The Impact of the 2021 International Studies Research Lab

Through the International Studies Research Lab (ISRL), the Center for Global Studies—in partnership with the International and Area Studies Library and collaborating centers—leverages the campus’ expertise and vast library resources to support the development of international and area studies programming in community colleges across the country, providing access to important US Department of Education Title VI resources to institutions and regions without direct access to these important grant funds. Programs like the ISRL constitute a true national resource that benefits community college students throughout the US.

A map showing that institutions in fourteen states have been impacted by the ISRL.The 2021 ISRL, which took place this past summer, marked the lab’s sixth consecutive year. Following the precedent set in 2020, the 2021 ISRL was completely virtual. It was hosted by the Center for Global Studies (CGS) in collaboration with the International and Area Studies Library; co-sponsors included the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies; the European Union Center; and the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.

What is the ISRL? In a nutshell, it is an opportunity for community college educators to access the University Library’s vast collections—the largest of any public academic institution of higher education in the United States—and to consult with subject experts. Armed with these resources, ISRL participants join the lab with the intent to expand global studies curricula, improve their language programs, broaden the scope of their library collections, or further develop international education programs at their home institutions. The length of the ISRL has varied in the past, but this year, it lasted from May to the end of July. At the end of the lab, participants submit a final project. The projects take many forms; this year, participants submitted white papers, syllabi, teaching units, and bibliographies for library collection development.

The 2021 ISRL hosted 11 scholars from across the country in 2021—as far east as New York, as far west as Washington, and as far south as Texas. Their projects were all designed to benefit students at the scholars’ home institutions. For example, Dedric Lee created a teaching unit about the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. He plans to integrate the teaching unit into courses he teaches at Jefferson College in Missouri. Dr. Isabel Scarborough wrote a review about open-access textbooks at community colleges; she plans to use the findings to promote student success at Parkland Community College and develop an open-access Global Studies text. Stacye Fraser Thompson, drawing from her years of experience at Jefferson State Community College, composed a white paper about internationalizing curricula at community colleges. She hopes the paper will help administrators and educators around the US to prepare students for success in an increasingly globalized world.

In total, 9 finished projects were submitted for the 2021 ISRL. These are in addition to projects submitted from past labs, all of which are free to download from IDEALS, the university’s institutional repository. Through IDEALS, ISRL projects are discoverable through various search platforms, including Google Scholar and the University of Illinois’ online catalog. In total, ISRL projects have been downloaded over 18,000 times, and the number only continues to grow.

A graph showing that ISRL materials have been downloaded nearly seventeen thousand times through IDEALS.During the 2021 lab, CGS provided ISRL scholars with more opportunities to connect with each other than in the past. Some participants regularly attended a weekly “coffee hour,” and others communicated via email after meeting during the lab orientation or the final workshop. CGS hopes to optimize the lab’s structure in the future to continue encouraging these interactions. Future plans include reintroducing an in-person component while still offering opportunities for virtual-only participants.

Despite the abrupt transition to a virtual lab format in 2020 and 2021, ISRL scholars continue to voice positive feedback about their ISRL experiences. In this year’s anonymous post-lab survey, one scholar wrote, “This was a great program, and I learned a lot from the other programs and ideas that other participants presented. It was exciting to see the robust ideas circulating among community college faculty.” Another said, “The course [I] designed in the ISRL has expanded our Global Studies Program and has shown the administration that not only is there support, but desire for additional Global Studies curriculum in the faculty.”

More information about the ISRL, along with a list of 2021 ISRL fellows, is available on the CGS website. For notifications about announcements about next year’s lab, please subscribe to the ISRL mailing list. If you have any questions, please email the Global Studies Librarian, Dr. Steve Witt, at

The International Studies Research Lab is made possible through Title VI funds provided by the US Department of Education.

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Curing Academic Homesickness at UIUC

By: Vismaya Jayakumar, Master of Urban Planning 

Along with igniting tremendous trauma in millions of people around the world, COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted various inequities in access to health, education, food, mobility and more. The impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations has brought to light several previously overlooked issues. One of the most vulnerable groups is international students, yet their issues are often overlooked by decision-makers.

