“Ours is a vast and diverse corner of the world.” That same cliché holds for most other points on the globe. Yet when one considers the assortment of political and economic systems, social orders, religions, language and cultural groups, and historical legacies that mark the territory spanning from roughly the Czech Republic in the west to the Bering Strait in the east, the Arctic Circle in the north to the Turkish-Syrian border in the south, one cannot help but be captivated by the sheer complexity of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. For much of the 20th century, this region was identified primarily as the “other side” of the Iron Curtain, and the main incentive for an American studying it was to better know one’s enemy. With the end of the Cold War, the region lost much of the superficial homogeneity imposed by over-arching political orders and the West’s ample stereotyping of the Communist Bloc. Despite the standardizing impact of an eastwardly-expanding European Union, this “Return to Diversity” (to borrow Rothschild’s term) has continued unabated. As in the past, the region presents the researcher, student, or casual observer with a broad array of political alternatives, economic structures, societal relations, religions, international organizations and institutions, legal systems, languages, architecture, artistic and literary traditions, and diverse cultural and ethnic groupings.
But more than offering a feast for the globally curious or a productive laboratory for the analytically driven, the Eurasian and East European region also retains its place as one of the more strategic and politically challenging parts of the world. The names of the various actors pushing new boundary lines across the region may have changed, but the basic driving interests for power and control remain the same. Pipelines and trade agreements may have (largely) replaced tank divisions as the main mechanisms, but the pattern of larger powers attempting to carve out spheres of influence and shape the region according to their specific visions persists. And, of course, pipelines and trade have not entirely eclipsed the more traditional tools of empire. Conflicts erupting along the increasingly defined border between Russia and expanding Euro-Atlantic organizations bear more than a passing resemblance to the geopolitics of shifting and colliding empires which characterized this area during the 19th and 20th centuries. Ours continues to be a region that demands the attention of policy makers in all major areas.
The Center for Russian and East European Studies (REES) at the University of Pittsburgh is an interdisciplinary center focused on Central and Eastern Europe and the successor states of the Soviet Union. As a Title VI National Resource Center (NRC) funded by the US Department of Education, REES plays a critical role in promoting regionally focused scholarship and teaching on Pitt’s campus and raising knowledge and awareness about our part of the world among wider communities in the Pittsburgh area and beyond. REES-associated faculty come from the humanities, social sciences, and professional schools such as law, business, education, public health, public and international affairs, and engineering. Aside from facilitating scholarship in the region, the Center also develops and supports student programs focused on foreign language acquisition, cultural immersion, and interdisciplinary area studies certificates to complement traditional disciplinary degrees. Furthermore, the Center has played a key role to support technical and economic development in the countries of our region. Looking beyond Pitt, our numerous domestic and international partner institutions and associates provide additional resources to help support study abroad programs, visiting scholars, and other activities.
Eastern Europe and Eurasia remains a varied and dynamic region with a challenging and exciting future. We invite you to explore our programs and contact us. Aside from a shared interest in the region, our staff and associated faculty offer a wealth of experience and insight which is available to you as you pursue your own projects, degrees, and scholarly endeavors. We look forward to working with you.