The Society for Romanian Studies,
1973-2015: A Brief History
Paul E. Michelson (Huntington University) joined the executive board of the SRS in 1976, when he also served as a temporary secretary. He was officially elected secretary and newsletter editor in 1978. He continued doing both jobs for many years, and established the first SRS website in 1995. Paul stepped down as secretary in 2005, but continued editing the newsletter until 2006 and the website until 2010. He became secretary again in 2011 for one last term until December 2015.
The year 2013 marks the fortieth Anniversary of the Society for Romanian Studies. (1) The SRS originally came into existence as The Romanian Studies Group (RSG, 1973-1977), primarily on the initiative of Jim Augerot and Michael Impey. Their experiences in Romania in the 1960s and early 1970s had led them to the realization that there was both a pressing need for a professional organization dealing with Romanian Studies in the United States and a sufficiently large critical mass of scholars – created in large part by the Fulbright and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) programs with Romania that began in the 1960s – to make such an organization feasible and viable. The initial organizational step was taken by Augerot, who called and coordinated a “Conference on Romanian Language and Literature” at the University of Washington on May 12-13, 1972. The meeting had as special guests and speakers the prominent historian Constantin Giurescu, who was teaching for the year at Columbia, Dan Grigorescu of the Romanian Library in New York, and Georgene Lovecky of the Fulbright Program. It was during this conference, the first of its kind in the US after World War II, that conversations, public and private, led to the idea of organizing a Romanian studies group.
The formal steps toward organizing the RSG were subsequently taken at the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference in April 26-28, 1973, where it was decided that the group would include all areas of the humanities and social sciences, not just language and literature. Michael Impey (Comparative Literature, University of Kentucky) and James Augerot (Language and Literature, University of Washington) were elected as the first executive officers of the Charter Board (President and Secretary-Treasurer respectively), and an advisory board was established composed of Robert Austerlitz (Language and Folklore, Columbia University), Jan Harold Brundvand (Folklore, University of Utah), Charles M. Carlton (Linguistics, University of Rochester), Stephen A. Fischer-Galati (History, University of Colorado), Keith Hitchins (History, University of Illinois), Barbara Jelavich (History, Indiana University), and Eric Hamp (Linguistics, University of Chicago). Forty-one charter members joined the organization. (2) Augerot also began publishing the first in a series of RSG newsletters. He served as Secretary-Treasurer until April 1977, and as Treasurer until September 2010.
The first RSG conference was held November 15-16, 1974 at the University of Colorado, hosted by Stephen Fischer-Galati. This was followed on October 12-13, 1975 by the Second RSG conference/Annual Meeting at the University of North Carolina, hosted by Augustin Maisse. Approximately fifty were in attendance including the Romanian Ambassador, Corneliu Bogdan.
In 1976, Radu R. N. Florescu (History, Boston College) became President and E. Garrison Walters (History, Ohio State University) became the Newsletter Editor. Paul Michelson (History, Huntington College), who had been elected to the Executive Board, became secretary pro-tem in 1977. During Florescu’s presidency, the third (and final) RSG conference was held at Ohio State University in Columbus on April 6, 1977, dedicated to the “Centennial of Romanian Independence.” The celebration was co-sponsored by the Romanian Academy and IREX. This was linked to the Association for South Eastern Studies Symposium/Conference on Southeastern Europe which took place on April 7-9, 1977. OSU had taken the lead in the AASES. It had also catapulted into a leading role in Romanian studies since launching the most successful ever Romanian Program in the US under the leadership of Rodica Boţoman in 1975. The success of her first Romanian language course in 1974 led to the establishment in 1975 of the OSU Romanian Culture and Civilization Program which by 1977 had over 140 students. By 1980, the OSU program had over 360 students studying Romanian and Romanian civilization. (3) The 1977 OSU conference was a watershed for South East European Studies and Romanian studies in the US. The Romanian Academy sent a full delegation and the vast majority of American Romanianists participated. Romanian studies emerged as the largest and strongest of the participating South East European area groups, with 4 panels at the RSG conference and 16 panels at the Symposium-Conference (Yugoslavia had 2, Bulgaria 5, Greece 3, Albania 1, and Southeastern Europe had 14). The program committee for the RSG waså led by Radu Florescu and included R. V. Burks (Wayne State), Walter M. Bacon (Political Science, University of Nebraska-Omaha), Rodica Boțoman (Slavic and East European Languages, The Ohio State University), and Paul Michelson.
