Faculty research · Uncategorized

Article on Arkady Babchenko by WFU Student and Faculty Member Released on Day His “Murder” Declared to be Sting Operation

Last year WFU’s Dr. Clark and WFU Russian major Logan Stinson wrote an article on Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko.

Arkady Babchenko

Arkady Babchenko

Just as the article was going to press, the news was released that Babchenko had been murdered.  Then, the next day, the public was informed that the murder had been a fake as part of an elaborate sting operation to foil an actual assassination plot against Babchenko.  Professor Clark writes below about the article, Babchenko, and his place in Russian society as a “Holy Fool.”

As crazy fate would have it, today was the day that the article I co-wrote with WFU student Logan Stinson, “One Soldier’s War and the New Literary War Hero,” about the memoir by war correspondent and journalist Arkady Babchenko, was scheduled to come out.

Crazy fate because yesterday afternoon a notification popped up on my screen that Babchenko himself had been murdered.  Since Russian journalists get killed on a regular basis, and he himself had fled the country last year following a campaign of harassment and death threats, I was distressed but not surprised to read that he had been shot and killed Tuesday afternoon in Kiev.  I spent Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning talking to disbelieving students who had read his work, which I routinely assign in my classes, and crafting a statement for the article that was about to come out.

But wait!  Just as the issue was about to be published, another notification popped up on my computer screen.  Babchenko was alive!  It was all a sting operation!

To be honest, I am still processing that wild twist.  I’m thrilled that Babchenko was not in fact gunned down in the street.  I’m less thrilled that the police, and he, engaged in an elaborate lie that triggered worldwide outrage and mourning.  Maybe he really was being targeted by an assassination plot–he would hardly be the first–but it’s a little hard to know what to take at face value from the Ukrainian security forces now.  Certainly some of their assertions are a little far-fetched–this was the first in a series of 30 planned murders?  Really?

What I do know is true is that this is classic Babchenko, writ large.  He’s always been a loudmouthed, abrasive trickster with a slippery sense of reality, even as he has dedicated his life to shouting out the truth as he sees it as loudly as possible.  No one can doubt he has the courage of his convictions–but, despite his blunt-spoken exterior, the truths he tells are largely subjective and emotional.  Both facets are much in evidence in his memoir “One Soldier’s War,” which is a classic of contemporary war writing.  Read it, and you will come away with a visceral sense of how it felt to be a Russian soldier in Chechnya–and a very poor sense of what happened when and where.  Which is not to say the book isn’t worth reading–it is–but it is not the factual reporting of Anna Politkovskaya, who, tragically, was gunned down outside of her apartment in truth.

However, Politkovskaya and Babchenko serve two very different roles, despite their surface similarities as war correspondents dedicated to exposing the outrages of the Russian government and Russian military.  Politkovskaya, elegant, erudite, and feminine, was a straight-up martyr, carrying the cross she felt she was destined to carry to the bitter end.  Babchenko, who fulfills everyone’s idea of the crass, bear-like Russian male, is more of a court jester/holy fool, routinely blurting out things that are “irritating, even provocative,” not to mention provoking “shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness,” and even “occasionally being disruptive and challenging to the point of seeming immoral,” as the Wikipedia page puts it.

Russian (and other) society used to believe that having a few holy fools around was necessary to challenge people’s beliefs and speak truth to power in a way no one else could.  Pushkin’s Boris Godunov left the holy fool who accused him of murder to live, because one does not kill holy fools, no matter how irritating they become.

Russian society, and not just Russian society, would do well to remember that.  Every group needs the occasional holy fool to make the rest of us examine our actions and beliefs.  Just not too many.  And please, Arkady, don’t do it again.

Link to “One Soldier’s War and the New Literary War Hero

Department Events · Student Awards · Uncategorized

Congratulations to Our Graduates!


Congratulations to our Graduates!

It’s that exciting time of year when we watch our graduates head out into the world.  We are proud of each and every one of you, and we can’t wait to see what you do next!

This morning’s commencement is just one of the festivities of this celebratory weekend.  We also held smaller parties for the faculty and students’ families to get together and talk.  The department held a party on Sunday afternoon, organized admirably by Ms. Ogletree, and Professor and Mrs. Hamilton, as always, hosted a lovely gathering for the Russian and Linguistics graduates Sunday evening.

Tatiana and David

Russian majors Tatiana Ostwalt and David Burch with Professor Clark.  Tatiana just successfully defended her Honors Thesis, and David has received a Fulbright award to teach in the Czech Republic.


Russian major Bakhit Kourman received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant this weekend!

Have a wonderful day, graduates, and please stay in touch.  We couldn’t be more proud of you!

Faculty research · Uncategorized · Winston-Salem History

WFU’s Dr. McAllister Provides Report for Salem College on Slavery in Moravian Community

Salem College, a liberal arts women’s college in Winston-Salem, NC, commissioned WFU’s Dr. McAllister to investigate the academy’s use of slaves in the early years of its existence.  As a result of the report, Salem College has issued an apology for its use of enslaved labor.  It is one of the first colleges in the country, and the first in the region, to do so.

Salem College 1

Dr. McAllister performed research in the Moravian Archives and other primary sources such as letters and ledgers, focusing on texts written in German in the old script (Kurrent).