Over the last several years, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has proudly housed thousands of international students (with an average growth rate of 4.6%). International students currently make up more than 22% of the student body at the university (more here), bringing new cultural ideas and prosperity. Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, travel bans, airport closures, rising unemployment rates, overseas money transfer struggles, ICE’s alarming notices, racism and xenophobia, and a feeling of isolation in a foreign country, one other issue the pandemic has underscored is the alienation of international students in academia resulting in, what I call, Academic Homesickness.

A photo of the COVID-19 walk in testing sites at Illinois

COVID-19 testing site at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Source: Chicago Tribune (

Coming from a particular educational context, having read a different set of scholarship all through our educational careers, in our initial semesters here, many of us sit and stare at an assigned reading for a class and wonder how different it is. While this variance in perspectives undoubtedly adds to our knowledge, it also reduces opportunities for us to effectively bring our own ideas with confidence. In parallel, we who travelled thousands of miles looking for better education, some for a better life, often find ourselves in a complex state of cultural and educational bereavement. We are either constantly thinking about ways of giving back to the people and place we come from, or feeling guilty about not thinking of home enough. Including familiar scholarship can open up avenues for us international students to chase our dreams in a foreign place while still feeling at home.

Many of us move to the United States after two to three decades of living and studying in our home countries. With that deep-rooted influence, often times we try to bring our global perspectives to classrooms, be it social sciences, business, engineering, public health or art. We ponder on the relevance of previously learned things, and failing to connect them to our work here, we give up and give in to merely meeting graduation requirements. As an Indian student studying Urban Planning here, I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted this disconnect in times of quarantine separation from our families, especially for us South Asians who may feel that they have little to no relevance in the academic setting.

With over 15% of the international student population being South Asian, and many of them being doctoral students and researchers, the Illinois Dissertations on South Asia at the International Area Studies library showcases the important past work of our fellow South Asians, and provides the rest of us with much needed inspiration. This collection of more than 140 dissertations and theses has been organized by country and topic for ease and convenience.

Beyond just the South Asian dissertation collection, the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library has an extensive focus on African Studies, East Asian Studies, European Studies, Global Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Middle East and North African Studies, Russian East European and Eurasian Studies. More broadly, IAS provides monographs, articles, research journals, and digital content in various languages to support research. Due to the pandemic, many library resources including popular materials and other e-books and digital content are available online. For materials not available electronically, hard copies can be made available upon request (more here). Apart from the wide-ranging collection, the IAS library offers personalized orientation sessions for International students, both in-person and online research consultations, bibliographic training sessions, citation verification requests, one-on-one instruction sessions with subject specialists, and. Click here for more information on research consultation services and to contact subject specialists.

The pandemic and current political crises have heightened a sense of dislocation and isolation for many international students. The university is a microcosm of the real-world and with such diverse collections at our fingertips through the Library’s collections, we have tools to bridge intellectual distances, and foster innovative global research. This access cannot only remedy this feeling of academic homesickness, but also give us the confidence to go out and make real change.

Here is the IAS’s Illinois Dissertations on South Asia – Remedy to Academic Homesickness at the U of I.

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Of Fish and Yams Meets Small Axe

Of Fish and Yams is a film series and discussion about Africa and the Black World

Small Axe, Amazon

Of Fish and Yams is a platform created by the outreach program at the Center for African Studies, in collaboration with the Africana section of the International and Area Studies Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Its goal is to offer a forum for the presentation and the discussion through films of cultural, historical, and political issues related to Africa and the Black world in general. Fish and yams are widely eaten in African, African American, and African diasporic cuisine. They are used here as a metaphor for stable food for the spirit of Black people around the world.

During the academic year 2019-2020 Of Fish and Yams showed four films: Rafiki, directed by Wanuri Kahiu is a Kenyan drama film portraying a lesbian romance set in Kenya, a country where homosexuality is forbidden by law; Nigerian Prince, directed by Zakariya, is a Nigerian suspense thriller drama film in which a stubborn Nigerian-American teenager is sent against his will to Nigeria by his mother, and gets involved in an internet scam, trying desperately to return to the US; Dirty Pretty Things, the social thriller film directed by Steven Frears and written by Steven Knight tells the story of the struggle and survival of two immigrants in London’s secret underworld: a Nigerian doctor and a Turkish chambermaid; Sudani from Nigeria, directed by Zakariya is a sport film set in a rural town in Kerala. Beyond the unparalleled passion for soccer, the film shows how human suffering and feelings such as compassion, care, and love can be communicated despite language and culture barriers.