At the 1977 annual business meeting, held during at the conference/symposium, on April 7, the RSG formally emerged as the Society for Romanian Studies. The SRS agreed at this meeting to become an affiliate of the American Association for Southeast European Studies (whose unfortunate acronym AASES provided so much hilarity and ribald commentary over the years that the group eventually changed its name to the South East European Studies Association or SEESA). The AASES had developed out of the American Association for South Slavic Studies and its publication, Balkanistica, became a flagship journal for the RSG/SRS.
The 1978 SRS annual business meeting was also held at Ohio State University on October 14 in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS), October 12-15, 1978. Special events were again organized by the OSU Romanian Program.
Officers for 1978-1980 were elected in November 1978, with Stephen A. Fischer-Galati chosen as President of the SRS, Walter M. Bacon, Jr. as Vice-President, Paul E. Michelson as Secretary and Newsletter Editor, and Jim Augerot as Treasurer. Michelson served as Newsletter Editor until 2007, publishing 30 volumes of the newsletter, and continues as secretary to the present. The national meeting of the SRS was held in New Haven CT, on October 12, 1979, as part of the AAASS meeting, October 10-13, 1979, though no separate program was held. This was followed in 1980 with a splendid stand-alone SRS conference at Lafayette College in Easton PA, November 8, hosted by Earl A. Pope.
Mary Ellen Fischer (Government, Skidmore College) was elected President of the SRS in 1980-1982, and Gerald J. Bobango (History, Romanian-American Heritage Center) served as Vice-President. The 1981 annual meeting was once more held at Ohio State University, April 9-11, 1981.The SRS program again held in conjunction with the Second AASES Symposium/Conference at OSU. Once more the SRS had the most panels at the symposium with eight full sessions. A similarly sparkling annual meeting was held at Boston College, Boston MA, April 30-May 1, 1982, with a broad program of panels, music, and other activities. The program, celebrating the George Enescu Centennial, was organized by Fischer and hosted by Radu Florescu.
It was during Fischer’s tenure as president that the SRS came under increasing pressure (which continued throughout the 1980s) from the Romanian communist regime which was not pleased by some of the papers being presented at our meetings, particularly those dealing with post-1945 Romania. It is almost needless to say that Fischer (and his successor Rodica Boţoman) firmly informed the Romanian authorities that the SRS would brook no attempts to interfere with the academic freedom of conference participants to present their research findings at our meetings and that if they didn’t like it they didn’t have to send people to participate. This made program planning a bit more difficult as delegations were promised, then withdrawn, then promised, then didn’t show up. In the end, the Romanian regime realized that it was damaging itself more than the SRS and resumed sending people to SRS meetings. The tradition of defending the right of scholars to have their say no matter how unpopular this might be to political or cultural authorities has, I am pleased to say, has continued strong down to the present.
Fischer was succeeded as President in 1982-1984 by Rodica Boţoman and Walter M. Bacon, Jr. was elected Vice-President. The highlight of this period was the 1983 National Meeting, a gala event held in Kansas City MO on October 21-22, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the SRS. Ten panels spanning the breadth of Romanian studies were presented at this meeting and affirmed the solidity of the foundations laid by Augerot and Impey in 1973. (Perhaps exhausted by this outstanding effort, no national meeting was held in 1984.) Discussions of idea of holding an international congress on Romanian studies were begun with Sorin Alexandrescu of the University of Amsterdam.
Walter M. Bacon, Jr. served as President in 1985 and 1986, as the term of office was shifted to a calendar year basis. Michael Impey was Vice-President. A stand-alone Annual Meeting was held at Ohio State University on April 4-6, 1985, a lively program that included Romanian food and dancing as well as eleven scholarly sessions. Rodica Boţoman hosted; her husband, George, was again the star of OSU’s Haiducii Romanian dance ensemble.
