’s post-Reconquista constructions, I developed a unique understanding of the buildings and the subtle unity of the complex. The Alcazar is an architectural marker of over 500 years of Moorish and Spanish history, and my research experience has allowed me to see and understand the site in a more appreciative light.

After three days of study at the Alcazar, I went on to Cordoba, a much smaller city with an architectural history as rich as Seville’s. Founded as a Roman capital of the imperial province of Baetica, Cordoba became the economic and intellectual center of Andalusia under the Moors, and is strewn with well preserved architectural remains from both periods. The city’s most outstanding feature is the Mezquita, which serves as its Catholic cathedral, but was built as a mosque during the city’s Moorish golden age. Famous for its double horseshoe arch hypostyle hall with alternating red and white stones, the Mezquita went through an invasive conversion to a cathedral after the Reconquista. The enormous prayer hall did not serve well for a Catholic liturgy, so a small Gothic nave and an enormous Renaissance nave were added and interrupt the serene rows and rows of Moorish columns and arches. Over 40 smaller chapels were also sectioned off from the prayer hall. Like in Seville, I studied the history of each addition with available literature in the Mezquita, and extensively photographed and sketched. By experiencing and researching the monument in such an intimate way, I was able to understand and appreciate the visible mix of cultures that would not have been possible otherwise.

Perhaps most importantly, I am excited to use my over 400 pictures and 35 sketchbook pages in future designs in school and after graduation. Travel is especially important for students of architecture, because to understand a well designed building, it is best to experience it in person. I think being able to expand my “design palette” through travel is one of the greatest parts of being an architecture student at Notre Dame with access to the Nanovic Institute. I saw many clever and beautiful design solutions Spanish architects have used in Seville and Cordoba, solutions I will emulate in future projects at Notre Dame and beyond.

Student Spotlight: Paul Luczak

Posted on June 2, 2014 in Students by JACF

Luczak.Paul.13.14Graduate students aren’t the only Notre Dame students to present at conferences!  The Nanovic Institute recently sent undergraduate Paul Luczak (’15) to the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of Nottingham to present a paper titled “Academies and England’s Changing School System.”  Paul recently wrote about his experience:

On April 14th and 15th, through the generosity of the Nanovic Institute, I attended and presented at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research at the University of Nottingham. This conference brought together a global mix of undergraduate students researching a variety of topics and subjects. In my short time at the conference, I discussed with a Latvian student the sentiment of fellow citizens following the Russians’ activity in Ukraine, learned that British pastries have a distinct heritage in Central America, and listened to a presentation on the role of the media in British politics. However, the central purpose of traveling to Nottingham was to present my research: Academies and England’s Changing School System.

Academy refers to a category of schools that operate autonomously of the local authority, or what we would call a district. These schools are all-ability, meaning they accept all students, and receive funding directly from the Department for Education. All academies are granted the freedom to deviate from the national curriculum, change term lengths, and set pay and condition for staff.

Within the portfolio of academy schools, there are two types of schools that still retain the academy label. These are sponsored academies, and converter academies. It’s important to note that in reality, the titles ‘sponsored’ and ‘converter’ are descriptions of the schools, rather than their formal name. In practice, they are known simply as ‘academies.’ Sponsored academies are managed and led by a sponsoring organization. These sponsors include successful schools, businesses, universities, charities, and faith groups. Maintained schools typically become sponsored academies in hopes of turning around a failing school. Therefore, when a school becomes a sponsored academy, the goal of the sponsor is to change the culture, identity, and performance of the school in order to become classified as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding.’ Converter academies, on the other hand, are academies that were schools already deemed good or outstanding by the Department for Education. Because they have a history of success, the DFE is willing to grant these schools the freedom to operate autonomously of the local authority. Given the already high levels of achievement, little change occurs when a maintained school becomes a converter academy outside of alterations to the source of their funding and their association to the local authority.  At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, 2,442 schools were converter academies, and 858 were sponsored academies.

Sponsored and converter academies refer to very different types of schools, but unfortunately, they both possess the same title: an academy. My research studies how the government and sponsoring organizations define ‘sponsored academy,’ and whether parents and community members understand the overhaul inherent in a transformation to a sponsored academy. I found that parents understand and can define the type of school their child attends, but system level confusion persists.

