Black Sea Networks at Columbia University
About the Black Sea Networks Initiative
The Black Sea has linked the cultures and economies of Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East for millennia. Today, the Black Sea region is the site of political and ecologic crises with global repercussions. But the region’s countries, with their diverse languages, religions, cultures, and political systems, are too often viewed in isolation, without a clear understanding of their profound interconnections. To successfully meet global challenges, we must learn to work with religious, cultural, and linguistic diversity, and understand the complex local contexts in which ordinary people lead their lives.
Black Sea Networks is an international teaching and learning initiative at Columbia University that connects regions, disciplines, and institutions, creating educational and research programs that target the diversity of cultural practices in a highly strategic zone. Building upon existing initiatives, including the Columbia-Boğaziçi Summer Program in Balkan Transcultural Studies, which was developed in partnership with Global Centers | Turkey, Black Sea Networks reconceptualizes existing programs within a larger Black Sea framework. Based in Columbia’s Slavic Department, the initiative will foster new bonds among Slavic Studies, Hellenic Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and East Asian Studies, creating opportunities to establish innovative interdisciplinary programs of study, such as Black Sea Studies and Environmental Science, or Black Sea Studies and Economics.
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.
A yearlong Black Sea Event Series, co-hosted by Columbia and Yale, fostering creative exchange among the project’s team and advisory board, scholars at Columbia across divisions, and outside experts, artists, and activists.
An interdisciplinary symposium on Crimea at Cambridge University on April 21, 2017, co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Studies Endowment Fund.
A two-day conference at Columbia in September 2017, generating a special issue of the journal Southeast European and Black Sea Studies.
A team-taught Global Core course, “Black Sea Cultural Capitals,” under the umbrella of the new Humanities project “Cities of Knowledge: Reading the Global Metropolis.” The course will include seven modules: six focused on a single city (Istanbul, Plovdiv, Belgrade, Constanţa, Odessa, and Tbilisi), and one on the Crimean peninsula. The course will use technologies currently employed exclusively for language acquisition through the Mellon-sponsored Columbia-Cornell-Yale shared course initiative, and create an open-access digital library for Black Sea Studies that will support a future multi-media publication.
A summit at Columbia Global Centers | Paris that will present initiative results to partners in the Black Sea region and to representatives of Global Centers with potential stakes in the project (Istanbul, Paris, Amman, Beijing), and open lines for further collaboration and broader adoption of the Black Sea model.
Learn more about the Black Sea Networks by visiting its website: http://blackseanetworks.org/