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History of Central Slavic Conference

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History (by Will Adams)

Bi-State What? A Thumbnail History (from the 10th Anniversary Program, 1972)

"What states are in the Bi-State Slavic Conference?" This puzzling question was posed periodically during the 1960s, even by some Kansans and Missourians who should have known better. Perhaps by way of answer (or perhaps not), the name was changed at the end of the decade to Central Slavic Conference. So now strangers at least know what part of the country we come from, although they still may not know what states. But let's start at the beginning.

During the academic year 1961-1962, a small number of scholars, teachers, and students of Slavic affairs began to discuss the possibility of holding periodic meetings in the Kansas-Missouri area. Will Adams coordinated the correspondence, built up a mailing list, and at length organized the first Conference on the William Jewell campus (in Liberty), November 3, 1962. Approximately 25 persons attended the one-day affair, heard three papers and three discussants (including a lively exchange over Roy Laird's paper), and were treated to lunch by the College (Sorry, no free lunches this time).

Minutes of the business meeting show that the group decided to organize on a permanent basis, a decision reached by default when no one could think of any reason not to. There was sentiment for meeting more frequently than once a year, and Ellerd Hulbert's invitation to come to Park College the following February was accepted by a divided vote. A unanimous vote sought recognition from AAASS, but the decision whether to elect some sort of officers was postponed until the next meeting.

The February meeting did not work out, but some 28 of the 80-plus "members" on the mailing list went to Parkville College on November 2, 1963, heard five speakers, and bought lunch. At the business meeting AAASS recognition was announced, and Rod McGrew's invitation to meet at Missouri University the next fall was accepted. The group confirmed what had become customary by establishing two officers--a Conference Chairman from the host institution, and an Executive Secretary. A growing cult of personality loomed when Will Adams was elected Executive Secretary "for an indefinite term." But further bureaucratization was halted when, in the words of the minutes, a "proposal to create a treasury through some form of assessment was thoroughly defeated." For some strange reason, the Secretary presided over the meeting while outgoing Chairman Hulbert took minutes.

The early talk of twice-a-year or even monthly meetings now ceased, as the Conference settled into an annual pattern. Thirty-four persons from twelve institutions registered at Missouri University on October 17, 1964, and heard nine program participants. The business meeting continued the quaint custom of having the Executive Secretary preside while the Conference Chairman took notes. But the cult of personality ended when the Secretary announced his departure from the Midwest in order to finish a dissertation. Bob Brazelton became Chairman when the invitation from the University of Missouri at Kansas City was accepted. Stan Gerber of the same institution was named Secretary.

The imprecision of the bureaucracy was apparent when outgoing Chairman McGrew informed the AAASS Newsletter that "Brazelton was the new President, or Chairman, or whatever we have." Brazelton brazenly adopted the title "President," as it remains to this day, albeit without statutory authority.

Seventeen program participants greeted those attending the Fourth Annual Bi-State Slavic Conference at UMKC on October 16, 1965. Rod McGrew took it back to Missouri University a year later with fifteen members on the day-and-a-half program. In 1967 Kansas University played host for the first time, and Roger Kanet involved 39 members in a two-day conference. A year later Father Louis Barth brought the Conference to St. Louis University with 34 program participants. Charles Timberlake served as "Secretary-Treasurer," although there was still no permanent treasury, and in 1969 he became President as the Conference returned to Missouri University for the third time. A record 44 persons appeared on the program.

Kansas University's invitation for the Ninth Annual Metting, Fall 1970, had been accepted in 1968, so Jim Scanlan became Vice-President--a newly created office--for 1969, and President for 1970. The intention had been to follow this pattern thence forth, but no further invitations have been extended two years early.

Meanwhile the 1968 and 1969 sessions had discussed changing the Conference name so as to make it less exclusive. Neighboring states were showing interest, participating in the program, and even mentioning hosting the Conference. So President Scanlan announced in July 1970 that the fall meeting would be asked to change the name to Central States Slavic Conference, with the understanding that the constituency include at least Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, and Oklahoma in addition to Kansas and Missouri, and perhaps other states; and that nominations for officers and offers to host the annual meeting be considered on their merits from any "central state."

These amendments to our non-existent "constitution" were duly adopted in November 1970, after it was explained that changing "Bi-State" to "Central" would still allow us to appear first in the AAASS Newsletter's alphabetical treatment of news from regional affiliates. Forty-three persons appeared on the program that year, indicating continued high interest.

The Tenth Annual Central Slavic Conference (no one seems to know what happened to the word "States" in the new title) returned to St. Louis in 1971 as Washington University played host. Robert C. Williams assembled 44 program participants, including the late Merle Fainsod as the featured speaker.

There had been some talk in 1970 of returning to William Jewell for the Tenth Anniversary (Eleventh Annual) session. But Will Adams was on sabbatical leave in Munich in Fall 1971, so it appeared this would not be possible.

Conference members were undaunted, however. Without consulting him in advance, or even informing him afterwards (until he returned home in January 1972), the 1971 session elected Will Adams to the exalted office of President. The present program, for better or worse, is the result.

The Central Slavic Conference has indeed become, as Scanlan said in 1970, a "major regional association." We have one of the longest continuous records of annual meetings of any regional association engaged in Slavic Studies. We have retained an atmosphere of friendly informality--no dues or membership cards, no entrenched "establishment" (more like Lenin's views on administration). The mailing list this year is over 600, not including some 400 mailings to deans and department chairmen in several states.

William Jewell College is pleased to welcome the Central Slavic Conference back to this campus to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its founding here. We hope you enjoy your stay, and will come back again.