Given this system level confusion, I feel an obligation to share my research in hopes of raising awareness of these schools. This is exactly what I was able to accomplish at the University of Nottingham. At the conference, I presented to many interested and involved members of the education community, but two conversations stood out. One was with a male student, about the same age as me, who prefaced our conversation by stating, “In my town a handful of academy schools have popped up recently. I’m interested in hearing more about these schools.” Another was with an older woman, who introduced herself as a school governor (similar to a school board member) at a school considering a conversion to academy status, but admitted to not possessing a true understanding of these types of schools. In both situations, I hope my presentation stimulated understanding, and helped illuminate the meaning of this hidden school reform.

By attending the British Conference for Undergraduate Research, I was able to share my research on academy schools, and hopefully help British citizens better understand the schools that are now becoming common place in their towns and villages. My experience in Nottingham only enhanced my motivation to continue to study these schools, and ensure that English parents possess a complete understanding of the school their children attend. Thank you to the Nanovic Institute for making this dream a reality.   

Student Spotlight: Veronica Roberts

Posted on May 28, 2014 in Students by JACF

Roberts.Veronica.13.14Veronica Roberts is a doctoral candidate in Political Science.  She recently returned from the XLII Incontro di Studiosi dell’Antichità Cristiana in Rome, where she presented a paper titled “‘Aliud namque sunt diutiae, aliud pecunia‘:  A Brief Reflection on the Intertwined Themes of Wealth and Hope in Augustine’s City of God.”  The Nanovic Institute awarded Veronica a Graduate Professional Development Grant for this exciting opportunity.  She recently sent us a report on her experience:

I am very grateful to the Nanovic Institute for making my trip to Rome possible. In every way, it was an unforgettable experience. Because my dissertation studies Augustine’s City of God, which heavily explores the history of the Roman republic, it was very exciting to visit the Eternal City—to walk the streets around the Capitoline hill, remembering that when ancient Rome was besieged by the Gauls, that hill alone was saved because the squawking of the sacred geese woke up the Roman consul; to walk along the Gianicolo, realizing that it is the same Janiculum hill to which the people fled before the Civil Wars; to visit the Forum and Palatine Hill and understand for the first time why Augustine targets the particular Roman deities that he does; I had many more such moments of awe, but these convey the general tenor of the whole trip. Thus, on the most basic level, I am grateful for the trip because it helped me understand the subject of my dissertation better. What is more, I was able to take photos that I will put in my dissertation, so that the readers will be able to share this deepening of understanding.  

Turning to the conference itself, I am glad to say that it was a success. My primary objective in attending it was to meet Fr. Robert Dodaro, O.S.A. who is the president of the Augustinianum and has written Christ and the Just Society, an excellent book on Augustine’s City of God that I engage heavily in my dissertation. I was able to have a three hour meeting with Fr. Dodaro, in which he advised me about job prospects, successful publishing, pointed me towards helpful secondary literature, and helped me think though the presentation of my ideas on Augustine’s thought.  This was an important connection to make because he is very difficult to reach by email, and our face-to-face meeting will help him to look out for my emails. What is more, he has promised to read my dissertation over the summer; because he is such an excellent Augustine scholar, I think that his feedback will be extremely valuable. He has also invited me back to Rome in November to have a meeting with him and John Rist (another important Augustine scholar) about how to transform the dissertation into a successful book. Because next year, during my postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton, my project will be just this, this opportunity is very exciting.

The conference itself was very interesting, engaging a wide range of early Church Fathers on the question of wealth and poverty. I learned much about the other Church Fathers from others’ presentations, which was both illuminating in itself, and helped me understand the newness of Augustine’s approach and emphasis. I was also glad to present my own paper on the theme in Augustine, based on my reading of the City of God.  This paper will now go through the peer-review process, and, I hope that it will be published in the Augustinianum’s journal; regardless, the peer review process will provide me with constructive feedback.

In sum, my trip to Rome was an unforgettable experience and I am deeply grateful to the Nanovic Institute for funding it. The trip both enriched my scholarship by bringing Rome to life for me, and opened up opportunities that will help my academic career. Thank you very much for this. 

Minors in European Studies: Class of 2014

Posted on May 21, 2014 in Students, Uncategorized by Jenn Lechtanski
Director A. James McAdams with the graduating class of minors in European studies. Copyright University of Notre Dame, 2014.

Director A. James McAdams with the graduating class of minors in European studies. Copyright University of Notre Dame, 2014.

