Reviving a Revolution: Exploring Newspapers at the Slavic Research Lab

Zohra Saulat with her poster at BOBCATSSS 2018

By Zohra Saulat

When I decided to pursue librarianship, I did not imagine that it would take me across the world. Just a few short weeks ago I had the opportunity to present one of my projects in Riga, Latvia for the 2018 BOBCATSSS symposium. Not only was this my first ever library conference, but this was the first time I traveled to Europe. The experience itself was exciting, but I was also thrilled to share my project, which had its start on campus at the International and Area Studies Library.

The exhibit about the Russian Revolution was on display in the main library for the month of September 2017.



This past summer, I assisted with IAS’ Slavic Summer Research Laboratory (SRL). Since 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of Russia’s Revolution, one of my duties to was to help create a banner that would accompany a library exhibit commemorating the historical event. The library exhibit featured memoirs and artifacts from the library’s Slavic collection as well as from the University Archives. My specific task was to survey how historical English language newspapers around the world were reporting on the events of the Russian Revolution. I used both microfilm copies as well as digitized newspapers.


Screenshot of a Daily Illini article about a Russian chemist

Using the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, I started local and looked to see if the Daily Illini was reporting on the Revolution in 1917. I was pleased to find a few articles that featured the Russian Revolution. One was of Illinois faculty member Dr. Simon Litman giving a series of lectures. Another was of a student, who was also a refugee from Russia, as well as a library worker, who also gave a talk on the events of the revolution. Another was a brief feature on a female Russian chemist who was continuing her studies on campus since all universities in Russia were closed at the time of the Revolution.

I further expanded my search to American newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune as well as international newspapers Sunday Times of London, Times of India, and the North China Herald.  It was especially interesting to see how oppressed groups were reporting on this particular Revolution. In all the newspapers I examined,I realized that there seemed to be a lot of information circulating regarding the Russian Revolution. There was indeed a lot of buzz as well as philosophical musings, but I noticed there was also a trend of rectifying supposed misinformation. Take the highlighted Daily Illini newspaper articles as examples. The events on campus were designed to refute certain information and present what the revolution was supposedly really like. This makes sense; In a time of war and political upheaval especially, not only is there information overload, but also misinformation.

Screenshot of a Daily Illini article about Dr. Simon Litman

Newspapers provide a fascinating historical insight. In 2018, whether a news article or a tweet (presidential or personal), a lot of information is found and preserved online. But 100 years ago, newspapers were the go-to for current information. If you are interested, be sure to check out the library guide on using newspapers as primary sources, also listed at the end of this post.

As someone who studied history in undergrad, I naturally enjoyed the nature of this project. But my favorite aspect was seeing its progression: that is,  the process from start to finish, and the collaboration with a variety of experts and specialized departments to put together an exhibit for public consumption. These resources –  whether digitized online or preserved as physical copies – are waiting to see the light of day once again. Libraries contain such valuable information. Often it takes the conscious efforts of a team of librarians and archivists to revive a revolution. I may be a little biased, but libraries truly are remarkable.

Zohra presenting her poster on-stage at BOBCATSSS 2018


Zohra Saulat
Graduate Assistant | Undergraduate Library
MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Latin America: The most dangerous place to be a woman

Nabila Riffo is a Chilean woman who barely survived after her former partner took her eyes off, battered her, and left her moribund on the pavement. Lucia was 16 years old when she died after being drugged, raped, and impaled in Mar del Plata city, Argentina. Between 2013 and 2016, in El Salvador, 90 percent of cases of rape to girls 15 years-old or under have resulted unpunished; Indeed, judges have considered the victim “seemed a grown-up woman”, have “recognized” the rapist embraced good intentions, and they have even encouraged marriage between offender and victim. Florencia was 9 years old when her step-father locked her in the woodshed, burned her up, and buried her. Yuliana was 8 years old when a wealthy architect abducted her, drove her to his apartment, and killed her by suffocating. Since the early 1990s, around the Mexico-U.S. border close to Ciudad Juarez, hundreds and hundreds of teenagers and young women have been kidnapped and killed. Just a few of their corpses have been found in the desert surrounding the city. Many of them have died as a result of grotesque and sexualized torture and most of the cases are still unsolved due to a pervasive impunity. There are countless likely cases of Latin American women brutally raped, battered, and killed by their partners or by other relatives.

