How international is the library at the U of I?


A compilation of various book covers. Prepared by Graduate Hourly Sonal Modi

Friday afternoon, April 10, the International and Area Studies Library (IAS) hosted “Embracing Internationalization at the University Library:  Global Impact of Collections, Services and Expertise.” The event aimed to recognize the ways in which several members of and units in the University Library system support and create opportunities to serve an increasingly globalized patronage. Dean of Libraries and University Librarian John Wilkin opened the gathering by introducing the guest of honor, Dr. Reitumetse (ray-too-met-see) Obakeng Mabokela, the university’s Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Studies. In her opening remarks, Dr. Mabokela shared that her experience as an international student began on the University of Illinois campus some two decades ago. She is originally from South Africa, and having worked in higher education for more than 15 years, she emphasized the importance of grooming graduates who are globally minded and can work both comfortably and competently all over the world. This goal became even more compelling in light of the fact that the U of I enrolls nearly 10,000 international students per year, a figure among the highest in the nation.


Guest of honor and panelists. Photo Credit: Robert Sarwark

Following Dr. Mabokela’s remarks, the audience, which was comprised of various workers from the library system, heard from a select panel whose work and current projects meet the library’s mission to further internationalize U of I collections, collaborations and curricula. Head of the International and Area Studies Library Steve Witt highlighted the U of I’s Slavic Reference Service that is active and highly valued both domestically and abroad, receiving 3,000 reference questions per year. William Mischo, the Head of the Grainger Engineering Library, spoke of the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER) which aims to facilitate technology transfer across the globe. The Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in History Dr. John Randolph promoted the strong tradition of interdisciplinarity supported on campus as demonstrated by the Summer Research Laboratory. Assistant Director of the Mortenson Center Susan Schnuer described the center’s signature Associates’ Program which annually invites librarians from all corners of the world to meet, train and network together. And Global Studies Librarian Lynn Rudasill introduced the audience to the World Sustainable Development Web Archive, an initiative that aims to allow users to examine websites that may no longer be live.


Desafinado band performs at reception. Photo Credit: Robert Sarwark

After the panelists’ remarks, the meeting was followed by a warm and lively reception in the IAS Library which allowed for all in attendance to discuss their projects and to casually commune. Popular Brazilian covers were played by local band Desafinado and lead singer Elis Artz who works for the university’s Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies. Caterers served authentic Brazilian hors d’oeuvres including marinated hearts of palm, pão de queijo (a Brazilian cheese bread) and chocolate truffles. Ultimately, the event effectively showcased the University Library’s commitment to embracing internationalization and how we support the collective mission of serving an increasingly globalized public. For more events and updates like these, follow us on the IAS Facebook page and visit us in the Main Library Room 321.

Three ladies

From left to right, South Asian Librarian Mara Thacker, IAS Graduate Hourly Katrina Spencer and Cataloger Qiang Jin. Photo Credit: Robert Sarwark


What Are International Cultural Promotion Organizations?


Photo by r2hox via Flickr/Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The diplomacy – both formal and informal – that occurs between and among “all nationally defined cultures” (Said 1993: 15) is much more of an art of give and take than an exact science. With so many factors of culture, language, and current events at play, there is never a hard and fast way to interact internationally. This is the very reason why foreign diplomats undergo so much training – in language(s), in bilateral policy, and furthermore in making a concerted effort towards understanding the peoples and places in whose midst they are placed as representatives of foreign governments. Ideally, they must be prepared for any contingency. But of course this is only a ideal; in reality, one misplaced comment or misunderstood joke could ultimately mean the difference between copacetic relations and tumultuous scandal. Conversely, one mutually respectful relationship between two analogous diplomats could mean the difference between bringing a project to fruition or allowing it to languish in bureaucratic stagnation.

But beyond this “art” of diplomacy, the arts in their traditional sense (along with the humanities in general) offer a nexus through which members of different nations and/or cultures may cast aside more formal geopolitics in the pursuit of both identifying and celebrating our commonly shared qualities and interests. It is from this standpoint that we arrive at the concept of “cultural internationalism,” defined by Akira Iriye as “a variety of activities undertaken to link countries and peoples through the exchange of ideas and persons, through scholarly cooperation, or through efforts at facilitating cross-national understanding” (1997: 3).  But how do these endeavors look and feel on the ground level, day to day, and from the perspectives of those who take part in them? While much is written about political science, diplomacy, international relations, geopolitics, and other related topics, one corner of this area has yet to be amply studied: international cultural promotion organizations, also known as (inter)national cultural centers, cultural institutes, or cultural agencies.

