Meet the Postgraduates: Peter Kormylo, University of Glasgow

Travelling Ukrainian with his dancing bear outside the Hole in the Wall Pub, Dumfries, 1907

Travelling Ukrainian with his dancing bear outside the Hole in the Wall Pub, Dumfries, 1907

What was your academic background before beginning your PhD?

My undergraduate degrees were completed with Edinburgh University and the Open University many years ago. I am now a retired civil servant complete with bus pass and Senior Rail Card.

Tell us about your research.

My PhD is with Glasgow University and is entitled “The Migration, Settlement and Assimilation of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Scotland – a diachronic study.” Having lived in contact with Scotland’s Ukrainians for the last 65 years I have always wanted to take time to contribute academically to charting the progress of my small community. My supervisors are Dr. Valentina Bold and Doctor Moya Flynn. I am in my second year of studies and, with ethics committee approval, have begun conducting interviews. My timeline starts with the Tsarist lawyer Semen Desnytsky, a pupil of Adam Smith here in Glasgow. I am keen to track "Little Russian" medics who studied in Scotland during the Enlightenment.

What are your plans for the future?

My community in Scotland deserves to be left a legacy of robust research and valued archival material. If I complete this degree I hope to publish a book entitled Scotland’s Ukrainians. If my efforts leave only a few robust journal articles, I will have done something useful. To stimulate interest in this area, I launched a blog, which has attracted a goodly number of hits.

There is one particular chapter of my research that is challenging and I am hopeful for help from BASEES members. I am attempting to muster biographies of early migrant Ukrainians who may also have been known as Jews, ‘Little Russians’, ‘Poles’, and 'Austrians’ and who have lived or worked in Scotland over the last 250 years. If you can help, please contact me at

I am brand new to BASEES and looking forward to meeting members at the April Conference in Cambridge!

Meet the Postgraduates: Siobhan Hearne, University of Nottingham (and BASEES Postgraduate Rep)

Siobhan Hearne

What was your academic background before beginning your PhD?

I did my undergraduate at Swansea University, where I received a joint honours degree in English Literature and History. The friendly feel of the History Dept at Swansea, and the close links between undergraduates and postgraduates, made me decide to do a PhD. For my first MA, I returned to my hometown and studied Twentieth-Century History at the University of Liverpool. Before starting my PhD, I did another MA in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Nottingham.

What is your PhD topic?

My PhD (at the University of Nottingham) is a study of the regulation of female prostitution in urban Russia between 1900 and 1917. My project explores the ways in which prostitutes, their clients and the wider urban community experienced, and resisted, the legislation and policing characteristic of regulation. I am supervised by Dr Sarah Badcock and Dr Nick Baron.

How are you organizing fieldwork for your research?

I am in the second year of my PhD, and almost finished my archival fieldwork. I was lucky enough to receive a generous overseas fieldwork grant from the ESRC, which allowed me to work in various archives in Moscow, St Petersburg, Arkhangel’sk and Tartu over seven months. I recently took on the role of postgraduate representative for BASEES, and I am looking forward to presenting some of my findings at the annual conference in April, as well as sharing some of my fieldwork experiences at the Women’s Forum roundtable.

What’s next?

During the remainder of my PhD, I plan to visit several archives in Latvia in the cities of Riga and Liepaja. When I finish, I hope to apply for postdoctoral projects.

Meet the Postgraduates: Brendan McGeever (University of Glasgow)

Brendan McGeever (University of Glasgow)

PhD project: A historical sociology of Bolshevik and Soviet government responses to antisemitism during the October Revolution and Civil War (1917-1921)

Tell me a bit about yourself- where are you from and where did you do your undergraduate?

Photo credit David Grinly

Photo credit David Grinly

I’m from a place called Portobello, a seaside town not too far from the centre of Edinburgh. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow, where I undertook a joint honours programme in sociology and politics, specialising in the sociology of racism and ethnicity. After graduating I spent a year working in the anti-racist voluntary sector in Edinburgh, which involved carrying out educational workshops at schools, youth clubs and adult education groups. I was lucky enough to secure a scholarship which allowed me to return to Glasgow to study for an MSc in the sociology of ‘Racism and Modernity’. It was during this period that I decided that I wanted to stay on at university and begin a PhD.