All these women dead by gender-based murders suffered a post-mortem humiliation; Authorities, criminal systems’ officials, judges, and media have portrayed them as irresponsible, sexually provocative, or risk-taking individuals by circulating through dangerous public spaces or at night or by exposing themselves instead of focusing on the actual offenders. These past femicides – the killing of women based on their gender – have motivated public outrage, massive marches across Latin America, and several public campaigns oriented to trigger social awareness, expose pervasive machismo, violence, and discrimination against women, and advocating for legal protection.

The United Nations Development Programme released the report “From Commitment to Action: Policies to End Violence Against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean” in November 2017.

In that vein, thousands and thousands of women marched and publicly manifested last November 25th in several Latin American cities on occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Indeed, sexual harassment, rape, forced marriage, honor killings, girls and women sexual slavery and trafficking are global

problems and an increasing number of women speaking out about their personal experiences of sexual harassment have been flooding into the U.S. media. Nonetheless, Latin America is the most dangerous continent to be a woman, as official U.N. statistics recently released demonstrate. Indeed, among the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are from Latin America and the Caribbean.


Latin American origins of the international day

In 1999, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Resolution 54/134 designating November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in order to raise awareness that violence against women constitutes an obstacle to reach equality, development, and peace and that its persistence dramatically damages the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women. Nonetheless, the day’s history goes back in time: Assistants to the first Feminist Encounter of Latin America and the Caribbean celebrated in Bogota, Colombia, in July 1981, chose the date to commemorate the lives of the Mirabal sisters – Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa -, assassinated in 1960 by the Dominican secret police under Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship. Only one of the sisters has survived – Dedé.

This novel is available for checkout through the University Library.

The full recognition of the Mirabal sisters as political and feminist activists gained momentum as the dictator was killed and the political circumstances were little by little improving in República Dominicana to build a memory of the political resistance, as this article published by The New York Times in 1997 highlights. The Mirabal sisters’ story has been portrayed by Julia Alvarez in her novel The time of the butterflies, which reached global spread when it became a movie in the early 2000s starring Salma Hayek as Minerva Mirabal, Edward James Olmos as Trujillo, and the singer, Marc Anthony, as Minerva’s first boyfriend.

Awareness and outrage in Latin America

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women started in November 25th and lasted until December 10th. In these past days, thousands of women have marched in Buenos Aires and several other cities, in Argentina, a country where there have been 2,384 femicides in the last nine years, according to the NGO, Casa del Encuentro, a feminist organization specialized in registering these crimes. In Bolivia, official data show that during 2016, occurred 66 femicides and the police registered more than 30,000 reports of violence against women. Several feminists and LGBT organizations organized a march on November 24th in La Paz, demanding more safety, non-discriminatory policies, and and end to the violence against women and other people suffering different sexual violence, too. Meanwhile, several public buildings and iconic, tourist, attractions, such as the Cristo Redentor, in Brazil, were especially highlighted in orange as a way of warning about the fact that the country is among the top-five countries in the world with higher rates of violence against women and 1 woman is killed every two hours. In Chile, the Red Chilena contra la Violencia Hacia las Mujeres maintains a detailed register of femicides: Indeed, just in 2017 there have been 62 of those crimes, ten more than the femicides occurred in 2016 and the year is not even over. Several organizations and thousands of women have joined protests across the country claiming for stopping the violence against women and improving the general conditions

This book is available for checkout through the University Library.

of them, too. According to official data from the health and justice systems, in Colombia the number of cases of violence against women has increased between 2016 and 2017 and gender-based violence within the long-standing conflict in the country just makes things worse.