Whether in the form of the Confucius Institute (China), the Instituto Cervantes (Spain), the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (USA), or any number of other centers or institutes active throughout the world, during the last 150 years or so governments have increasingly invested in how they interact with their counterparts internationally. These places serve as meeting grounds for new ideas, musical and other cultural events, language learning, and mutual understanding in general. As J.M Mitchell observes, “Activities arranged by cultural agencies create a favourable impression on foreigners in leading positions, either directly as with high culture, or indirectly through the reputation built up by more routine operations in their countries such as language classes, libraries, etc.” (1986: 15). And while the efforts of ICPO’s may differ from nation to nation and from era to era, their purpose is uniform: to be a part of the global community.

The below table offers information and links for the world’s more active international cultural promotion organizations. Find one near you and get involved with another culture today!


Iriye, A. (1997). Cultural Internationalism and World Order. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mitchell, J.M. (1986). International Cultural Relations. London: Allen & Unwin.

Said, E. (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


Nation Inst. name Founded Main partner(s) In USA? Main US sites
Andorra Fundació Ramon Llull 2008 Catalonia (Spain) No N/A
Brazil Rede Cultural Brasil 1962 Other S. American nations and Lusophone (CPLP) nations No N/A
China Confucius Institute 2004 Worldwide Yes All major US cities and nationwide (458)
Czech Republic Czech Centres 1993 Other European nations Yes New York City
Denmark Danish Cultural Institute 1940 UK, Baltic states, Brazil, China, Russia, Benelux No N/A
Estonia Estonian Institute 1995 Finland, Hungary No N/A
Finland Association of Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes 2005 Europe (13 countries), Japan, Middle East Yes New York City
France Alliance Française 1883 Worldwide Yes Multiple: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago (100+)
Germany Goethe-Institut 1951 Europe, USA, South America, Africa Yes Most major US cities (6)
Greece Hellenic Foundation for Culture 1992 Egypt, Germany, Eastern Europe, Australia No N/A
Hungary Balassi Institute 1927 Europe (13 countries), Russia, India, Egypt, USA Yes New York City
India Indian Council for Cultural Relations 1950 South Asia and worldwide No N/A
Italy Società Dante Alighieri; Italian Institutes of Culture 1889; 1940 Western Europe and worldwide; worldwide (90 total) Yes New York City, Boston, Miami, Seattle, Anchorage, Denver, Pittsburgh, Pueblo (NM), Detroit; NYC, LA, San Francisco
Japan Japan Foundation 1972 Asia, Australia, and the Americas Yes New York City, Los Angeles
Poland Adam Mickiewicz Institute 2000; 1971 Asia, Turkey, Brazil; USA No… Chicago: Copernicus Center (non-profit)
Portugal Instituto Camões 1992 Lusophone Africa + East Timor, EU, Latin America, USA, Canada, Senegal, S. Africa Yes Boston, Newark
Romania Romanian Cultural Institute 2005 EU, Turkey, Israel, USA Yes New York City
Russia Russkiy Mir Foundation 2007 China, Cuba, EU, Israel, Central Asia, East Asia, USA Yes New York City, Washington, D.C.
South Korea Korean Cultural Center 1991 USA, Japan, China, Russia, EU, Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina, India, Thailand, Mexico Yes Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York City
Spain Instituto Cervantes 1991 Latin America, USA, EU, North Africa/Middle East, South/Southeast Asia Yes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Albuquerque
Switzerland Pro Helvetia 1939 France, Italy, Egypt, S. Africa, China Yes New York City, San Francisco
Sweden Swedish Institute 1929 France No N/A
Turkey Yunus Emre Institute 2007 Italy, Jordan, Azerbaijan, Albania, Belgium, Japan, UK, Iran, Hungary, Poland, Northern Cyprus, etc. No N/A
United Kingdom British Council 1934 Worldwide Yes Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles
United States Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs 1961 Worldwide N/A N/A

Resource Spotlight: Endangered Languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

According to a memo authored by the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Science in 2005, at least one third of the 6,000 unique languages spoken today are endangered. Experts anticipate that these languages, nearly 2,000 of them, will be entirely replaced by dominant languages by the end of the 21st century. The memo also notes that 30 endangered languages are currently spoken in Siberia. These languages include Aleutian, Aliutor, Chelkan, Chukchi, Chulym Turk, Enets, Even, Itelmen, Kerek, Ket, Koryak, Kumandin, Mansi, Nanai, Negidal, Nganasan, Nivkh, Oroch, Selkup, Shor, Soyot, Teleut, Tofalar, Udeghe, Uilta (Orok), Ulch, Yukagir, and Yupik.

“…at least one third of the 6,000 unique languages spoken today are endangered.”

