Faculty research · Student Awards · Travel Abroad · Uncategorized

WFU German & Russian Students Receive Fellowships and Internships to Travel the World


The town of Imst, Austria, where Elizabeth Waid (WFU19) will be teaching English as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant

Spring is usually an exciting place on college campuses, as students learn of summer fellowships, internships, and post-graduate opportunities.  For our department, even more so: we have had a record-breaking yield on student honors, awards, and fellowships.  Take a look at the following updates we have received to date:

Our department always has a number of successful Fulbright applicants each year.  These students usually go on to spend a year in Germany, Austria, or, recently, the Czech Republic, to teach English to high school students.  This year, 25% of the WFU students selected as Fulbright semi-finalists were from the German and Russian Department!  From that list, the following were selected as recipients or alternates:
Jessica Wu (Mathematical Economics & German Major, 2019) has received a Fulbright Teaching Assistant award to spend next year teaching English at a German high school;
Elizabeth Waid (Economics & German Major, 2019) has been named an alternate for a German Fulbright Teaching Assistantship, and has also been awarded the parallel award to teach English next year in Austria;
Emily Beeland (Sociology & German Studies Major, 2019) has been named an alternate for Austrian Teaching Assistantship.  And hold onto your hats: she has also been offered a job at Walt Disney World, starting this June!
In addition to those exciting year-long stays, FOUR of our students have been offered a WFU Richter Grant, which funds summer travel and research abroad.  These are competitive awards, so having four people from our department – let along from a department of our small size – is outstanding.  Take a look at their fascinating proposed projects:
Riley Phillips (Studio Art & German Major) will be based in Berlin, researching the intersections between German internationalism and the world of high fashion;
Cameron Allen (Politics & International Affairs) will be pursuing her project “An Exploration of Modern Afro-German Activism”;
Sunny Calhoun (Women & Gender Studies) will be researching a project titled “German Queer Public Histories”;
Andy Weicheng Jiang (Mathematical Economics Major & Russian Minor) will be travelling to Koenigsberg and Gdansk, where he will explore the shifting cultural identities of these places after the Second World War.
Our students are very lucky to have Dr. Heiko Wiggers as a mentor for all things related to internships. This year, after a competitive application process, including rigorous rounds interviews, two students have been offered paid internships in Germany:
Nick Mazzella (German & Finance Major, 2020) will be with Ernst & Young in Frankfurt;
Will McKay (German & Business Major, 2020) will be returning to Kieselbronn to work with Elvation a medical device company.  They liked him so much last summer that they hired him again!
In our batch of last year’s graduates, Kimberly Annas (2018) has been accepted into the Ph.D. program for Germanic Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis, starting this fall.

And the good news doesn’t stop with the students!  Associate Professor Grant McAllister was recently named the Levison Faculty Fellow.  This is one of a very small number of faculty fellowships awarded each year to the most outstanding teacher-scholars at WFU.  Competition for this honor is extremely rigorous, so a huge congratulations to Dr. McAllister!

Congratulations, everyone!  The joy we get from teaching you is beyond measure.  May your adventures be equally thrilling!
And students: if you have exciting news to share about your plans for next year, let us know so that we can brag about you, too!
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

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.

Faculty research · Uncategorized · Winston-Salem History

German and Russian Faculty Accomplishments

Well, sometimes you just can’t help but brag!  WFU German and Russian faculty have recently had some big accomplishments, so obviously  we had to share here.

Last week our very own Alyssa Howards was given an Excellence in Advising Award at Founders’ Day Convocation!  You can read more about it here.

Alyssa receiving award

And Heiko Wiggers was recently featured with a Teacher-Scholar Portrait for his work directing academic internships in which students translated documents from Old Salem.

Teacher-Scholar Portraits

You can find out more about the kind of documents they translated in the full write-up here.

Stay tuned for more exciting news about our faculty and students, and for updates on upcoming events!

Department Events · Faculty research · Uncategorized

ACTFL in Nashville

Earlier this month Dr. Wiggers and Dr. Howards presented in the annual ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) conference in Nashville, TN.  The WFU crew found it to be a very rewarding experience, and share their thoughts below.


Dr. Wiggers says:

Business German and German for STEM

On Saturday, Nov. 18, I presented a joint paper at the Annual ACTFL Convention (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) in Nashville, TN.  My three colleagues are from Georgetown University, George Washington University and the University of Rhode Island, and we are all members of the ACTFL’s GPP committee (German for Professional Purposes).

We had a 60 minutes session and presented the results of a survey that we started last year.  In this survey we had contacted over 500 academic institutions (Middle Schools, High Schools, Universities) in the United States to see whether they offered Business German or German for STEM to their students.  We received a total of 417 responses, and we had spent most of this year to evaluate the data. It was a really interesting presentation, and it also consisted the first survey on Business German and German for STEM of this magnitude since the early 2000s.

We left ca. 25 minutes for questions, and all in all our talk was very well received.  We might continue with our evaluation and eventually write a joint article.

The size of the annual ACTFL conference always amazes me. This year, there were ca.7.000 attendees, which makes it the largest one of its kind in the United States.  It was held at Nashville’s Music City Center (see picture), and wherever I went at this conference I heard all kinds of foreign languages, such as Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Korean, Arabic, Italian, etc. In addition, there is always an exhibition hall which houses stands from publishers, embassies, potential employers interested in foreign languages, and many more.