Example of Kurrent

Through his research, he was able to confirm that Salem College had owned a small number of slaves, who also attended classes in the academy and sang in the choir.  The ambiguous position of slaves at Salem College and within the Moravian Community is an interesting and important aspect of local history, which Salem College intends to investigate further.  The college has created a website about its history.  The Winston-Salem Journal has published an article about the findings, and Dr. McAllister’s full report can be found here.

Dr. McAllister’s research also highlights the importance of the study of old or obscure languages and texts.  Although Kurrent is no longer in use, Dr. McAllister’s knowledge of it enabled him to perform archival research on a topic that is part of the current critical national conversation about the history of slavery in the US.

Department Events · Uncategorized

Russian Student Initiated into WFU Chapter of National Honor Society

On Tuesday, May 1st, the Epsilon Iota chapter of Dobro Slovo, the National Slavic Honors Society, held its induction ceremony.  David Burch, a Russian major and graduating senior, was inducted into the society.

David with Certificate

David with his certificate

David is also our Russian peer tutor, as well as the president of the WFU Russian Club.  After graduation, he will be heading off to the Czech Republic on a Fulbright Scholarship!  We will be sorry to lose David from our program, but we couldn’t be more proud of him.

It wasn’t all serious, though; in fact, most of the party was super laid back!  We had a lovely cake for Dobro Slovo and the Russian Club

The Cake

Everyone agreed the cake was both festive and delicious

as well as fun conversation

Everyone together

Dr. Shaw and students from his RUS 212 class practice their Russian

Russian Scrabble


Students setting up for a serious game of Russian Scrabble

And a short impromptu concert from Dr. Hamilton!

Billy Playing the Banjo

Dr. Hamilton playing the banjo

Once again, congratulations to David, and best of luck to everyone on their exams!


Department Events · Student Awards · Uncategorized

Honors Society Initiation and Conversation Hour


It’s here!  The last week of the semester is here!  But before we get sucked into the madness of exams, we’ve got some celebrating to do.

Tuesday, May 1, will be the last Chas Peek (Russian conversation hour) at 4pm in Greene 341.  It will also be the initiation ceremony for the WFU chapter of Dobro Slovo, the National Slavic Honors Society.  David Burch, a Russian major and graduating senior, will be initiated into the chapter before he sets off on his next big adventure–teaching English on a Fulbright in the Czech Republic!

We will also be holding a general party/info session for the Russian Club, and generally have a good time eating cake and playing chess and Russian scrabble.  Everyone welcome!

Russian Scrabble


Travel Abroad · Uncategorized

WFU German Student Receives Richter Scholarship

We are delighted to announce that Elizabeth Waid, a student in the German program, has received a Richter Scholarship to study the portrayal of Martin Luther in modern German museums.  Below is a short interview between Elizabeth and Dr. Howards.

Elizabeth Waid Switzerland

Elizabeth enjoying the mountains in Switzerland

Dr. Howards: Could you offer a brief background on what you will be doing for your Richter?

Elizabeth: For my Richter project, I’ll be conducting research on the portrayal of Martin Luther in modern German museums. Martin Luther was essentially the founding father of German nationalism, and his image and what he means to the German people has changed at various points over the last five hundred years. Because this past October marked the 500th anniversary of him posting his 95 Theses, I am curious to learn what image of Martin Luther is projected today. I’ll be visiting and studying museums in Wittenberg and a couple of other towns where Luther lived.

Dr. Howards: When most people envision summertime in Germany, they think of Munich or Berlin.  What inspired you to pick this city and subject matter?

Elizabeth: I’m fascinated by Church history and am currently taking Dr. McAllister’s class on Luther. I want to gain a more accurate and immersed knowledge of Luther’s life and role in the modern German identity, and to do that, I need to visit the towns in which Luther lived and taught: Wittenberg, Erfurt, and Eisenach. Besides the practicality of visiting the towns whose streets Luther actually walked, when I go to foreign countries, I prefer to avoid the tourist hubs and big cities and instead immerse myself in a smaller place where I can get a sense of the authentic culture.

Dr. Howards: What is one thing about your research that you are particularly excited about?

Elizabeth: I am beyond excited to see an original printing of Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament. It will combine three of my favorite nerd-out topics: the Bible, German, and old books.

Dr. Howards: Have you been to a German-speaking country before?  Do you have any favorite memories or experiences?

Elizabeth: I studied at the Goethe Institut in Freiburg, Germany the summer after my freshman year. My favorite memory was spending a weekend in Switzerland. Specifically, going on a solo hiking trip in the Alps at Interlaken was a very rewarding and meaningful experience for me. It was special to be surrounded by the most gorgeous landscape I’ve ever seen, all by myself. With these enormous mountains encircling me and the inner insecurity that I have a lot of German left to learn, I was reminded of how small I am, and this and the whole study abroad experience taught me how to better fend for myself.

Dr. Howards:  Again, it will be summer in Germany!  What is one non-academic thing you are excited about doing there?

Elizabeth: I’m ready to explore the natural landscape of Wittenberg’s surrounding area. One thing I regret not doing on my first visit to Germany was riding an S-Bahn to the end of the line and discovering where it took me.

Dr. Howards: Anything else?

Elizabeth: The timing of my research project works out perfectly for me, as one of my younger brothers will be in France at the time I’m in Germany as part of his French minor at Georgia Tech. I actually fly into Berlin on his birthday, and he’s planning on meeting me there and spending the weekend with me in Wittenberg, which I’m very excited for.

Congratulations once again to Elizabeth on your Richter Scholarship!  It looks like you’ve got a fabulous summer of research and exploration planned.