As a result of this information, and in response to UNESCO initiative for the preservation of endangered languages, The Institute for Ethnology and Anthropology has launched Endangered Languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia, an online resource dedicated to resources related to endangered languages spoken in Siberia. The site is available in both Russian and English.

In addition to information about the project, the portal is divided into several different sections: Languages and Cultures, Bibliographies, Projects, and Instruments.

lake baikal fauna by clurross is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

lake baikal fauna by clurross is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Languages and Cultures

This section contains introductory information about all of the 28 languages listed above. This includes general linguistic descriptions, such as relevant ethnonyms, basic grammatical structure, information about number of native speakers and the geographic spread of the language, as well as sociolinguistic and historical details about the language. The amount of information available varies, but in all cases it is enough to give the reader a sense of the language and its characteristics.


The Bibliographies section is probably the most useful part of the portal. Like the Languages and Cultures section, it is divided by language. For anyone wanting to learn more about these languages, the authors have done a lot of the work for you simply by identifying relevant published materials. It indexes a variety of sources, including linguistic studies, grammars, and textbooks and other instructional materials. The majority of this material is published in Russian. Should you wish to consult it, don’t hesitate to contact the Slavic Reference Service and we will do our best to locate an available copy, either locally or through Interlibrary Loan.

New tram in Irkutsk by Michael Chu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

New tram in Irkutsk by Michael Chu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Projects and Instruments

The section on Projects tracks ongoing and completed research projects related to the featured languages. A short blurb about each project is available, alongside information about the researchers carrying out the work. Where available, related websites are linked. At the time of writing, the site features projects relating to just 12 of the 28 languages: Aleut, Chelkan, Chulym, Ket, Nivkh, Oroch, Selkup, Shor, Udeghe, and Itelmen, Koryak, and Even (the Languages of Kamchatka Peninsula). For those inspired to carry out their own work, the Instruments section provides information about tools for linguistic research, including specialized software and fonts. This section seems to still be under development, and does not yet contain much information.

Overall, the Endangered Languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia portal is a good resource for identifying materials about an important subject that is not widely studied. If this topic has piqued your interest, some additional resources you might consult include:

UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger

Guide to General Resources for Slavic Linguistics

Guide to Resources for the Study of Minorities in Russia

UIUC Linguistics Library Guide

As always, feel free to visit us at the International & Area Studies Library to get research assistance from a subject specialist for the region of the world that you study. Happy researching!

Project Genesis: The Quest

It all started in 2006 when Harvard professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. made a documentary series about tracing one’s roots to Africa. I thought, “Oh, that’d be nice to know.” Like the overwhelming majority of African Americans, I don’t know where exactly my ancestors come from on the African continent of 54 countries just across the Atlantic Ocean. Despite my interest in pursuing my query, I wasn’t prepared to put any money behind my curiosity.

Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a prominent researcher in African American genealogy. Photo Credit: PBS Press Room

Then last year, CNN anchor Michaela Pereira joined the quest, traveling to Jamaica and publishing the story of discovering her roots. This was another, welcome reminder of something I intended to get back to. I was only convinced, however, when other African American, U of I graduate students like myself, LaKisha David and Jarai Carter, told me that they, too, had participated. They’d sent their DNA samples into laboratories and gotten better, more reliable clues about their places of origin. So, when I had enough money, I decided to join them on the journey, too.

CNN newscaster Michaela Pereira who traced her genealogy to Jamaica. Photo Credit: Varon Panganiban

African American history is complicated. Not only does an expansive ocean stand between me and Africa, but also a few centuries of slavery. As you might imagine, because many records have been lost or were never kept, beyond my grandparents’ generation, genealogical lineages are rather blurry. It’s near impossible to not feel a sense of loss because of this. Yet, history, as it is wont to do, and biology, too, offer suggestive remnants that lend some clues about the past.

For example, I know my mother’s mother is from Louisiana, so I assume my matrilineal lineage traces back to that Southern state. Moreover, my mother’s fair skin and hazel eyes seem to suggest a European ancestor.  My father’s skin is a deep brown and he comes from the English-speaking Afro-Costa Ricans of the Atlantic Coast. While I’m pretty certain his great-grandparents were Jamaican, I don’t know where they came from before that.

So this is how Project Genesis was born. It entails my effort to employ the DNA-tracking services offered by to determine greater specificities about who I am and to document the process so others who choose to pursue a similar route can form realistic expectations of the experience. On March 14, 2015, I paid $99.57 for an ancestryDNA kit. It arrived on my doorstep on March 21. It came in a little white and green box, not much larger than the palm of my hand, and inside there were two tubes—one was for collecting my saliva, and another containing a blue stabilizing solution for the DNA sample. It will take a minimum of six weeks before I get my results.

