More than 100 specialists in the history, language, literature, and culture of the Slavic regions of Russia and Eastern Europe will convene at the Hotel Roanoke March 18-20, 2004 for the 42nd Annual Southern Conference on Slavic Studies Conference. Librarian of Congress and Russian historian James Billington will be the keynote speaker.

The conference is a forum for specialists from the southern region of the United States to present their current research on the history, literature, economics and political culture of Russia and Eastern Europe. These presentations encourage a productive exchange among scholars about their research and findings.

"The Slavic speaking world is one of the most important areas of the planet because of its resources and politics. Americans should be interested in gaining an understanding of this region's people, history and culture," said Amy Nelson, associate professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.

James Billington, of Washington, D.C., is a well-noted Russian historian. He has been instrumental in establishing mutual scholarly and political relationships with the countries of the former Soviet Union. Billington directed the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from 1973-1987, where he founded the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies.

He became Librarian of Congress in September 1987. During his tenure there, Billington has actively promoted the National Digital Library program, which includes 7.5 million digitized items in the American Memory project, and a collaborative program with the Russian National Library, Meeting of the Frontiers. He is also the founder of the Open World Program, which has brought more than 6,000 young Russian leaders to America in an attempt to show them first hand how American civil society works. Billington's well-known contributions to the field of Russian history and cultural studies include the books "Russia Transformed. Breakthrough to Hope, August 1991" (1992) and "The Face of Russia"(1998). At the conference he will discuss his forthcoming book on Russian national identity titled, "Russia In Search of Itself."

"We are delighted and honored to have such a renowned scholar speak at our conference," Nelson said. During the afternoon of Friday, March 19, a special plenary session will honor Billington's contributions to the field of Russian cultural studies with comments by Richard Stites, professor of history at Georgetown University, Tony Anemone, associate professor of modern languages at the College of William and Mary, and Natalie Kononenko, associate professor of Slavic languages and literature at the University of Virginia.

Professors from the history and foreign languages and literatures departments are locally organizing the conference. The Office of the University Provost and the University Libraries provided the funding for Billington to speak at the conference. The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the Department of History and the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures have provided additional support for the conference.

The Southern Conference on Slavic Studies (SCSS) is the oldest American organization dedicated to the study of Slavic regions of Russia and Eastern Europe. With more than 450 members, the SCSS is the largest affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

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