The events of 1985-1986 were capped by the First International Congress on Romanian Studies at The Sorbonne in Paris, France, July 1-4, 1986. A joint project with the European Asociaţia Internaţionale de Studii Româneşti, this was the largest-ever gathering of Romanian Studies specialists in the world to date. Walter M. Bacon, seconded by Rodica Boţoman and Paul Michelson for the SRS, was North American program chair; Catharine Durandin (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) and Claude Karnoouh (Institut de Monde Soviétique, d’Europe Centrale et Orientale, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) were program chairs on the European side. Selected papers from this congress were published in The International Journal of Rumanian Studies (Amsterdam), edited by Sorin Alexandrescu. Several members of the SRS also joined the board of the IJRS at this time.
In 1987-1988, Earl A. Pope (Religion, Lafayette College) was President and Barbara Jelavich was Vice-President. Another impressive stand-alone Annual Conference was organized at Emerson College, Boston, by George Ursul (History, Emerson College), held on November 7, 1987. The 1988 Annual Meeting and program were held at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln NE, October 21-22, 1988, excellently hosted by Walter M. Bacon. The program included a number of Romanian guests.
Barbara Jelavich succeeded to the presidency for 1989-1990, with Katherine Verdery (Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University) as Vice-President. This, obviously, was a time of considerable turmoil and exhilaration as the Communist regime in Romania came tumbling down. The future of Romanian Studies in North America also changed significantly. We held our National Meeting in Chicago IL, November 3, 1989, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting of November 2-5, but with no stand-alone program. This was followed in October 18, 1990, with a business meeting also in conjunction with the AAASS, October 18-21, accompanied by a special program at the Romanian Embassy. In 1990, through Jelavich’s efforts, the SRS became an official affiliate of the American Historical Association.
In 1991, George R. Ursul was elected President with Rodica Boţoman as Vice-President. They served from 1991 to 1993. The 1991 Annual Meeting was a separate session held in Miami FL, November 22-25, in conjunction with the AAASS. The 1992 business meeting was at the AAASS convention in Phoenix AZ, November 19-22, 1992, though without a separate program.
The major preoccupation of the SRS, aside from adjusting to new conditions in Romania, was the planning and execution of our Second International Congress on Romanian Studies in Iaşi in Summer 1993. The SRS decided that logistically and financially having the meeting in Romania made more sense than a possible meeting in the United States. The cooperation of the Romanian Academy was significant, as were contributions of the Romanian Cultural Foundation. Cornelia Bodea of the Romanian Academy and Paul Michelson were joint program chairs and Dumitru Vitcu handled local arrangements for the University of Iaşi and the Xenopol Institute of History. The congress, held on July 6-10, 1993, was a rousing success, particularly in introducing Romanian academics to American-style congresses, with less formality and a wide variety of panels, round tables, and social events. There were 67 academic sessions at the Iaşi meeting, along with a myriad of extra-curricular events, a concert, and other protocol events so beloved by President Ursul.
Joseph Harrington (History, Framingham State College) served as President from 1994 to 1996, and Lory Wallfisch (Music, Smith College) was Vice-President. The indefatigable Harrington organized or promoted more meetings and conferences than any of his predecessors or successors: a National Meeting at the Romanian Cultural Center, New York NY, February 18-19, 1994; another at the Romanian Cultural Center, New York NY, November 15-16, 1994; a business meeting in Philadelphia PA, November 19, 1994, in conjunction with the AAASS, November 17-20; (4) a first-ever SRS Graduate Student Conference at the Romanian Cultural Center, New York NY, April 8, 1995; a National Meeting at the Romanian Embassy, Washington DC, October 24-25, 1995; an annual business meeting Washington DC, October 27, 1995 in conjunction with the AAASS, October 26-29, 1995; a first-ever SRS Conference on Business and Politics at the Romanian Embassy, Washington DC, April 26, 1996; a stand-alone National Meeting at Boston College, Boston MA, November 12, 1996; and the 1996 business meeting in Boston MA, November 15, 1996 in conjunction with the AAASS meeting, November 14-17. The year 1995 was also significant in that the SRS website went live in the summer, hosted at Huntington College and administered by Paul Michelson until 2010.