Tell me about your PhD research topic

The PhD is a historical sociology of Bolshevik and Soviet government responses to antisemitism during the October Revolution and Civil War (1917-1921). In other words, I am looking at the ways in which the early Soviet state approached, conceptualised and politicised the issue of antisemitism in Russia during the revolutionary period. Whilst we know quite a bit about the wave of pogromist violence that swept across the regions of the former Pale of Settlement during the Civil War, we know next to nothing about response to such violence from the Soviet government. I bring a Gramscian perspective to the study of this topic, looking for example at the formation of ‘hegemonic apparatuses’ within the nascent Soviet state; the various types of strategic alliances that were forged in the confrontation with antisemitism; the networks upon which such formations were based; and above all the profound degree to which the revolutionary process was structured by an articulation with antisemitism. Gramsci’s relational framework helps overcome crude and narrow understandings of political actors as ‘either’ antisemitic or anti-antisemitic, and instead opens up a more critical perspective that allows for an appreciation of the complexity of the political field, for example, the articulation between seemingly antithetical sets of ideas, in this case, antisemitism and anti-antisemitism.    

Front cover of a 1924 Bolshevik pamphlet against antisemitism by S. Leningradskii. Kto i za chto ustraivali pogromy?  ('Who carries out pogroms and why do they do it?')

Front cover of a 1924 Bolshevik pamphlet against antisemitism by S. Leningradskii. Kto i za chto ustraivali pogromy?  ('Who carries out pogroms and why do they do it?')

Forgive me, but that seems to be a bit of a jump from your undergraduate studies- how did you come to make the transition from the sociology of racism to the history of the Russian Revolution?

Good question! I did study the Soviet Union as an undergraduate, and I’ve always had a strong interest in the politics of the region. However, upon completing my Masters I was very keen to develop the conceptual and theoretical tools that I had picked up in my sociological studies, and to try to bring them into a critical dialogue with the history of the Russian Revolution. It seemed to me then, and still does now, that this period provides an excellent case through which to explore the intersections of class, nationalism and ethnicity.

Tell us a bit about your fieldwork.

I had a fantastic year in Moscow, working in the Party and state archives. Towards the end of the year I also spent some time in Kiev and Zhitomir, which was equally enjoyable. I have to be honest though and say that it was extremely difficult at first: I did not know any Russian at all when I began the PhD, so the fieldwork was tricky at first to say the least! It has been an entirely rewarding experience though. If there are any students out there deliberating about whether to learn a new language as part of their PhD research, I’d say go for it, you won’t regret it. 

In addition to being BASEES Postgraduate Representative, are you active in any other societies or research networks?

Yes, I am the co-Book Reviews Editor of the journal East European Jewish Affairs. I am also a member of the Critical Theories of Antisemitism Network, as well as being involved with the Historical Materialism book series and the International Newsletter for Communist Studies.

Lecture at the Russian-American Academic Research Centre for Biblical and Jewish Studies, at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, March 2012

Lecture at the Russian-American Academic Research Centre for Biblical and Jewish Studies, at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, March 2012

Lastly, how would you say BASEES has supported you so far in your PhD studies?

I have had tremendous support from BASEES as a PhD student. The BASEES annual conferences have proved to be a great space to meet fellow PhD students as well as more senior academics. I’ve also benefited enormously from attending the sessions of the Study Group for the Russian Revolution, which is part of the BASEES structure. I’ve also benefitted from the financial support. For example, all BASEES student members are eligible to apply for up to £600 funding to support conference attendance of fieldwork.

Thank you!  

Research Trip to the Film Archives in the Balkans Report (June – July 2013) - Ana Grgic

Ana Grgic

With this report of my fieldwork completed at the film archives in the Balkans, I would hereby like to express my gratitude to the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies for granting me generous funding, without whose support, I would not have been able to do this essential research. My trip began at the ‘Nitrate Film Festival’ in Belgrade, the only archival film festival of its kind in the Balkans, and so very fitting for the start of my journey through cinema’s history around the turn of the century, where indeed films were on nitrate support and therefore highly flammable. After interviewing the head archivist of the Yugoslav Cinematheque, I soon discovered that one of the largest collections of the silent period itself went up in flames to be recycled for plastic raw material. So amongst the archives; dusty documents, decaying films, fragile paper newspapers and fading memories, a discerning and intriguing voyage between myth and history began.

