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I spent another year in Lithuania doing dissertation research.  Visit my 2010-2011 blog to read about the next round of my adventures in dissertation research and more!

I am once again interrupting my Habsburg travels to give you an update of what’s happening here in Seattle.  Yesterday marked the first full day of the next stage of my academic career.  It was the first day of class — and my first day as a teaching assistant.  In the afternoon, I met with my dissertation adviser to develop a plan for starting to work my way through all the materials I collected in Lithuania and, most importantly, to start writing my dissertation.

I am excited about this new stage and looking forward to teaching and writing over the next nine months.  But I am also already thinking about returning to Lithuania.   One of my major projects for this month is to submit funding applications for next year, including a few fellowships that would enable be to go back to Lithuania.  It will be a busy month as I dive into life as a teaching assistant and dissertator (yes, that is a real word!) and beginning planning for the next, next stage!

There are several more posts about my trip — keep reading through the weekend to find out more about my adventures in Hungary…

When I started this blog, I expected to write 3-4 posts a week.  During my first few weeks here, so much was happening that I wrote every day.  After receiving a lot of positive feedback from my friends and family — including some saying they checked my blog every day — I was both encouraged to write more frequently and felt a bit of pressure to do so.  Despite my dad’s assurances that he couldn’t image me ever running out of things to say, I was a bit anxious that I would face blogger’s block at some point.

A few year’s ago, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel.  I never actually wrote a novel, but I did attend several writers’ workshops.  Every published writer gave the same piece of advice, “if you want to be a writer, you have to write.”  They emphasized that it is difficult to sit down and write “cold.”  Instead they encouraged aspiring writers to write something every day, because the act of writing keeps the words and ideas flowing.  I have certainly experienced that with this blog.  Before I discovered the “schedule” feature in WordPress, I wrote and posted each day.  Now I often write two or three posts at a time and schedule them out.  But the discipline of writing on an almost daily basis has kept the words and ideas flowing.  I find that my readers are on my mind as I go about my day and I notice things that might be of interest to you.

I have decided that I need to maintain this discipline of writing when I return to Seattle.  After eight months in archives gathering materials, the time has come to start writing.  I find the prospect of writing a 300 page dissertation more than a bit daunting.  My plan is to make sure that I set aside time as close to daily as possible to write — not just read or think or do more research, but to actually write.  Even if I just write a paragraph about one small topic, I will have maintained the discipline of putting my ideas and analysis into words and onto paper (or at least onto the computer screen).  So thanks to my readers who helped me establish the discipline of writing — and wish me luck as I apply that skill to my next task!

August was my last work month here in Lithuania and I am happy to report that I accomplished all of the priority tasks for my research. I will be returning to Seattle with nearly 10,000 pages of documents.  It’s a bit overwhelming when I think about it, but I would rather have too much material than too little.  When I arrived in Lithuania eight months ago, I had no idea what I would find in the archives related to my topic.  I have to say that I am pretty darn satisfied with the fruits of my labor.

Now all I have to do is organize, analyze and write!  But I have a deadline to help keep me motivated — 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the 1972 self-immolation and demonstrations.  If I can get my dissertation finished by 2011 (a mere two years away), the timing might be just right for getting a book published.  A grad school can always dream…

After confirming last week that the KGB archives did not have the files on the investigation of Romas Kalanta’s self-immolation, I started over.  I emailed the Kaunas Prosecutor’s office and asked again where the files were.  On Monday, I received an email with an official letter attached.  The letter stated that the files had been transferred to the Kaunas Regional Archives.  I knew that my only chance to spend a day or two working in the Kaunas archives would be Wednesday and Thursday of this week.  On Monday evening, I emailed the Kaunas archives to confirm that they did have the files and that I would be able to see them.  I didn’t receive a response on Tuesday but decided to go to Kaunas anyway.

I took an early bus on Wednesday and arrived at the archives just as the reading room opened at 9:00 am.  The archivist informed me that these files weren’t in the regional archives and that, even if they were, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to look at criminal files.  I told him that the prosecutor’s office had told me the files were there and that I’d already been able to read criminal files from 1972 at the KGB archives.  He went to ask a colleague and returned to tell me again that the Kalanta files weren’t there.  Fortunately I had printed out the letter from the prosecutor’s office, which I then produced.  He took the letter and again disappeared. He returned with a catalog opened to the page with the Kalanta investigation files listed right there in black and white.

