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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Conference Travel: BOBCATSSS 2018 and the Latvia National Library

Photo by Indriķis Stūrmanis, courtesy of

From Wednesday, January 24 to Friday, January 26, I attended the BOBCATSSS 2018 conference in Riga, Latvia. BOBCATSSS is an acronym that stands for the cities of the universities that initiated the first conference in 1993: Budapest, Oslo, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Tampere, Stuttgart, Szombathely and Sheffield. Since that first year, this international library and information science conference has been held in cities all over Europe.

This year’s conference theme was “The Power of Reading,” and presenters shared their research on the social, cultural, educational, and linguistic powers accessed through reading, as well as how libraries can conceptualize their relationship with reading in the 21st-century. Poster, paper, and workshop topics included usability testing, digital resources, big data, virtual reality, reader’s advisory, and more. This conference brought together information science professionals and students from a variety of countries to discuss these issues both locally and globally, and to learn from each other’s practices. UIUC MSLIS student Lisa Morrison won the best paper award for her and iSchool Associate Professor Terry L. Weech’s paper “Reading Data – The Missing Literacy from LIS Education.” This post from the iSchool lists the names and projects of the other UIUC presenters.

Photo taken by me – outside of the National Library

The first day of the conference was hosted at the National Library of Latvia, which opened its new building recently in 2014. Nicknamed the Castle of Light, the library sits on the south side of Riga’s Daugava River, and its 12 floors are visible to the rest of the city. The collection houses more than 4 million items and access to a variety of reading rooms, technologies, and exhibits.

Photo taken by me – the People’s Bookshelf


The focal point of the building is the People’s Bookshelf, which occupies five stories of a wall visible throughout the library. Each book on the shelf has been donated to the library with a written message or personal story on its title page. More than 5,000 books currently sit on the shelves, but the library hopes to fill it to 15,000 by the time of the library’s 100th anniversary in 2019. The library states on its website that:

“We want the library to have a special place, created by people themselves. Consequently, it is important that each book has its own story about the history of an individual – a story whose like can’t be found in an encyclopaedia or novel. About the everyday, fortune, feelings or beliefs. About what would otherwise be lost in the passage of time.”

UIUC students at the conference – photo from Zohra Saulat

In addition to providing an opportunity for professional development, attending an international conference is a chance to step outside of your local sphere and participate in global conversations. Libraries all over the world each have unique challenges and victories, but also some that are universal. As we all strive to improve our services and resources, it is invaluable to see what our peers are doing and to learn from their research and knowledge, as well as to celebrate in their institutions.

For students interested in presenting at conferences, whether local, national, or international, the University provides useful resources:

Undergraduate Conferences – the Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research compiles a list of professional conferences that accept undergraduate presentations.

Posters – the Scholarly Commons has a detailed LibGuide about how to design, print, and present research posters and a LibGuide about presentation skills.

Printing – Posters can be printed through Document Services.

Funding – Graduate students can talk to their departments to apply for travel grants through the Graduate College:

Additional References:

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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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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Mestizaje and religious celebrations in Latin America and the Caribbean


This week, from April 10th  to April 17th, is the celebration of the Holy Week in the Christian world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this religious festivity, as with most of the Catholic rituals celebrated in the region, must be read under the light of the historical process of colonization.

Latin America and the Caribbean is defined, in a great part, by Mestizaje. Mestizaje is a social process of encounters, beyond people’s skin color, which includes encounters and struggles involving and identity, beliefs, practices, power structures, and knowledges (See resources on mestizaje here). As a mestiza myself, I have been fascinated with noticing how religious practices and rituals contain and express very vividly the mixed nature of the region.

In fact, colonizing the spiritual beliefs of native communities was one of the most important strategies throughout the colonization of Latin America. Catholicism was carried by the colonizers as the religion of “civilization”, and only through evangelization would indigenous people overcome “savagery”. With this mindset, indigenous communities across a great portion of the continent were evangelized though a process called “reduction”. This  referred to progressively converting native peoples to Catholicism in places called “missions“, which gathered the native communities for evangelization, agricultural production, crafts and construction. Evangelization took place through preaching the bible, instruction, and also through coercion.  Natives would be forbidden to speak in their languages and their temples would be destroyed, among other practices of colonization. These missions were conducted mainly by Franciscan and Jesuit religious communities, and were particularly strong in the Andes (Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, northern Chile and Argentina), Paraguay and northern Brazil. Similar missions were also established in Central and North America, up to today’s Arizona, New Mexico and Texas (More information here).  These missions grew almost like towns, and developed as agricultural and economic centers.

