Newswise — Lynn Lubamersky, associate professor in the Department of History at Boise State University, will use a prestigious Fulbright fellowship in spring 2015 to support her research on digitally reconstructing the households of the past.
Lubamersky will travel to Vilnius, Lithuania, in January 2015 for six months on a Core Fulbright teaching and research fellowship. Her project, “Reviving the ghosts and relics of the past: commemoration of vanished communities of Lithuania and Belarus using digital images and maps,” involves working with students at European Humanities University to reconstruct the communities that are no longer living in Vilnius.
Using census, birth, marriage, death and other public records, students will digitally reconstruct communities of the past in Vilnius. Lubamersky’s own research will be centered on the town of Kėdainiai, located near Kaunas.
Vilnius is a unique European capital city whose past has long been a contested space. Almost all of its past, and the places linked with it, were defaced, damaged or destroyed by tragic and traumatic Nazi and Soviet occupation. The majority of Lithuanian residents of Vilnius are recent arrivals, having moved to the city after World War II or even after 1986.
In a 2013 interview with the Lithuania Tribune, Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas said, “This city is unique in that the number of native citizens or those who represent second-pus family generation living in Vilnius is small enough. Let’s face the facts — it is only in the year 1986 when half of the local community became Lithuanian. In earlier time, most Vilnius citizens were the people of Russian and Polish origin. That’s why the city is very special.”
Lubamersky’s work has taken her to Warsaw, Cracow and Vilnius, some of the major cities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As a specialist in the family history of the 18th century, she studies an area that currently is located in Poland and Lithuania, but also in Ukraine and Belarus.
The historical legacy of this area is contested even now, as Russia claims that Ukraine was a perpetual part of Russia, while Lubamersky believes that Ukraine is equally linked with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Lubamersky is fascinated with the history of the Commonwealth, since it is an example of a multi-ethnic, multinational state that endured well into the early modern period. While West Europeans were embroiled in violent religious conflict, the citizens of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth were, as the historian Paweł Jasienica called it, “a state without stakes” (meaning witch-burning stakes). The town of Kėdainiai is emblematic of this multi-cultural diversity, since its population was made up of Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, Russians, Germans, Tatars and even some Scottish inhabitants in the 18th century. Using the records at the Lithuanian State Archives, she will digitally reconstruct the households of the town and its surrounding hinterland.
Lubamersky said she is looking forward to teaching and learning from her students at European Humanities University (EHU). The university was founded in Minsk, Belarus, in 1992, but forcibly closed in 2004 after the Belarussian government became increasingly authoritarian. EHU was able to re-establish itself in Vilnius as a space of academic freedom and self-governance, especially in the humanities and social sciences.
She will offer a course on history and memory, which will examine how social media and the digital environment have allowed for the creation of memory communities. She also will examine the ways that the past is officially commemorated, and also the blank spots in which significant events and communities have been excised or forgotten.
“Given Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, I expect that this will be a very interesting time to be in Lithuania,” she said. “Despite the fact that Lithuania is a member of the European Union and the NATO alliance, what happened has re-awakened the memory of Soviet and Russian occupation and brought to the forefront questions about their own security.”