On Friday, May 16th, students graduating with a minor in European studies gathered with family and academic advisors for the Nanovic Institute’s recognition breakfast. Students shared stories about their research journey for their capstone essay, a requirement to complete the minor, and received a personalized certificate to mark the occasion.

From left to right:
Melissa Medina, Marianinna Villavicencio, Paul Menke, A. James McAdams (director), Christine Gorman, Colleen Haller, and Marielle Hampe. (Not pictured: Kelsey Cullinan and Maria Fahs)


Director A. James McAdams presents Marielle Hampe with the 2014 Wegs Prize for best capstone essay.

Director A. James McAdams presents Marielle Hampe with the 2014 Wegs Prize for best capstone essay.

The J. Robert Wegs Prize for Best Minor in European Studies Capstone Essay is awarded annually to the minor in European Studies who authors the best essay written in fulfillment of the capstone essay requirements for the minor. This prize carries a $250 award. The prize is named in memory of J. Robert Wegs (1937-2010), founding Director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies who served until 2002. One of his contributions to the Nanovic Institute was the development of the Minor in European Studies.


This year, the Wegs Prize was presented to English major Marielle Hampe for her capstone essay.  She was advised by Matthew Capdevielle, director of the University Writing Center.


Congratulations to all of our students and best wishes from the Nanovic Institute!

Student Spotlight: Christina Serena

Posted on May 20, 2014 in Students by JACF

Serena, Christina 13-14We’re very proud of Christina Serena!  Her research on Saint Pope John Paul II, made possible by a Break Travel and Research Grant for Sophomores and Juniors, was published by the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  You may read the full text of her article at  For a more experiential account of research trip, including a description of some of the vocational and spiritual benefits of her travels, read the grant report that she sent to us.  When she wrote this report, she had no idea that she would published, as well as posted and widely liked and shared on Facebook.  What could happen to you as a result of your Nanovic grant?

I would like to thank the Nanovic Institute for European Studies for the opportunity to travel to Poland during fall break. I was nervous beforehand because I had never traveled alone in Europe before and was unsure about how many people would be willing to meet with me. Yet, thanks to the help of Professor Adrian Reimers, I was able to interview 23 Poles! Going into the week I thought that I would hear a lot of the same information over and over again. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of the interviews. Common themes were John Paul II’s impact on the Solidarity Movement as well as their personal feelings towards having a pope that was one of their own for over twenty years. However, these interviews also revealed the unique features of the way each person approached John Paul II because of each individual’s particular background and interests. I was able to see Pope John Paul II’s impact on Poland from varying perspectives such as that of a sociologist, theologian, new feminist, cardinal, priest, sister, youth, senior citizen, practicing Catholic, cultural Catholic, an atheist and even two close friends of John Paul II. Most of my interviews were formal and videotaped. However, I also found time to interview people on trains and buses and while at churches, universities, and touring Warsaw, Krakow, and Lublin. Through all these interactions, I learned way more than I ever thought possible during a research trip of only nine days. I now have so much to say about Pope John Paul II and Poland that it would be a shame not to turn this research project into an additional senior thesis next year.

In addition to the research aspect, I was surprised by how many lasting friendships I made. It was amazing to me how close I became to my guides throughout the week. I plan to return for a visit when I am studying in Rome next semester so that I can see them again. The last aspect that was an unexpected treat for me, as a future Dominican, is that one of Professor Reimer’s friends connected me with the Dominicans in Krakow. Their community was founded a few years after St. Dominic’s death. So, it was wonderful opportunity for me to walk through a priory nearly as old as the Order itself. I was able to interview three Dominicans, and one of them will be a professor at the university in Rome I am studying at next semester.

I am thankful for the opportunity to conduct this research project because of its impact on me educationally, culturally, and spiritually as well as for the friends I have made and the experience of seeing Poland. Going to Poland was one of the best choices I have made while at Notre Dame. Although the pre-trip research and organization was time consuming and I am still sorting through the results of the many hours of interviews, it was worth it. Thank you once again for this incredible opportunity!

Student Spotlight: Nathan Gerth

Posted on May 12, 2014 in Students by JACF

Gerth, Nathan 13-14Nathan Gerth is a doctoral candidate in History.  The Nanovic Institute awarded him a Graduate Break Travel and Research Grant to conduct dissertation research in Tver’, Russia.  Nathan recently wrote about his experience:

From December 29, 2013 through January 28, 2014 I conducted supplementary dissertation research at the archives and museum located in the Russian city of Tver’.  While working in these institutions I completed the research that I began last March. This report outlines my accomplishments during this trip, which was funded through the Nanovic Institute’s Graduate Break Travel and Research Grant.