Left, Jesuit Missions in colonial Argentina (Image:Argentina Historica). Right, ruins of Jesuit Guaraní missions in Paraguay (Image: World Monuments Fund).

These practices extended from the early colonial times in the 1500s until the mid 1700s. The Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish empire around 1768. However, in some regions, similar practices of evangelization survived until the early 1800s (Read about the Jesuits in Latin America here. Additional resources at the library here).

As is the case with other cultures that have gone through colonization, mixed beliefs and practices that blend elements from native and colonial traditions emerged in Latin America. At a religious level, rituals vividly reveal this process of mestizaje. Academic interpretations on how and why this mixture of beliefs took place, and of how this process dialogues with particular characteristics of each community, are too varied and extended to discuss here (See some resources here). The fact is that religious traditions become adapted to the cultures where they were installed. As an act of survival and, perhaps, resistance, native communities in Latin America appropriated these rituals and maintained elements from their own tradition despite colonization.  Examples of this are the celebration of the Virgin of Candelaria. This Virgin is considered the patron saint of several towns across Latin America. In Paucartambo (in Cuzco, Peru), the Virgin of Candelaria is also known as “Mamacha Candelaria“, a term and a celebration which draws from native Andean religiosity.

Celebration of Mamacha Candelaria in Paucartambo, Peru. Image: Still from documentary “Festividad Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo” by Folclore Peruano

Through a history of colonization, appropriation and syncretism, religiosity in Latin America has historically been experienced with passion and intensity. Therefore, the celebration of the Holy Week is a major celebration across the region.

Unlike the egg hunting celebration of the United States, the holy week of the Catholic tradition is heavily charged with a spirit of penitence and renewal. This is tied to both the Roman prosecution of Jesus, and the betrayal which lead to Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. The basic structure of holy week celebration in catholic countries which were Spanish colonies usually involves processions showing Jesus and Mary’s suffering:  Starting on Palm Sunday with his entry to the city of Jerusalem where he was received as the son of God; through to Holy Friday, the passion, where he is crucified; and finally ending on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Holy Friday, or Good Friday, is when the largest amount of processions take place, representing several stations from Jesus’ apprehension to his crucifixion. These biblical episodes are recreated as processions, each with vivid displays of statues and enacted representations, such as Christ’s imprisonment and execution, and the celebration of his resurrection. This is called Viacrucis.

Left, Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia (image: Blog Semana Santa de Popayán). Right, Viacrucis at the lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua. Image: Fotoblog, “Hoy” Newspaper

Huge statues of saints are carried in procession, usually by men paying promises to them, and taken from churches into the streets, followed by believers.  While maintaining these basic patterns , there are a great spectrum of variations of the kinds of displays and additional rites that have evolved in different communities.

The ritual celebrations of the Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia, for example, are a very classic representation of the processions that take place in Spain, the country where the tradition first originated.  The Judios de Masatete in Nicaragua and the Borrados in Nayarit, Mexico, on the other hand, demonstrate how the incorporation of native traditions and local culture can result in a very different representation of the same celebration.  Another example is the lake Cocibolca in Nicaragua, where the procession is adapted to water with canoes.

These are just a few examples of the wide diversity of religious syncretism and celebrations that take place in Latin America which are strongly expressed during the period known as Holy Week. Countries like Mexico and Guatemala also present a rich variety of cultural expressions through Catholic rituals; while in Brazil and the Caribbean the Spanish and indigenous traditions blend together amidst a strong African influence.

If you are interested about these processes of mestizaje in Latin America and its manifestation on spiritual practices, we invite you to consult books as “South and Meso-American native spirituality: from the cult of the feathered serpent to the theology of liberation“. If you are fluent in Spanish you can also take a look at “Religiones y culturas : perspectivas latinoamericanas“. The library holds a large collection on Latin American cultures and religious traditions, as well as on Catholicism in that region. In addition, we invite you to visit out International and Area Studies Library, and bring your questions to our Librarian on Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Antonio Sotomayor.



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