The disruptive effects of Covid-19 pandemic and its related lockdown and the availability now of conferencing technology led to our decision to change the format of the forum. Instead of showing an entire film, we will, from now on, invite two or three guests to watch the film and to lead the discussion during the event. The guests will show a select number of scenes that they consider relevant to the theme of the film and have a conversation among themselves. Following this conversation, they will open up the discussion to all the event attendees.

The first experience of this new approach took place last month, on March 25 with the discussion of Small Axe, a British film anthology created and directed by the British film maker Steve McQueen. Small Axe is a 5-film series that depicts the life of the London based West Indian community between the late sixties and the late eighties. The theme that unites the whole series is the racial and ethnic discrimination and police brutality against that community, and the community resistance through protests, activism, and other community-organized movements, including cultural events such as music, reggae music in particular. As McQueen explained in an interview with RPR host Michel Martin, the series title Small Axe comes from an African proverb that says, “If you are a big tree, we are the small axe”, proverb popularized by Bob Marley in his 1993 eponym song. The title signals, without doubt, the determination of the Black community to resist and be resilient.

The presenters of this first virtual film discussion event were Inka Davis, the CAS outreach coordinator, Atoma Batoma, African Studies Librarian, and Roger Noel, Creative writer and musician based in New York. We had initially planned to present the whole series but due to an inadequate management of the time, the discussion centered almost exclusively on Mangrove and Lovers Rock, the first and the second films of the series.

Described by Amon Warmann as “the fiercest and finest Small Axe chapter”, this first film of McQueen’s anthology tells the story of the trial of nine Black Londoners arrested in 1970 and charged with inciting a riot. The trial became known as The Mangrove Nine. The arrest occurred during community organized protests that followed the police raid of Mangrove restaurant. Located in Notting Hills, Mangrove restaurant was opened in1968. It was a haven for activists, intellectuals, and other locals from diverse ethnic backgrounds who were “literally inventing the British-Caribbean identity” (St. Felix). The London Metropolitan Police saw this as an encroachment on the British way of life and, after launching a campaign of harassment against the restaurant and its owner, they decided to raid the establishment, which led the community to take to the street.

The nine people put on trial included Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner of the restaurant; Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), an activist who convinced Frank to organize the protests; and Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Leila Wight), the British Black Panther leader. Although the trial did not result in a total happy ending, it did lead to “the British court system acknowledging, for the first time, that there was “evidence of racial hatred” in the nation’s police practices (Collins).

In addition to recounting the story of the trial stricto sensu, the film showcases the identity of London-based West Indian community through food, songs, and dance (Warmann). Reggae music that punctuates the story is undoubtedly an important dimension of the narrative; it is an expression of joy and hope, but also an inspiration for resistance and resilience. “Pressure Drop,” the song by the reggae group Toots and the Maytals that closes the film, captures this spirit.

Lovers Rock
Unlike the other Small Axe films that are based on real life figures, Lovers Rock is a fictional story that describes a magical night of pure music and dance, a pouring and sharing of emotions and feelings among young West Indians in London. The West Indian community and the Black Londoners in general did not have access to British clubs during that period, so they came up with their own sound system, dominated by Reggae music. McQueen did not seem particularly concerned with plot in this film described as a “plotless fresco (St. Felix), but it has been said that what Lovers Rock “lacks in narrative, it makes up for with mood” (Warmann). Indeed, the mood of Lovers Rock is electrifying, contagious, a “pure intravenous atmosphere,” as Peter Bradshaw describes it in The Guardian. “All of a sudden, you are no longer watching a movie, but are part of one. Your body is moving alongside those onscreen, even if you are sitting still,” writes Collins in Rolling Stone.

In addition to its festive and joyful dimension, Lovers Rock is also an expression of resistance and survival. As Justin Chang said so pertinently on NPR’s Fresh Air program, “Joy itself can be an act of defiance, an expression of a community’s life force and its will to survive.” The resistance and defiance shown in the film are not based on backward-looking strategies; they are forward-looking, creative. For instance, the Reggae music played in this film “carried an element of pop that was very different from roots reggae. But it held its own, and this is what was genius about it” (Dennis Bowell, quoted by Jeremy Gordon in New York Times).
We plan to revisit Small Axe in the near future to discuss the remaining three films, notably Red, White and Blue, the melancholic complement to Mangrove as Doreen St. Felix characterizes it (St. Felix), Alex Wheatle which tells the real life story of the amazing transformation of an orphan Black child, and Education, the episode that exposes the racially and socially segregated school system in London and which is the episode that feels most personal to McQueen (Warmann).