The 1997-2000 (5) Presidency of Paul Quinlan (History, Providence College) and Vice-Presidency of Grant Harris (Librarian, Library of Congress) also featured a significant number of important conferences. The 1997 Third International Congress on Romanian Studies, held in Cluj-Napoca, July 1-6, was the main achievement. The Romanian Academy again collaborated with the SRS thanks to the work of Cornelia Bodea. Paul Michelson was program chair again, and Vasile Puşcaş and Nicolae Bocşan handled local arrangements for the Babeş-Bolyai University. There was an increased number of non-traditional disciplines represented, that is, disciplines outside of history, language, and literature.
Other meetings during Quinlan’s tenure were a stand-alone National Meeting at the University of Washington, Seattle WA, November 19, 1997, and a business meeting in Seattle, November 20, 1997, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting, November 20-23; a fine 25th Anniversary SRS Conference at the Romanian Embassy and Georgetown University, Washington DC, March 20-21, 1998, hosted by Charles King; a National Meeting at the Romanian Cultural Center, New York NY, April 17, 1999; an annual business meeting in St. Louis MO, November 19, 1999, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting, November 18-20; and an annual business session in Denver CO, November 10, 2000, in conjunction with the AAASS, November 9-12. It became clear, however toward the end of the 1990s, that the efforts devoted to the planning and execution of the international congresses meant that the days of stand-alone SRS conferences were coming to a close.
Also in 1999, under the Quinlan presidency, the SRS became an affiliate of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and in 2000 the SRS began a joint-membership arrangement with the newly-refounded South East European Studies Association (SEESA) as well as becoming an affiliate organization of SEESA. The purpose of SEESA was to make sure that Southeastern Europe didn’t get lost in the shuffle of changing currents in the AAASS and the potential swamping of Romanian studies interests in favor of Central European and Russian studies. Augerot and Michelson have served as officers of SEESA from the start and have provided strong ties between SEESA and the SRS.
Jim Augerot, President, and Henry (Chip) Carey (Political Science, Georgia State University), Vice-President, were elected for 2001-2004. The Fourth International Congress on Romanian Studies at the University of Suceava on July 9-12, 2001, was another major event for the SRS. Attendance was about the same as at the previous two congresses, but regionalism (or, perhaps better said, “provincialism”) seemed more apparent. Participants were mostly from northeastern Romania as Romanian participants seemed unwilling to travel to other regions of the country, especially if these were a little out of the way. Paul Michelson was program chair; local arrangements were handled by the University of Suceava and the Center for Romanian Studies in Iaşi. We held our annual gathering in Arlington, VA on November 16, 2001, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting on November 15-18. A highlight of that meeting was the publication of a Festschrift for Cornelia Bodea. Other annual business meetings took place at Pittsburgh PA, November 22, 2002, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting, November 21-24; Toronto Canada, November 21, 2003, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting of November 20-23; and Salt Lake City UT, November 4, 2005, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting, November 3-6.
From 2006 to 2010, Paul E. Michelson served as President, and Ileana Orlich (Languages, Arizona State University) was Vice-President; Jim Augerot handled the Secretarial duties along with the Treasury. In 2007, Dan Pennell (Library, University of Pittsburgh) became Newsletter Editor. We held a spring program session at the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York on March 24, 2006, followed by a joint meeting with the Association for the Study of Nationalities at Columbia University in New York on March 25, 2006. The ASN sessions were useful since they brought us into contact with quite a number of graduate students and recent PhDs. The annual business meeting was in Washington DC, November 18, 2006, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting, November 16-19. Michelson, Orlich, and several SRS representatives engaged in dialogue with the Romanian Cultural Institute in several meetings held in Washington D.C. about redirecting their involvement in Romanian studies.