Most of the public manifestations and marches peacefully developed across the continent, except in Nicaragua, where the government restricted marches even by force, deploying the police. Indeed, the public manifestations protesting for gender-based violence in which millions of Latin American girls and women live have mushroomed in the last days. Sadly, these are not the first time: Triggered by several cases of femicides in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, or Peru, Latin American women have flooded their cities in the past years protesting for the increasing lack of security to enjoy freedom and basic human rights. They will probably do it again once the pervasive machismo and discrimination against women will trigger a man kills the next Nabila, Lucia, or Yuliana.

Further reading and resources

The Latin American & Caribbean studies library collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a wide range of material to better understand phenomena such as gender-based violence and violence in general in Latin America, the extent and specific features of feminist activism in the continent, and the complex interplays between feminist agendas and democracy in Latin American countries.

For instance, “Silence and complicity” is a documentary providing startling testimonies of women who were mistreated and sexually abused while seeking care in Peruvian public health facilities. The film was produced by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and the Flora Tristan Centre for Peruvian Women and released in 2000.

The documentary Hummingbird (2004) describes the efforts of two women to try to break the cycle of domestic violence in the city of Recife, in Brazil. The film follows the story of Adriana, a girl who left home at the age of six and had a daughter at age 11. After seeing the cycle that leads kids to the street, these women began addressing family issues at the root of the problem and working with both the mind and body to overcome their trauma.

In Haiti, the documentary Poto mitan gives the global economy a human face. Each woman’s personal story explains neoliberal globalization, how it is gendered, and how it impacts Haiti by telling the compelling lives of five Haitian women workers. The documentary offers in-depth understanding of Haiti, its women’s subjugation, worker exploitation, poverty, and resistance as part of global struggles.

For more information about gender in Latin America and the Caribbean at the Library, please contact Prof. Antonio Sotomayor, Librarian for Latin American and Caribbean Studies,, or visit the website at

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Using Personal Connections to Motivate Language Learning

Me standing in wooden shoes at the Keukenhof, a flower park in the Netherlands, March 2015.

Learning a new language can be motivated by many factors and developed in different environments. While I have taken language courses in classroom settings, my most recent foray into a new language has been less structured, and more personal.

In April 2015, I visited the Netherlands at the end of a semester abroad in England. Much of my mother’s extended family still lives in the Netherlands, and she and I spent about five days meeting relatives and exploring areas like Amsterdam, Heerhugowaard, Volendam, and The Hague.

My relative and I took a canal boat tour in Amsterdam, March 2015.

While not universal, we were surprised by how many Dutch people spoke English, and spoke it well. Our family explained that English language is a required subject for most students, beginning at a young age. The proliferation of English media also helps them to learn not only the formal English of the classroom, but also the common phrases and expressions used in everyday conversation. My mother and I do not speak Dutch, so we relied heavily on our family when traveling, shopping, and communicating in general. The language barrier was not a significant challenge on our trip, however, as so many of the people we interacted with could speak at least some level of English, and many written texts were also available in English as well.

My relatives and I (center) in Chicago, October 2017.

In October this year, a few of these relatives had the opportunity to visit America for several weeks. They spent a weekend with my immediate family in Illinois before visiting other cousins in Indiana and then flying to Tampa, Florida, where a mini-reunion took place. My mother and I took them to Chicago for several days to see the city sights: the Shedd Aquarium, Millenium Park, Michigan Avenue, Chicago 360, and an architectural boat tour. While my mother and I still acted as guides, they could have functioned independently due to their fluency in English; they were able to read parking machines, store signs, menus, and ticket information on their own. Their language abilities afforded them comfort and agency even in a new place, and it allowed them to interact fully with their environment without needing much help outside help.

They later told me that they were not only fluent in English, but also had working knowledge in German, French, and Spanish as well. While this kind of language variety is impressive, it is not uncommon for the world at large. A European Commission report from 2012 found that 77% of people in the Netherlands have practical skills in at least two foreign languages (p. 13), and English is the foreign language most Europeans are able to speak at 38% (p. 19). In other regions of the world, such as those in Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East, it can be common to speak or learn more than one language. These additional languages are not always taught exclusively in a classroom environment – as is common in English-speaking countries – but instead learned more organically through exposure and everyday use.