Sources Consulted:

Bradshaw, Peter. Lovers Rock review—Steve McQueen Throws the Best Party Ever, The Guardian, September 17, 2020.

Chang, Justin. (Heard on NPR Fresh Air program) ‘Small Axe’: A searing Portrait of Racism and A Community’s Will to Survive. National Public Radio, November 20, 2020.

Collins, K. Austin. The Danse Floor is Always at the Center of Steve McQueen’s ‘Lovers Rock’., November 28,

Gordon, Jeremy. The Beat at the Heart of ‘Lovers Rock’, New York Times, November 29, 2020

Martin, Michel with Steve McQueen on NPR All Things Considered, Dec 5, 2020

St. Felix, Doreen. The Sensuality and Brutality of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe”, The New Yorker, November 30, 2020

Warmann. ‘Small Axe’: Steve McQueen’s Landmark Anthology, Ranked. Variety Review, December 13, 2020

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Archiving Poet’s Voice: Czesław Miłosz Reads His Own Poetry

By Marek Sroka, UIUC Library

Many scholars and poetry lovers rightly believe that Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) is one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world and certainly the most distinguished figure in 20th-century Polish literature.  According to Seamus Heaney, Miłosz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, created “a unique voice [italics mine]” through his poetry, “a poetry cargoed with a density of experience that has been lived and radiated by an understanding that has rendered it symbolic.”[1]

Miłosz established himself figuratively as a vital and distinctive poetic voice, but one may wonder what his human “poetic” voice was really like.  The best way to find out is to listen to the recording of his poetry performed by the poet himself, which brings us to the topic of this post.

The UIUC Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures Professor George Gasyna has recently come across the tape that included the recording of Miłosz’s readings of his poetry.  In terms of provenance, the “Miłosz tape” most likely came from the late Professor Stephen Hill who for many years taught Slavic literature at the UIUC and nurtured a passion for Polish poetry, cinema, and theatre.  The tape has been digitized by the UIUC Library Preservation Services (thanks to Cristina Kühn, Media Preservation and Digital Reformatting Project Manager) and is currently available for downloading at:

Of course, the question that needs to be further investigated is whether the tape represents an amateur recording of Miłosz reading his poetry in a classroom, at a lecture hall, or at a poetry recital.  At this point, it is impossible to state unequivocally that the tape had been recorded privately.  It should be noted that there is neither audience applause nor a sign of audience participation on the recording.   However, there is no evidence (on the tape itself and on the case) that the recording had been done commercially or that it had been copied from another recording (such as a radio broadcast, a vinyl record, or a commercial tape, etc.).  The only thing that is preserved with the tape is a typed list of poems read by Miłosz.  Moreover, there is no date of the recording, but it may be a good guess to place the recording in the 1970s or 1980s (when magnetic recording tapes were widely used).

The poems come from two volumes, Ocalenie (Rescue), first published in 1945, and Światło dzienne (Daylight), first published in 1953.  Miłosz’s deep voice oscillates between melancholy and indignation, sometimes turning into fury.  It is a real treat to hear him reciting his own poetry while different images come to life as if conjured by the poet himself.  And the beauty of his voice is enriched by the melodic accent of the kresy (the Polish-Lithuanian borderlands where he came from).

Thanks to Professor Gasyna and the UIUC Library the poet’s voice has been rediscovered and has been preserved for generations of students, scholars, and poetry enthusiasts.

The tape.

A list of poems read by Miłosz (included with the tape).

[1] Hawkins, Kaitlin. “Czeslaw Milosz Centennial.” World Literature Today 85, no. 3 (2011): 6. Gale Literature Resource Center (accessed February 23, 2021).

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Resources for Jewish Studies: Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia

The collections we manage and develop in the International & Area Studies Library enable in-depth research on countries and peoples all over the world.  As a steward of our Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies collections, for example, I strive to acquire materials in all of the languages spoken in the region, which is a difficult task, and one that was under way since long before I arrived here in 2003.  Our Jewish Studies collection is an excellent example of these decades-old efforts, featuring primary, secondary and tertiary sources in Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Juhuri and many other languages.