Chromosomes. Photo Credit: Ruth Lawson

Before we label these services, however, as an “answer-call, cure-all” when it comes to questions of African American identity, origin and belonging, let me share some of the research I did before embarking on this adventure which truly taught me to temper my expectations. After speaking with LaKisha and Jarai about their experiences, I learned that this test, like any other, has its limitations and therefore must be contextualized, specifying what it can and cannot do.

LaKisha is a Ph.D. student in Urban and Regional Planning who is in her thirties. She has spent some $800 with three different services in order to have her and her family members’ DNA tested. Collectively, the services were carried out by ancestryDNA, 23andme and African Ancestry. LaKisha freely admits that each service has its plusses and minuses. As she describes it, what the test attempts to do is to match one’s DNA to a database of DNA that is already held. That is, it tries to match one’s DNA to a group of people that is currently alive today. The crux is that in order to be effectively matched, the database needs to be rather comprehensive. For example, if no tests were conducted for the people living, say, along the coast of the Gambia, it’s impossible to have a result yield a reliable match to that particular population.

The Gambia is the dark blue country on the west coast of the continent.

“Do not do this test if you are looking for a place of origin,” she cautions. The results provide a map that highlights the countries where one’s DNA has resonance. In Lakisha’s case, (and Raven Symone’s), multiple countries are highlighted: Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, et al. So, in this case, when five to ten places show up as matches, the results aren’t as conclusive as one could hope. As a matter of fact, the test seems perhaps most helpful in telling one where he or she is not from: the Maghreb*, East and Southern Africa, for example. However, that information based on history alone may already be evident to us. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade we know was primarily carried out along the coast of West Africa. Is it worth it to pay $100 to have a test confirm that, yes, African Americans are indeed of mixed West African descent?

The colored areas identify major African regions where slave trading occurred between the 15th and 19th centuries. Photo Credit: Grin 20.

It would appear that the novel information provided pertains to one’s ancestry that is not African. LaKisha’s background, for example, included results that were 87% African, 5% Native American and 4% European, and this is where LaKisha offers some advice: “It might be more effective to have your oldest living relative tested.” This way, the expectation would be for fewer countries to be named in the results as the oldest relative is closer to the source of origin. Also, she says, the more African people who take the test, the more accurate results will be. However, what motivation does a Senegalese woman living in Senegal within her Senegalese community have to take a test that costs $100 and ultimately tells her that she is Senegalese? “But do you see the potential?” LaKisha asked. There’s potential, I told her, but the process may not be practical. Asking African people to submit their DNA to a database so African Americans can know more about themselves may simply be asking a lot.

After carrying out African Ancestry’s Patriclan test on an older, male relative, LaKisha learned that her lineage was traced to the Akele people of Gabon. This information appeared on one document and specified which of her relative’s chromosomes indicated the connection. What this sheet of paper did not do was provide the names of definite familial relatives alive in Africa. It did not state how to find other Akele people in the Midwestern, North American region where we currently reside. It also did not provide a profile on the Akele that showed them to be nomadic people or urban dwellers, tall and sinewy or short and slight or patriarchal or matriarchal. It would seem, then, that there is a real risk, then, in these tests becoming predatory. While the companies profit, do African Americans get the answers and information they seek? While we observe a viable business model, in the end only the faintest inklings of information are provided.

I also spoke to Jarai who is a Ph.D. student in informatics and in her twenties. Her results from indicate that 55% of her background is European and 43% is African, which, was not entirely a surprise to her given her mother is a white American and her father is a black American. Her advice? “Don’t do it if you expect to be 100% black,” she said. “There were actually people angry that they have white heritage.” Given the legacy of the slave trade, many African Americans have a mixed heritage that may or may not be perceptible based on their phenotype. The genotype, however, which is what we are testing, may reveal some unexpected information.

An interracial couple. Photo Credit: Sharon Samples

Jarai says she was “hoping to find out more about relatives, but only got pointed in a general direction. She admits, too, that the database is limited. However, seeking out this process brought her family together. Lakisha also said that generally hers was a positive experience and is happy to have a starting point for further research. What we all agree on is that this type of adventure can take a lifetime of mapping, digging and testing, and apparently, I’ve signed up for step one. Stay tuned for the second feature, “The Grail,” in the The Project Genesis series.

*The Maghreb refers to Arabic-speaking countries in the northwestern region of the African continent. It includes Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, among other countries and is often distinguished from sub-Saharan Africa. Photo Credit: Connormah