After I filled out the request form, he asked if I wanted the files that day.  I said that I did and would use the files on Wednesday and Thursday.  He then told me that the archive would be closed on Thursday for “sanitary day.”  Now I have no idea what archives and libraries actually do on “sanitary day,” but the ones in Vilnius close on the last day of the month.  I was surprised that the Kaunas archive closes on the last Thursday of the month and glad I had decided to come on Wednesday.

Since it was only 10:00 am, I figured I would have plenty of time to photograph the documents in the files before the archive closed at 4:30 pm.  When I mentioned that, the archivist told me that I would have to get special permission to photograph files.  He then produced a blank piece of paper and told me to write a request to the director.  I dutiful wrote my request for permission to photograph the files — in Lithuanian even — and turned it in.  A short time later, the archivist returned to tell me that permission had been granted.  I went to work photographing nearly 800 pages of documents.  I had brought my laptop with me so I was able to download the photos, check them for clarity and rephotograph as necessary.  I turned in the files at 4:00 pm, put away the camera and laptop, and left the archive with 30 minutes to spare.

When I got home on Wednesday evening and checked email, I laughed out loud.  There was an email sent that morning from the Kaunas Regional Archives notifying me that they did not have the Kalanta self-immolation files!

One of the tasks still on my to-do list is to find the files on Romas Kalanta’s self-immolation.  I have read the files on the events after his funeral, but have not yet seen the files related to the immolation itself.  When I was working in the KGB archives in the winter, I was told that those particular files where still in the Kaunas prosecutor’s archives.  It wasn’t until July that I asked about the files at the Kaunas prosecutor’s office.  At that point, I was told that the files had been transferred to the general prosecutor’s office in Vilnius.  I sent an email to the general prosecutor’s office asking about the files and received a telephone call informing me that the files were in the KGB archives.

When I went back to the KGB archives, the archivist who had helped me in the winter was on vacation.  I decided to wait until she returned since she knows my research and was so helpful before.  I figured that she would help me find the files and that I’d have plenty of time read through 2-3 files.  Last Thursday I finally returned to the KGB archives to take care of this task.  The archivist made a couple of telephone calls to colleagues at the archives and was given a list of files related to Kalanta.  When we compared that list to the list of files I’d already received, there were eight files I had not seen.

The files were ready for me to look at today.  They contain useful and interesting information related to my topic.  However they do not include the files on the self-immolation itself.  This means there are eight– count ’em, eight — files that I need to read this week.  And I still have to find the files I was looking for.  That’s in addition to the other tasks still on my to-do list.  So much for coasting through my final weeks here — I’ll be earning my research stipend right up to the last day!

Although most of the time I am conducting traditional historical research by reading old documents in various archives, I have found that some of my other activities can contribute to my research.  And I’ve developed some interesting skills over the last seven months.

  • Photography — This is directly related to traditional historical research since I am photographing documents so that I can read them later.  After photographing thousands of pages, I have become quite adept at quickly and accurately photographing documents.  However, my neighbor was disappointed to learn that I use my regular digital camera.  She thought I should be using a cool, little spy camera to do the job.
  • Blogging — Although I started writing this blog to stay in touch with family and friends back home, people here in Lithuania interested in Kalanta and youth culture have discovered it and contacted me.  As a result, I’ve made great connections in Kaunas with people who have helped me find materials, introduced me to people who remember the events I am studying, and provided good insight on my work.
  • Socializing — I have met a lot of people and made new friends in Lithuania.  In addition to making my time here much more enjoyable, a number of my friends and acquaintances have proven to be valuable resources for my research.  It seems that every week someone I know introduces me to someone who can help with my research or gives me a piece of information that they’ve heard or tells me about a book or article that will be useful.
  • Stalking — Back in February, one individual promised to give me some information that I knew would be particularly valuable for my research.  It took four months of emailing, text messaging, calling, asking friends to call and finally just showing up at his office to get that information.  This might not be a skill I t want to cultivate, but my persistence payed off.