The Fifth International Congress on Romanian Studies was held at Ovidius University in Constanţa on June 25-28, 2007. Paul Michelson was chair and Adina Ciugureanu (Ovidius University) was responsible for local arrangements. With an attendance of well over 200, this was perhaps the largest congress we have held. We had a better regional turnout than at Congresses 3 and 4. On the other hand, participation by the Romanian Academy was nil and Romanian intra-mural academic disputes affected attendance. The quality of the program continued to rise and for the first time younger scholars outnumbered the veterans of Congresses one to four.
The 2007 business meeting was held in New Orleans on November 17, 2007, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting of November 15-18. Similar business meetings were held in Philadelphia PA on November 21, 2008, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting of November 20-23; and Boston MA on November 13, 2009, in conjunction with the AAASS meeting of November 12-15. We participated in the First Central Europeanists reception at the Philadelphia AAASS in 2008, where SRS members were able to meet others interested in the “Lands in Between” and to publicize the SRS. Another new venture was the presentation of the First 2009 SRS Graduate Student Essay Prize to Roland Clark (History, University of Pittsburgh) at Boston. Margaret Beissinger (Folklore, Princeton University) was chair of the selection committee.
Irina Livezeanu (History, University of Pittsburgh) was elected President for 2010-2014, with Bill Crowther (Political Science, University of North Carolina/Greensboro) as Vice-President. When Jim Augerot retired as Treasurer in the fall of 2010, Bill was persuaded to replace him and Lavinia Stan (Political Science, St. Francis Xavier University, Canada) was chosen as Vice-President. In the same year, Ashby Crowder (University of Maryland) took over as the website guru. In 2011, Roland Clark became the Newsletter Editor and, beginning with Vol. 34 (2011), the newsletter was published electronically which allowed us to expand the size and use improved graphics. In 2013, Lara McLaughlin (independent scholar) became our web site manager.
We added a graduate student representative to the National Board for the first time in 2010 in the person of Ashby Crowder. He was succeeded by Catherine Hansen (Princeton University) in 2011.
In the summer of 2010, a brand new, redesigned SRS website was launched at http://www.society4romanianstudies.org. Ashby Crowder, who had agreed to edit the site, also set up and handled our new Facebook page. We presented the second Graduate Student Essay Prize to Anca Mândru (University of Illinois) in 2010; Margaret Beissinger was chair of the selection committee. This prize was announced at the annual business meeting in Los Angeles CA on November 19, 2010, held in conjunction with the ASEEES meeting of November 18-21. At the same meeting, Jim Augerot was recognized for his long service to the SRS.
The big news of 2011 was the implementation of a formal set of SRS Bylaws in January 2011. These had been developed during 2010. The major step forward was that, effective in 2011, membership in the Society for Romanian Studies was opened internationally. Obstacles to international membership had gradually fallen by the wayside in an electronic age and we have been pleased by the response from Romania and elsewhere. The SRS also created several new categories of membership, including supporting, sponsor, and patron members, with a view toward increasing funding for the organization.
In 2011, Cristina Onose (University of Toronto) was awarded the third Graduate Student Essay Prize at the National Business Meeting in Washington DC on November 18, 2011, held in conjunction with the ASEEES meeting of November 17- 20. Matt Ciscel (English, Central Connecticut State) served as committee chair. The same year we presented the First SRS Book Prize to Tom Gallagher (University of Bradford UK). Margaret Beissinger chaired the book prize committee. The Romanian Embassy held a reception in honor of Romanian scholars attending ASEEES on November 18, 2011.
