About the Black Sea Networks Initiative

Beyond Borders | Global Learning Strategies | Research Streams| Grants and Collaboration

Beyond Borders

Traditional land-based area studies focus on divisions, on fixed and heavily contested borders. In contrast, water-based studies emphasize patterns of connectivity, mobility, and exchange, allowing us to bypass national boundaries and subvert old imperial hierarchies. The Black Sea Networks project envisions an open sea connected to waterways and land routes that lead east, to China; south, to the Mediterranean and the Red Sea; west, to the heart of Central Europe; and north, to the Baltic Sea and beyond.

Rather than asking how Slavs are distinct from their neighbors, the Black Sea model explores the shifting contexts they share with others. It aims to reorient Slavic studies from a shared identity— imagined as homogenous despite dramatic differences in the political and cultural history of the Eastern, Balkan, and Central European Slavs—toward a shared space of ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural heterogeneity, where communities and individuals are bound by durable links of conflict, cooperation, competition, and cohabitation. This new framework will help foster a new generation of Slavists with a vision of the field that speaks to the concerns of our global age.


Global Learning Strategies

In order to promote long-term change in Slavic and Black Sea Studies, the initiative will develop open-access multi-media tools and course modules and pioneer the repurposing of available educational technologies, thus building toward a fully sustainable and dynamic program. Partnerships with NYU and Yale and classroom sharing among consortium institutions will allow cooperative curricular development at other institutions, maximizing impact on the field as a whole.

The initiative expands the existing educational and strategic networks of Columbia University, opening new lines of research and collaboration on the New York campus and at the Global Centers in Istanbul and Paris. Columbia Global Centers | Turkey plays a key role, engaging directly with the larger Black Sea region through existing networks while serving as a hub for building new ones. This central position furthers the Istanbul Center’s mission to emerge as a leading regional center with an expanding sphere of influence and a truly global impact.

Bearing in mind the fast-moving and often unpredictable course of events in the Black Sea region, the initiative emphasizes digital resources as a site of collaboration. Even as political crises close borders, initiative partners will continue to exchange ideas, work together on projects, and generate new materials.



1. Iraida Barry and the “Russian Istanbul” of the 1920s

This is a long-term international project aimed at producing major art exhibitions at the Pera Museum (Istanbul) and the Wallach Art Gallery (Columbia University, New York) that will showcase the art and life of Iraida Barry—one of the first female sculptors in the Turkish Republic and a key figure of the Russian émigré cultural presence in Istanbul in the aftermath of the Soviet Revolution. The exhibitions will aim to explore Barry’s fascinating artistic path in the context of major aesthetic and political shifts that occurred in her turbulent time. The exhibition will present for the first time archival materials from the Bakhmeteff Archive (Columbia University) and the private archive of Cengiz Kahraman (Istanbul) together with Iraida Barry’s artwork from Dolmabahca Museum and private collections. Pera Museum also plans to host an international scholarly symposium on “Russian Istanbul,” in collaboration with Columbia Global Centers—Turkey, in conjunction with the exhibition.

Research Team:

  • Leader: Valentina Izmirlieva (Columbia)
  • Holger Klein (Art History, Columbia)
  • Isin Önol (University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria)
  • Merve Tezcanli (Columbia Global Centers—Turkey)
  • Tanya Chebotarev (curator of the Bakhmeteff Archive, Columbia Libraries)
  • Cengiz Kahraman (Modern Art Collector, Istanbul Photography Museum)
  • Marlow Davis (Ph.D. candidate, Slavic, Columbia)
  • Ararat Sekiryan (Ph.D. candidate, Slavic, Columbia)

2. Black Sea Myths and Modern Europe

This is a long-term international project aimed at exploring ancient key Black Sea myths with a stable presence in the Western cultural imagination—Prometheus, Medea and the Argonauts, Iphigenia, Odysseus—and their life in the lands where these myths initially emerged. The project targets especially the little-studied political mobilization of these myths in the construction of modern national, regional, and pan-European identities for various communities around the Black Sea. Of special interest is the history of the political project “The Prometheans,” an alliance of representatives from various Black Sea states whose aim was to resist the regional hegemony of the Soviet Union between the two world wars.