A Pew Research Center article from 2015 details that only 25% of American adults reported speaking a language other than English in a 2006 survey, and only 43% of this group said they could speak the language very well. While these numbers may be changing, and these statistics are never exact, it is clear that Americans spend less time and effort learning foreign languages. A 2015 article from The Atlantic quoted Richard Brecht, head of the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, as saying, “It isn’t that people don’t think language education is important. It’s that they don’t think it’s possible.”

Language learning, especially later in life, is not easy. I studied Spanish in high school and Latin in undergrad, but I retain almost no functional or conversational skills in these languages. However, many online resources make language learning possible – and fun – after people have left the formal classroom environment. I am currently using Duolingo – an interactive phone app – to learn Dutch, in the hopes of one day being able to speak to my relatives in their native language.

If you are interested in learning a foreign language, there are many resources that are available to you, whether you are at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or not:

Rosetta Stone – for University of Illinois students and faculty, look under Quick Links on the Literatures and Languages Library homepage and login with your netID and password

Mango Languages – through the Urbana Free Library with your library barcode and Champaign Public Library with your library barcode. Many public libraries have Mango Languages subscriptions; check the online resources page.

Duolingo – freely available on iOS, android, and Windows devices

Ethnologue – This is not a language-learning tool, but it includes updated statistics about languages worldwide. Use a University of Illinois netID and password to log in.

Happy language learning!

Laura Rocco

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Devlin, K. (2015, July 13). Learning a foreign language a ‘must’ in Europe, not so in America. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Friedman, A. (2015, May 10). America’s lacking language skills. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

TNS Opinoin & Social, European Commission. (2012). Europeans and their languages. Retrieved from

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Welcome to IAS: Striving for a Global Perspective

As this academic year begins, the University of Illinois community, the nation, and the world continue to strive toward diversity, respect, and inclusivity. Recent events like the January travel ban and the discontinuation of DACA have motivated the University to reaffirm its commitment to serving a diverse population of students. The various departments across the University Library support our school’s mission to “be proactive in supporting all of our students, faculty, staff and visiting scholars, whether domestic or international” and to “build a campus culture of inclusion,” as stated in a campus-wide email from Chancellor Robert Jones on September 9.

As a student, these events and topics can sometimes feel overwhelming. With so much information and media available, how do we begin to understand these complex issues? How can we find reliable information and context on these topics? How can we celebrate and respect diverse perspectives and experiences?

In addition to participating in a variety of campus initiatives, individuals on campus can make an effort to learn about changing policies and social climates, cultural histories, national identities, and individual experiences. The commitment to value and support diversity enlightens us about people and places different from ourselves, while simultaneously creating safe, creative, and respectful environments.

Campus Resources and Support

The University of Illinois offers many resources for students wanting to learn more about these topics or who are looking for help navigating these experiences. These include, among others:

Open Illinois:

Illinois International:

International Student and Scholar Services:

Counseling Center:

International and Area Studies Library

The subject librarians and the collections at the International and Area Studies Library are fantastic resources for insight and primary sources on global topics.

The International and Area Studies Library serves the campus community by providing information about specific regions across the world. As detailed on the about page, IAS is committed to “connecting students and scholars to the knowledge crucial to developing global competencies through the study of distinct nations and regions, as well as transnational issues and global concerns.” IAS strives to increase awareness of international histories and current events through its collections, staff, and activities.

Contact IAS

Visit the International and Area Studies Library: Room 321, Main library; 1408 W. Gregory Dr.; Urbana IL, (217) 333-1501; Email:

IAS Event Calendar – Keep an eye on the calendar; we will be adding more events, such as lectures and exhibits, as the semester continues.

International Reference Services – Contact regional librarians for research assistance. Subject librarians can provide expertise on certain topics and suggestions for research tools and materials. You can also complete the Reference Information Request Form to ask a specific question.

How to use the library – guides on the IAS homepage provide library guidance in a variety of languages.

We at the International and Area Studies Library hope to see you this year!


Laura Rocco

Graduate Assistant | International and Area Studies Library

MSLIS Candidate | School of Information Sciences

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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