Unfortunately, it was raining all day on Saturday, and I didn’t get to see much of this really interesting city.  But nonetheless, it was a very interesting and productive trip!

Nashville Music Center Music City Center, Nashville, TN

Dr. Howards reports:

One Piece at a Time

Last weekend, Dr. Wiggers and I both ventured to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee.  I have included my obligatory Johnny Cash museum picture to prove I was there.
Shameless confession: it was my first time in Nashville, and my umpteenth time at ACTFL, a gold mine of teaching ideas and mini-reunions with colleagues that I don’t get to see more than once a year, and what was my favorite part?  HANDS DOWN being holed up in my hotel room Saturday night, ignoring the tornado sirens and watching WFU beat NC State! Go Deacs!
A close second, however, was the reminder at ACTFL that our department is doing something right: among the dozens of panels offering various new teaching ideas, the conference unfailingly offers panels on more than one variation of “How to boost German enrollments.”  Enrollment issues in lesser-taught languages are always on our collective minds, and with a general national trend of declining enrollments, we dearly value every one of our majors and minors.  This year was no exception, and as Dr. Wiggers and I sat in on one particular session that rattled off its list of what good programs do, it was nice to see that most of the items on the list sounded a lot like what we already do: good teachers who love interacting with their students, study abroad opportunities and funding, internship possibilities, a capstone language exam, course offerings in English that include students from the general university population, etc. etc.  I’m not claiming that we have the secret sauce, but all of these little pieces, one at at time, make our work here fun, and help us turn out some really great students.
The next stop is New Orleans for ACTFL 2018!
Johnny Cash Museum

And a reminder that Dr. Wiggers will be giving a joint presentation on smaller, regional, and non-Western languages on Wikipedia and Twitter Friday, December 1st, at 3:30 pm in Greene 341!


Faculty research · Uncategorized

Professor Hamilton Goes to Harvard

Our very own Professor Hamilton has been giving guest lectures on Russian linguistics at Harvard.  Here’s his story about his latest trip.  Leave your answers to his questions in the comments section!


The hallowed halls of Harvard

 Dr. Clark has encouraged me to make a report on my second trip up to Harvard, which Mrs. H. and I accomplished during Fall Break.  It was more fun than the first time.
    We spent the night in a super hotel in the shadows of MIT, which is two subway stops from Harvard.  Harvard is farther out from Boston than MIT, and a whole lot more like Wake Forest in its architecture and attitude.  MIT is just a bunch of huge glass buildings, far as I can tell.
Molecular Biology lab, MIT, Cambridge, MA

The gleaming glass walls of MIT

    So what was Harvard like this year?  The class consisted of eight graduate students, all of whom are working on their graduate degrees in Russian and will probably go on to become Russian teachers.  That’s the main reason why they are required to take a course that uses my little book, the one you use if you take RUS 330 Structure of Russian, here, from me.
Intro to Ph and Structure

Professor Hamilton’s book

  Somewhat to my surprise, I learned than none of these students is going to go on to do anything in what we would call Slavic Linguistics, the subject my own degree is in.  There may be some schools left that can grant a PhD in that exact discipline, but Harvard doesn’t have it.  They do have degrees in literature, and so literature is surviving, while linguistics, of the old fashioned kind, is fading away.  To put it as Dr. Clancy, their professor said, it’s sad that the “birthplace of Slavic linguistics” no longer offers a degree with that name.
  So what did I try to teach this group?  Chapter 10 of my book.  It’s about “borrowed words in Russian.”  Interesting?  Sure.  I started by asking “OK, can you think of a word in Russian that starts with the letter э but is NOT borrowed?  Don’t give me things like электричество or экран, those are borrowed.”
  Right away somebody said “Этот, эта, это…”  I said “Naw, that’s not a word.”  The word is тот, та, то, with the “grunt morpheme” э plastered in front of it!  You make a grunting noise when you are pointing at something and go ээээ-тот!.  Same thing for этакая, etc.”
  I think they started to agree.  Then I told them that the history of the spelling letter э is relatively recent.  From old texts I’ve concluded it didn’t get written down until around the time of Peter the Great.  Before that, they all just used сей, ся. сё as in сегодня or сейчас, and our good friend это must have been substandard, like today’s “Gimme that there pencil.”
  How did I get connected with Harvard?  Sarah van Sickle.  She took Russian here along with political science.  She got interested in Ukraine and went there twice.  So she applied to Harvard, since Harvard has always had a strong program in Ukrainian studies.
 When she had me fill out the Harvard application’s recommendation form, it asked “What leadership has this student shown?”
 Usually we professors can only answer “She was the president of the Russian Club and the vice president of the Frisbee Club.” or something along those lines.
  In Sarah’s case I wrote: “She forced six of us faculty to come together in ZSR library and have a symposium on developments in Ukraine.  We wouldn’t have done that without her forcing us.”
 I do remember enjoying that symposium, since, at it,we wound up talking about the difference between “На Украине” and “В Украине”.  That’s good linguistics.  Can you tell me which phrase a Russian would use, and which one a Ukrainian nationalist now typically uses?  Can you tell me what logic underlies this dichotomy?
 If you can send me your answers, Dr. Clark will feed them to me, since I’m not very good at blogging.  [As a linguist, why don’t I like the word “blog”?  It’s not because I’m against abbreviations].