In October 2017, Columbia will host a mini-symposium dedicated to this project. A cluster of events in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, part of the EU cultural program “Plovdiv 2019—European Capital of Culture,” will make available the results of this research to a large international audience. Apart from a scholarly symposium and a scholarly publication, we also plan international initiatives around the city of Plovdiv that will celebrate the legacy of Black Sea myths in modern Europe.

Research Team:

  • Leader: Valentina Izmirlieva (Columbia)
  • Edith Hall (Classics, King’s College London)
  • Cleo Protokhristova (Comparative Literature, Plovdiv University, Bulgaria)
  • Tamta Khalvashi (Anthropology, Free University of Tbilisi, Georgia)
  • Marina Kotzamani (Theater, University of Peloponnese, Greece and the Gennadius Library, Athens)
  • Barbara Kowalzig (Classics and History, NYU)

3. Crimea: Meta/History of a Place

The main objective of this project is to combat “Crimnesia,” the tendency to ignore Crimea or relegate it to a marginal role in the history of many different countries and regions. We propose for discussion methodological questions raised by the study of Crimea, many of which also apply to Black Sea studies. How do we choose our historical timeframe and geographical boundaries? How do we work on a site in which traditional dichotomies of empire and nation-state do not apply? The peninsula offers a rich set of competing historical narratives; a metahistorical approach can help us to parse these narratives, isolate invented or politically manipulated elements, and interrogate our own preconceptions based on our areas of scholarly focus.

This project emerged from symposium hosted by the University of Cambridge in April 2017. We are planning a follow-up two-day conference, “Crimea Matters,” Columbia in April 2018, where we will workshop articles based on the papers presented at Cambridge and hear new papers from other colleagues representing additional fields and disciplines that reveal the true interdisciplinary potential of Crimea and Black Sea studies. The goal of this conference is to publish a special issue on Crimea in the journal Southeast European and Black Sea Studies(Routledge).

Research Team:

  • Leaders: Rory Finnin (Director of the Ukrainian Studies Programme, Cambridge) and Valentina Izmirlieva (Columbia)
  • Vsevolod Samokhvalov (Political Science, University of Liège, Belgium)
  • Idil Izmirli (School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University)
  • Sophie Pinkham (Ph.D. candidate in Slavic, Columbia)

4. “Azbuka Arbuza”: Black Sea Languages Database

This project emerged from a research-a-thon we conducted in January 2017 that aimed to create a database that shows when the words for fruits and vegetables entered the various Black Sea languages. This data set will allow us to map the spread of these linguistic units against known Black Sea trade routes, to see whether, as one might expect, fruit names were borrowed as the fruits themselves were bought and sold. The resulting data set will be made available to other scholars to employ in their own research, expand to adjacent regions, or re-imagine in other ways. Our visualizations will be presented on the Black Sea Networks website and contribute to a publication in the forthcoming special issue of the journal Russian Literature dedicated to Digital Humanities in Slavic Studies. The project has been co-sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning and has been using the facilities of Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities.

Research Team:

  • Leader: Bradley Gorski (Slavic, Barnard College)
  • Serhii Tereshchenko (M.A. Slavic, Columbia)
  • Alex Gil (Columbia University Libraries)
  • Nikolas Nyby (CTL, Columbia)


Grants and Collaboration

The initiative is a recipient of Columbia’s Presidential Global Innovation Fund for 2016–2018. It is developed in partnership with Columbia’s Harriman Institute, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Center for Teaching and Learning and Digital Humanities Center, the Bakhmeteff Archive as well as the American Councils for International Education, The Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University, and The Cambridge Ukrainian Studies Programme. Central to the project's conception and ongoing work is close collaboration with Columbia’s Global Centers | Istanbul and Columbia Global Centers | Paris.