During my month-long research trip to the Russian Federation I worked with materials related to the process of Russian state building in both central and regional archives. I spent several weeks working in the State Archive of Tver’ Province (GATO) and the Tver’ State Unified Museum (TGOM). At GATO I focused my attention on records created in response to the cholera epidemics of 1831 and 1848. During the epidemics the local government struggled to keep state and local society functioning. I used the governor’s correspondence with the local medical board to compare the different approaches taken by the government during these outbreaks.

While working in the archive maintained by TGOM, I conducted a close reading of the correspondence of Avgust Zhiznevskii, an official who served in Tver’ during the mid-nineteenth century. When writing about the topic of local officialdom I have struggled to find sources that illuminate the lived experience of officials. Unfortunately, while Russian officials generated no shortage of documents as part of their jobs, the bureaucratic records created by local government provide a limited perspective on the lives of these officials. In contrast, Zhiznevskii’s letters and memoirs provide a rich first person account of the struggles of a young official coming to terms with living in Tver’ and interacting with his colleagues. As a result, his letters and memoirs supply an invaluable counterpoint to the official records that I had focused on during my research last year. 

In light of these accomplishments, I feel that my research trip to the Russian Federation proved particularly successful. After all, I now have most of the materials to complete my dissertation and a new perspective on much of the work I completed last year. Ultimately, the Nanovic Institute’s Graduate Break Travel and Research Grant played an integral role in the realization of these plans, given the considerable cost of traveling to Russia. Therefore, I am grateful that the institute awarded me these funds.

Student Spotlight: Steven Fisher

Posted on May 8, 2014 in Students by JACF

Fisher, Steven 13-14 (4)Steven Fisher is a Sophomore majoring in Political Science and International Peace Studies.  The Nanovic Institute awarded Steven a Break Travel and Research Grant for Sophomores and Juniors to conduct research at the Hague over spring break.  Steven, who also served the Nanovic Institute as one of our student workers this past year, wrote about his experience:

I noticed pedestrians were often impatient during my days at the Hague, waiting for winter to end, the wind to ease, and the sun to reappear. March meant unpredictable weather, as I realized when the warm morning that inspired my trip to Delft turned to gray clouds by the time I arrived. Wandering into Delft’s main square, I came across the statue of a man often mentioned in my international law course. I read the name “HUGO GROTIUS” embedded onto his pedestal and then looked into his steady, marble gaze. What would the father of international law himself have to say about the international criminal trials in the Hague, and what guidance would he prescribe to a young scholar eager to delve into the fields of peace and justice?

For  four days I sifted through documents and footage at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). My research sought to understand what role European politics play in the ICTY proceedings themselves, analyzing how the case of one war criminal­­–Radovan Karadžić–­­summoned the power interests of the European Union, Serbia, Russia, and other actors of the international arena. Documents articulating elaborate statutes, rules of procedure and evidence, and administrative exercises piled on my desk and every page in my legal pad was scribbled over with notes. I wrote, “How have logistical and mundane details created spaces for political contestation and control?  Why did the ICTY review and object to granting interviews with Russia Today? Did the decision to admit intercepts from the accused relate to internal politics of the ICTY or the external interests of other states?” and in haste began running my eyes through pages and pages of transcripts and trial reports.

Some days I scanned available footage; the courtroom exhibited cameras aimed on the stand, interpreters whispering in the background, security guards with hands rested on radios and guns, journalists constantly watching from the public gallery, and everyone wearing headphones. Karadžić himself watches his own trial from the defense with an everyday sense of normality and mundaneness.

And then I pack up my papers and exiting through the lobby, I stop to glance at the TV monitor labeled “Trial Chamber III,” to see empty chairs displayed on the screen due to the postponed cross­examination. Speculating, I would find my way back to my hostel by the beach. I dozed in the tram and would gaze through the window to see embassies being closed and lamps beginning to light. A stop at the Peace Palace De Haagse tramnet always invited a crew of Dutch, English, French, Swahili, or Spanish speaking law students murmuring on their cellphones. A culture of international politics and legal justice constantly enveloped my experience not only inside the courtroom, but also in the very streets of the the Hague.