Participation at the film festival allowed me to network with the community of archivists and film historians in the region, and discuss the state of archives and history in the national institutions. In Belgrade, I gathered important written material on one of the first fiction films made in the Balkans, Karadjordje or the Life and Deeds of the Immortal Duke Karadjordje (1911, dir. Ilija Stanojevic) as well as had the opportunity to view it on the big screen at the cinematheque. In addition, the festival screened newly restored footage from the Balkan Wars in 1913 from the Serbian side from the Djoka Bogdanovich collection. Then following in the footsteps of the film director in Theo Angelopoulos’ Ulysses Gaze, my journey took me to Skopje (Macedonia) where the cinema pioneers, the brothers Manaki, left their cinematographic legacy. At the Macedonian film archive, I viewed the whole collection of their films ranging from 1907 to the 1920s, constituting important records of local life for the Vlach minority in the Balkans and for Macedonians. I also had access to their paper archives in various languages as authorities shifted: Ottoman Turkish, Greek, Romanian and Serbian-Croatian. In Tirana, I was welcomed by the head archivist of the Albanian Film Archive who showed me their film collections and storage facilities, as well as providing access to the earliest surviving footage filmed in Albania and written material on its film history, the least known and largely neglected area of all cinemas in the Balkans. In addition to viewing the first amateur (homemovies) films in Slovenia by Dr. Karol Grossman dating back to 1905, which preserve the traces of family and social life, I discovered two early texts written in 1896 by a doctor and a teacher in local newspapers on the advent of Cinematography. In Croatia, I saw various footage from Opatija filmed by the Lumière brothers (then under the Austro-Hungarian empire), and locally produced documentaries by pioneer Josip Karaman in Split, recording the important social events in the city. The most interesting discovery was a 1892 article written in the local newspaper in Split pre-dating the Lumière brothers’ invention, describing the functioning of the kinetograf (by Edison) and its capability of recording life posthumously. Similarly in Romania, I was able to consult the Romanian-French daily newspaper L’independence Roumaine where the first cinema screenings and local productions were chronicled and described by a certain Claymoor as part of the High Society column. Here, the Romanian film archive arranged a private screening of early medical films by Dr. Gheorghe Marinescu and other early footage from local cameramen on 35mm. My interview with Romanian film archivist and historian Marian Tutui, proved very helpful in gaining further knowledge on the Manaki brothers’ activities in Romania, and establishing transnational connections in this period. The minute and lenghty work of the Bulgarian film archivist in the form of two volumes kept at the Bulgarian Film Archive, provided me with endless information on cinema screenings and related activities in Sofia and other major cities in Bulgaria from 1896 to 1914. Subsequently, I viewed some newly discovered footage of Sofia dating to circa 1905, newsreels from the Balkan wars, and I consulted newspapers in the state and national archives. The contact with the renowned Bulgarian film historian Petar Kardjilov proved to be the most fruitful, as he shared his research on early cinema and in particular the activity of Charles Rider Noble, an Englishman in the Balkans.

Overall, I have collected an enormous amount of information in relation to the history of early cinema in the Balkans. This material will prove invaluable to the contextualisation and corpus for my PhD thesis. In addition to presenting my research at the upcoming 2014 BASEES conference in Cambridge, I hope to use more of the interviews and resources discovered during this trip in presentations and publications of the coming years. This shows that indeed the Balkans had a very rich and interesting film history, not to be disregarded in comparison to European cinemas, and so my work will give an insight into its history, the inter-cultural and transnational character of cinema’s development in the region around the turn of the century, and open new perspectives in the understanding of cinema as art, document and industry. Having established very important contacts with film archivists and historians in the region, will further help the progress of my thesis and open up new avenues for collaboration. I hope to be able to return to the Balkans, and in particular to conduct research in the Greek Film Archive and possibly further research in local state archives, as this was not possible during this summer’s fieldwork trip due to shortage of funding and time. In conclusion I would like to reiterate that I am extremely grateful to the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies Research and Development Committee and their support for my project, without which this journey and the discovery of new material would not have been possible. Without their support, one of the most important cultural histories of the new Europe would remain in silence.

Ana Grgic

Topic of research: History of early cinema in the Balkans and haptic visuality of archival films

Film Studies
University of St Andrews