One chapter  in my dissertation will analyze the response of Lithuanians in emigration to Romas Kalanta’s self-immolation and the demonstrations that followed.  Last week I spent a day working in the archives of the Emigration Institute at Vytautas Magnus University.  The institute studies the history of Lithuanian communities abroad.  Its archival collection includes articles about Lithuania in the Western press as well as Lithuanian community publications from around the world.  I was able to find copies of articles about Kalanta’s self-immolation and the May 1972 demonstrations from U.S. newspapers.  I also found articles in Lithuanian communities newspapers from the U.S. and Australia.  Additionally I’ve been able to talk to some Lithuanian Americans now living in Kaunas and Vilnius about their memories of the Lithuanian community’s response to Kalanta’s death.  I had assumed that I wouldn’t start researching this side of the story until I was back in the U.S. but since the materials and people are here, I wanted to take advantage of these opportunities.

A copy of the New York Times article about Kalanta's death - his last name was originally reported as "Talanta"

A copy of the New York Times article about Kalanta's death - his last name was originally reported as "Talanta"

Lithuanian emigres in Adelaide, Australia respond to events in Kaunas.

Lithuanian emigres in Australia respond to events in Kaunas.

Initially, I planned my trip to Palanga in order to meet with the older brother of Romas Kalanta, the young man whose self-immolation was the catalyst for the events that I am studying.  Antanas Kalanta has been interviewed in a number of newspaper articles and has written an article about his memories of his brother’s death, so I hadn’t planned to interview him myself.  However, I happened to meet him in Vilnius a couple of weeks ago and he offered to show me materials he has collected about his brother if I could come to Palanga, where he lives.

Although Romas Kalanta’s suicide is at the center of the events I am studying, my research is about how various groups responded to his death rather than about the young man himself.  On Saturday afternoon, however, I  was able to get a glimpse of Romas as a person and of the tragedy of his suicide for his family.  It reminded me that, even as I analyze historical events as a scholar, it is important to remember that history happened to real people — it was their lives.

Romas Kalanta's lesson notebook for a history class and a pin he made with the Lithuanian national colors in 1972

Romas Kalanta's lesson notebook for a history class and a pin he made with the Lithuanian national colors in 1972

A page from Romas Kalanta's notebook with the names of rock bands

A page from Romas Kalanta's notebook with the names of rock bands

…this ain’t no foolin’ around, as David Byrne of the Talking Heads says.  In fact, this is more hard-core historical research.  Despite the fact that my dad still thinks I am having way too much fun on my research trip, I continue to get work done.  Last week, I spent time in yet another reading room in yet another archive.  This time in the Lithuanian Communist Party (LKP) division of the Lithuanian Special Archives.

The Communist Party in the Soviet Union was not a political party in the American sense.  It was the organization that ran the country.  As a very basic description, the Communist Party structure paralleled the government in most cases and was responsible for watching over the government as well as exercising control over the population.  As an old Soviet joke went, “In America, you can always find a party.  In the Soviet Union, the Party will always find you.”  Because of this, I need to know how the Lithuanian Communist Party responded to the events in May 1972.

Fortunately, a Lithuanian political scientist who has done some work on these events gave me a list of key files with information on my topic.  With list in hand, I was a document photographing machine — 811 pages in two afternoons.  I took the time to make sure the files really were relevant to my topic but didn’t take time to read the documents.  With my departure date fast approaching, I am trying to make sure I have as many of the materials I need as possible.  I can read when I get back to Seattle.

When I first received the stack of files, one was not the file I’d requested (same section but file 115 instead of 145).  Although the file wasn’t on my specific topic, it was relevant so I photographed it.  That fortunate mistake made me realize that there are probably more documents in the Communist Party archives that would be useful for my research.  I don’t think that I will have time to go back to the LKP archives and read through the catalogs to find them.  Instead, I’ve added this to the list of research priorities for a return trip should I get additional funding.  For now, I have the most important documents and I can check one more archive off the list.

Look familiar?  It's yet another archive reading room.

Look familiar? It's yet another archive reading room.