Exploring the legacy of the ICTY through its process–­­its subjectivities, spaces, and documentation–­­profited how I identify political spaces within international criminal justice. But in discerning its contribution to justice, I remember Grotius words: “Arbitration is where a matter ought to be left to the decision of a person, in whose integrity confidence may be placed, of which Celsus has given us an example in his answer, where he says, ‘I though a freedman has sworn, that he will do all the services, which his patron may adjudge, the will of the patron ought not to be ratified, unless his determination be just.’”

Student Spotlight: Peter Fink and Benjamin Fouch

Posted on April 28, 2014 in Students by JACF

Fink and Fouch 13-14This week’s Student Spotlight features a pair of researchers:  Peter Fink and Benjamin Fouch.  They both received the relatively new FYS Spring Break Travel and Research Grant.  Peter has declared a supplememtary major in Arts and Letters Pre-Health, and Ben has declared a major in Political Science.  The pair traveled to Valencia, Spain over spring break to conduct research on the Parque Natural del Rio Turia.  They both wrote about their experience:


Fink, Peter 13-14

Peter Fink

I am intrigued by many things, but above all, I am particularly invested in health and its relation to culture.  While I have undoubtedly learned much in my classes at school, traveling to a new continent and studying my interests in a new cultural context has provided me with an opportunity unlike any other that has taught me lessons I could never have learned in the classroom.  With growing populations and economic uncertainty, offering people convenient and healthy living solutions becomes increasingly challenging.  Growing up in northwest Indiana and attending the University of Notre Dame, I am well aware of the difficulties that people face when trying to stay physically active year-round while balancing their professional and family lives.  Many times, after the gym membership fees, gas money, and proper workout attire, exercising can seem like an ordeal that is less than worth it.

I believe, however, that making activity an integrated part of one’s lifestyle and culture is far more important than getting to the gym and running on a treadmill several days of the week.  For this reason, I was immediately fascinated when my friend, fellow Hesbourgh-Yusko scholar and research partner Ben Fouch told me about Valencia’s Parque Natural del Rio Turia.  Essentially, after a catastrophic flood in 1957 that killed over eighty people and injured hundreds more, the city of Valencia, Spain decided to completely drain and divert the Rio Turia from its original course that ran through the city and create a city park in the topographically rich river bed that lay behind.  Although at the time many disputed the decision, the park is now a key feature of the city, a source of cultural identity, and a location that provides residents with a convenient way to stay active.

One of the things that made my time in Valencia so illuminating was the comprehensiveness of the research Ben and I were able to do.  Working together and combining his business interests with my interests about culture and health, we were able to acquire a wealth of knowledge about the park and observe its impacts from multiple levels.  The first and perhaps most effective approach we took towards our research was to engage in dialogue with locals about the park.  After several days of traversing the ten-kilometer park that runs through the city interviewing locals, it became evident that public approval of the terra-formed park is virtually ubiquitous.  I was curious to find out if there would be a difference of opinion about the park amongst varying demographics, but my research showed me that people of every age, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity use and enjoy the twentieth century topographic wonder.  Another aspect about the park that I discovered through dialogue with locals was the expanse of its impact.  Street vendors, elderly men taking their siesta, and businesspeople found on the other side of the city all expressed gratitude for the park and claimed they used it frequently.  Before long, I came to realize that the park was not only a convenient and trendy location for residents to exercise, but also an object that provided the city with identity and pride.  People think of the park as a feature of their city that sets it apart from other European metropolises and brings out Valencia’s heritage while also making it contemporarily relevant.

Another way we learned about our research subject was by visiting the museums and libraries in Valencia.  For example, by visiting the history museum, I learned details about how the city was actually founded as a Roman settlement on the Rio Turia, something that explains the residents’ pride in the park and its tradition.  After delving into the stacks in the library and finding books describing the park’s construction, I learned that park designers placed every tree and stone with absolute purpose and actually preserved historic elements of the river such as its bridges while adding new paths and services that made the park both utilitarian and artistic.  Ben and I also took a trip to the City of Arts and Sciences museum at the end of the park, a feature that gives the historic and cultural space a sense of intellectualism and progressiveness.  Taking advantage of the city’s many resources allowed us to more fully understand what a masterpiece of urban planning the Parque Natural del Rio Turia truly is. 