More Thumbnail History of Central Slavic (from the 35th Anniversary Program, 1997)

"Bi-State What? A Thumbnail History" (above) appeared in the program of the Eleventh Annual Meeting of this Conference (on the tenth anniversary of its founding) in 1972. It is now official dogma. The Executive Committee has often asked that it be updated. Will Adams has promised to do so many times, but to no avail. This 35th Anniversary seems an appropriate time, before everyone's memory fails completely.

There were 38 participants in that tenth anniversary two-day meeting, including banquet speaker Karel van het Reve (Leiden University) and luncheon speaker Abraham Brumberg of USIA. Further on in this document you will find the time, place, and president of all Central Slavic meetings to date. Detailed records of meetings since 1972 are probably sequestered in the CSC Archives. Yet, even though CSC has prided itself on having no treasury, no bureaucracy, and almost no "constitution" or "by-laws," we do have archives. Charles Timberlake of Missouri University at Columbia became archivist for life by carefully keeping file copies of programs, correspondence, the mailing list, and other records. No one else could be found who wanted to mess with them.

Central Slavic has hosted the national meeting of AAASS three times. On November 7-10, 1976, the joint meeting took place in St. Louis, with Bernard Eissenstat serving as Program Chair and Father Louis Barth in charge of local arrangements. Seven years later (1983), the joint meeting was repeated in Kansas City, with William Fletcher as Program Chair and Will Adams handling local arrangements. Then, on 18-20 November 1999, the joint meeting was held in St. Louis, with Max Okenfuss as President.

An interesting event occurred at the national level in 1981 when Adams presented the invitation to the AAASS Executive Board. After he announced that CSC was prepared to take responsibility for the 1983 meeting, discussion was called for. A man sitting at his left, whose name and face are obscured by time, immediately argued with some emotion that he saw no reason for the existence of the Central Slavic Conference, since the Midwest Slavic Conference had been revived. Roger Kanet, at Adams' right, heatedly pointed out that, unlike Midwest, CSC had the longest unbroken record of annual meetings of any regional affiliate except the D.C. chapter, and that in any case the leaders of Midwest seemed to think that the Midwest consists of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Adams was rather non-plussed by the crossfire, and simply said that he had not come to debate the existence of CSC but merely to invite the national organization to meet with us in 1983. The invitation was accepted. Invitations have been extended by CSC in other years since that time, but for reasons of its own, the AAASS has not acted upon them.

The first two-day meeting of CSC took place in the fifth year (1966), and two-day conferences became the norm. However, Walter Bacon organized a three-day conference at the University of Nebraska (Omaha) in March 1981 (the 19th annual meeting), a joint session with the Rocky Mountain Slavic conference. At the 27th meeting in 1988, Ivan Volgyes hosted a four-day conference at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln). Ivan Volgyes and Ann Kleimola went to a three-day meeting at the 33rd CSC at Nebraska in October 1994. Since then, three-day sessions may have become the norm: the 34th annual meeting in 1995 by Carl Daubach at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; the 35th in 1996 by Robin Remington at the University of Missouri (Columbia); and this year's, by Maria Carlson, at the University of Kansas. Any future President may, of course, decide to do something different.

CSC has met nineteen times in Missouri, ten in Kansas, three times each in Oklahoma and Nebraska, and once in Colorado. All but twice CSC has met in the fall semester. It is the only regional affiliate of AAASS that does so, usually meeting before the national convention, but sometimes afterward. The two spring meetings were March 1981, so that CSC could meet together with the Rocky Mountain association, and April 1997, so that Maria Carlson could combine CSC with the Third Annual Update Conference of KU's Center for Russian and East European Studies.

In 1981 the regular meeting time in Fall 1980 was skipped and CSC met twice in 1981 instead. This time CSC met as scheduled in Fall 1996 and now meets again in the same academic year. At the business meeting last fall Dr. Carlson offered a motion that CSC meet this spring at KU and consider changing the meeting to spring permanently. In typical CSC fashion, the motion was approved with no discussion and probably little thought. Whether it stays in the spring or reverts to fall will depend on the whim of the volunteer hosts of the next several annual meetings. This is entirely consistent with CSC policy.

Which brings up "How We Function." Following this text, you will find a document by that name; it purports to be our by-laws. Archivist Timberlake reports that these were adopted in 1969 at Columbia, MO (he thinks), although no one else remembers doing so. If Bill Fletcher were still active, he would deny we ever did so, even if he did remember. In any case, Timberlake reports that this is the draft of the by-laws, adding, "I can't find the original ones, although I know I wrote them down." They pretty well describe "how we do things," at least until someone decides to do them differently.

The informality of the CSC has been one of its attractions for long-time participants.

Invitations for future meetings are sought two years in advance. The one offering the invitation becomes Vice-President (or recruits someone else to serve as such), moving up to President the following year. He or she in turn appoints a colleague from the same institution as Secretary-Treasurer (or not). Financing the conference is their responsibility. Funds are sought from the institution, grants, and conference fees (which have remained modest). Graduate students attend for token fees. The mailing list is simply all who ever attended, although it is purged from time to time, when it threatens to become an historical document. The Executive Board of CSC (listed at the start of this program) consists of all past presidents still residing in the states composing CSC; this Board is careful never to meet. This is an exercise in "democratic decentralism" (if we may invert Lenin's principle of party organization). It has made Central Slavic a unique non-organization, albeit one which manages to survive and to sponsor stimulating annual gatherings. The best stimulation, of course, is not the papers and panels (although these are important), but the renewing of long-term friendships and the welcoming of new colleagues.

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