As usual, pride of place in 2012 went to our Sixth International Congress on Romanian Studies held at Lucian Blaga University, Sibiu, Romania, July 2-4, 2012, with the theme of “Europeanization and Globalization: Romanians in Their Region and the World.” This was our first themed congress, the others had been general conferences. In a great venue and centrally located, we were served a rich intellectual fare in a significant historical ambiance. Support for the congress was provided by Universitatea Lucian Blaga, the Romanian Cultural Institute, the American Embassy, the Universitatea Naţională de Arte, and the Sibiu Primăria. Attendance included probably the best mix of nationalities, regions of Romania, and new participants ever. There were three plenary lectures and 52 panels along with collateral events. Things went so well we decided that five year intervals for the congresses is just too long. Matt Ciscel was the chair of the International Conference Committee that included Irina Livezeanu, Lavinia Stan, Margaret Beissinger, Narcis Tulbure, Monica Ciobanu, and Catherine Hansen; local arrangements were handled by Alexandra Mitrea, Mihaela Grancea, Mirela Ocinic, and Anca Iancu. Later in 2012, we held a business meeting in New Orleans on November 16, 2012, in conjunction with the ASEEES meeting of November 14-17. The 2012 SRS Graduate Student Essay Prize was won by Jonathan Stillo (Anthropology, City University of New York).
In 2013, a major initiative was the creation of an H-Romania site, with R. Chris Davis (History, Lone Star College) and Valentin Sandulescu (University of Bucharest) as editors. Davis became our liaison with H-Net. It is anticipated that this site will become our most widely-used vehicle for scholarly interchange. The Book Prize Committee, chaired by Bill Crowther, awarded the Second Biennial SRS Book Prize to Gail Kligman (Sociology, UCLA) and Katherine Verdery (Anthropology, CUNY); while the Graduate Student Essay Prize committee, chaired by Roland Clark, awarded the annual SRS Graduate Student Essay Prize to Florin Poenaru (Sociology, Central European University). These prizes were awarded at the annual meeting being held in Boston, MA, on November 22, 2013 in conjunction with the ASEEES meeting, November 21-24. Lastly, in 2013, the SRS began a joint-membership arrangement with the Romanian Studies Association of America.
NOTE: For an extensive SRS chronology, including a listing of all officers, board members, meetings, and significant events, see www.huntington.edu/history/pmichelson/srs_chronology.pdf
- Sources: Michael Impey, “The Present State of Romanian Studies in the United States and Canada. A Review Article,” Modern Language Journal, 59 (1975): 262-272; Jim Augerot’s contribution to Lilliana Ursu, Ioana Ieronim, and Archbishop Chrysostomos, eds., Să vezi lumea cum o văd ceilalţi/To See the world as others see it: American and Romanian Alumni Share Their Fulbright Impressions (Bucharest: Editura Vremea, 2003), 22-23; a fairly complete file of RSG and SRS newsletters; and personal recollections. On the early days of Romanian studies in the US and UK, see also Michael Impey, “The Land of Rushing Streams: Returns and Departures,” New International Journal of Romanian Studies, 2/1-2 (1999): 84-108; and Michael Impey, “Some Reflections on Romanian Studies in the United States and Europe, 1975-2007,” in Marina Cap-Bun, ed., Studiile româneşti în lume în 2008/Romanian Studies Around the World in 2008 (Bucharest: Editura Universitară, 2009) 58-73.
- Thereafter, in December 1973 meeting of the Modern Languages Association, Romanian language specialists formed the Romanian Studies Association of America as an affiliate of the MLA. Impey, “Romanian Studies,” 271. Regrettably, this association, led and formed primarily by Romanian émigrés, remained generally apart from the RSG/SRS, but in 2012, the RSAA leadership participated enthusiastically in the SRS Sibiu Congress. Subsequently, a joint membership was created for those who wanted to join both the RSAA and the SRS, and this new cooperation between the SRS and RSAA will continue in the future. In 1974, Sorin Alexandrescu, University of Amsterdam, organized the Asociaţia Internaţionale de Studii Româneşti. The First Congress on Romanian Studies at the Sorbonne in 1986 was a joint project of the SRS and the AISR.
- See Paul E. Michelson, “Discovering Romanian…and Romania: Rodica Boţoman and Romanian Studies at the Ohio State University, 1974-2003,” Lingua: Language and Culture, NS, 9/1 (2010): 51-65.
- At this meeting, it was unanimously decided that Presidential and Vice-Presidential terms would be three years.
- The term of office was extended to four years to avoid complications with the planning and execution of our international congresses.