History is a valuable tool that allows us to examine past examples of failures and successes in order to better our lives today.  Much can be learned from the success story that is the transformation of the unruly Rio Turia into the useful Parque Natural del Rio Turia.  Upon my return to South Bend, I will have a new perspective on health, culture, and urban planning.  With this new perception in mind, I want to examine my community to see how its hindrances and setbacks can be turned into positive features that improve the health of its residences and highlight its culture.  None of the knowledge, cultural literacy, or experience I gained while in Valencia, Spain could have been possible without the generosity of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at Notre Dame, so I want to sincerely thank everyone at the wonderful institution.  Muchas gracias, and go Irish!  (Peter Fink)

Fouch, Benjamin 13-14

Benjamin Fouch

I had previous experience with the Jardín del Túria from my time studying abroad in Valencia with the IUHPFL. At the time I was fascinated by the park and the brief glimpses I saw of its history, but I lacked the time and resources to explore it further. The Nanovic Institute for European Studies’ recognition of the importance of the green, organic dimensions of urban planning and its successful execution in Europe made a return trip possible.

While in Valencia, I had a rare opportunity to leave textbooks behind and for the first time perform substantial research that incorporated more diverse sources. Through interviews with citizens who lived through the Inundación de 1957 and staff in one of the largest modern museums in Europe, I understood the impact of the river park in a new and intimate way. Looking at city’s data and statistics on revenue is useful, but the human consequences are as important if not more so in urban planning. The figures tell an important story, but the change in the citizens’ quality of living is the end goal of these projects. Despite taxes, an outspoken political culture, and a diverse population, the Valencian pride in the park was evident. There was an overwhelming positive perception of the park, demonstrating the Plan del Sur’s success. From on-the-ground interviews, I learned how the unique adaptation of the Río Túria’s riverbed into a park over the last half-century has shaped an entire city’s identity.

One element of international research that has been a great surprise has been the benefits of on-site archival research. Having grown up in a digital age, I expected that my initial research into the history of the park was relatively substantial. Upon arrival at the archives of the city, I found the books and pictures told an entirely different story than the one I had pieced together. A death toll as a statistic is one thing; a photo of a city swept away by floods is another. One image that will stick with me forever was a photo we found in a dusty old book at an old Valencian library. It depicted a man, sitting on a fallen column, watching as his home was washed into the Mediterranean. Such a powerful image revealed how such a massive, expensive undertaking could have been accomplished; the people had been deeply hurt.

One key finding from the research has been how the park’s design has impacted urban development. In many traditional parks, a square or rectangular layout it employed. This is by far the easiest strategy when accounting for classic street design. What is different about the Rio Turia is how it is organic. It bends and meanders through the city, covering a much wider area. This has led to less gentrification than with typical major parks; rather than become the haunt of the wealthy who could afford homes near the park, the Jardín del Túria is a place for all.

Political divides, potentially corrupt administrators, protests, royal intervention, and a final victory for the citizens of Valencia paint a picture of the Plan del Sur that is chaotic and instructive. The one hundred year vision of the plan, its meticulous execution, and the public presence in decision-making are some of the bright spots of the plan. My research in Valencia was incredibly rewarding because it allowed me to identify these great successes and reflect on how they can be applied more generally.

The Nanovic Institute’s First Year of Studies grant has reinforced my career aspirations. The Río Túria park illustrates the ideal philosophy and methodology for urban planning, and in my intended career in developing infrastructure in responsible ways. With careful planning, knowledge of a city’s needs and interests, an ear for input from interest groups, and responsible budgeting we can turn eyesores and economic liabilities into impressive revenue generating centers that dramatically improve the citizens’ quality of life.

Moving forward, during my undergraduate years I want to take what I have learned in Valencia and give back to the community. The “block” park structure adopted by the city has been shown to be impractical; if the city adopts the integrated approach of Valencia then they can create more green space that improves the property value of adjacent buildings. Upon graduation I will incorporate park development into broader human development strategies and urban planning that aims to reduce gentrification and unintentional property discrimination against first generation immigrants. Parks should not be a brief sanctuary for nature within an urban jungle, but instead a streamlined and sustainable companion to urban growth.

I am incredibly grateful both to Notre Dame and the Nanovic Institute for the incredible opportunity. Exposure to foreign culture, urban planning, and administration has given me some practical experience to frame further inquiry into the field of urban planning and collective action. Their investment in students like myself demonstrates their commitment to our shared future, and I do not intend to let the investment go to waste.  (Benjamin Fouch)