The newest major resource in this field for the Russian/East European/Eurasian region is East View’s Jewish Studies Research Collection.  As it is rolled out over the next few months, this digital collection will give IAS Library users access to the personal dossiers of Jewish emigrants from Soviet Ukraine (1926-1930), archival materials relating to Jewish charitable societies in Ukraine (1857-1929), nearly 18,000 pages of materials from the Kyiv chapter of the Russian Empire’s Society for the Propagation of Education among Jews (1850-1919), materials from the notoriously antisemitic Beilis Case (Kyiv, 1913), and much more.  While most of the material in this full-text-searchable database will be in Russian, it is also advertised to contain significant Ukrainian-, Polish-, German- and Yiddish-language content.

A proper overview of the Library’s Jewish Studies resources for this part of the world would be more like a book than a blog post, so I will try to just mention a few more highlights that provide an idea of the depth and breadth of the collection.  IAS Library users have access to hundreds of issues of Der Emes, the main Yiddish-language newspaper of the Soviet Union, dating from 1921-1931.  They can also access the many Yiddish- and Russian-language publications from the early years of Birobidzhan, the autonomous region for Jews that Stalin established on the border with China in far eastern Siberia in 1931.  Another of the Library’s main Yiddish-language resources is the Poale Zion/Poalei Tsion Archive, comprising over 5,000 microfiches’ worth of materials relating to the main left-leaning Jewish workers’ organization in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century.  This resource also includes a large amount of material in Russian, Hebrew, and other languages, all dating from between 1917 and 1928.

One of the most prestigious institutions for Jewish Studies in Eastern Europe is the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, which holds hundreds of newspapers, journals and other publications in Yiddish, Polish, German and Hebrew dating as far back as 1817.  The UIUC Library has copies of hundreds of these titles as part of its Rare periodicals of the ŻIH microfilm set.  Individual works pertaining to smaller Jewish communities are also available to IAS Library users.  A few examples include David Bakhshiev’s Bibliograficheskii spravochnik-ukazatel’ izdanii na dzhu’g’uri, evreisko-tatskom iazyke gorskikh evreev, za vtoruiu chetvert’ XX veka (= “A bibliographic guide to publications in Juhuri, the Judeo-Tat language of the Mountain Jews, in the second quarter of the 20th century”), published in Moscow in 2017;  Szonja Komoróczy’s Yiddish printing in Hungary : an annotated bibliography (Budapest, 2011);  the 810-page Bibliographia Karaitica : an annotated bibliography of Karaites and Karaism (Jerusalem, 2011);  and the 659-page Jews in the Bulgarian hinterland : an annotated bibliography (Sofia, 2002).

For later in the 20th century (and beyond), IAS Library users can consult sources like Yitsḥaḳ Kohen’s Pirsumim yehudiyim bi-Verit ha-Moʻatsot, 1917-1960 = Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1960 (Jerusalem, 1961);  N. I. Rutberg’s Evrei i evreiskii vopros v literature sovetskogo perioda : khronologichesko-tematicheskii ukazatel’ literatury, izdannoi za 1917-1991 gg. na russkom iazyke (= “Jews and the Jewish question in Soviet literature : a chronological-thematic guide to materials published in Russian from 1917-1991”), published in Moscow in 2000;  the Jewish State Museum of Lithuania’s Žydų tema Lietuvos spaudoje : bibliografijos rodyklė = Evreĭskai︠a︡ tema v presse Litvy : bibliograficheskiĭ ukazatelʹ = The Jewish theme in Lithuanian press : bibliographical index (Vilnius, 2000- );  and the great bibliographic series of Studia Polona-Judaica/Studia Judaica Cracoviensia (Krakow, 2001- ).  Bibliographies and other reference works for individual Jewish writers, scholars, artists and political figures are held in abundance, along with many of their own writings in multiple languages.

This is just a brief overview of the types of sources that are available.  For more sources on Russian, East European and Eurasian Jewish Studies, Shlomo Shunami’s 1,000-page Bibliography of Jewish bibliographies = Mafteaḥ ha-mafteḥot (and its 1975 supplement) is a good place to start.  The IAS Library’s Slavic Reference Service has also created research guides on Jewish Studies topics here, here, and elsewhere.  Enjoy!




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