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SCAND 152 A: Latvian Literary and Cultural History

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm
SWS B014

Syllabus Description:

Scand 152:  Latvian Literary and Cultural History

Spring Quarter 2018, Meeting Times: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:30-2:20 pm, Social Work/Speech and Hearing Sciences Building B014

Class website: See link in your MyUW Account

Instructor: Aiga Veckalne   
Office: RAI 305W  
Office Hours: Wednesday 13-14 or by appointment, 
Phone: (206) 889-7880

Course Description

This course gives a broad introduction to Latvian culture and history. Folklore, literature, music and film will be studied in its historical context, exploring the relation between people and culture in Latvia. We will pay special attention to works that Latvians have identified as a “Cultural Canon” – key texts, paintings, designs, films and musical compositions for understanding Latvian identity and worldview.  

Course Objectives:

  • Encounter Latvian folklore, art, music, literature, film, architecture and landscapes - explore a "treasure trove" of Latvian culture
  • Develop skills to interpret, critique and perform literature and art
  • Present independent research on Latvian cultural history

Course Structure

Lectures: Short lectures and presentations followed by discussions and analysis will be a major component of this class. Lectures and student’s presentations will consist of the presentations on topics and themes relating to the assigned reading and curriculum. Lectures will occasionally be supplemented by films, music and videos and guest lecturers in areas of particular expertise. 

Requirements: participation in class discussions, reading of all assignment works. You should have the reading completed by the day that it is listed in the syllabus.

Participation: almost the half of the course is based on discussion. You should be prepared to discuss and to analyze the reading assignment and to give your comments on it


(students must pass all four components to pass the course)

  • 25% participation in class discussions
  • 25% two reports (1 page, 3-5 minutes) about Latvian culture; these may expand and deepen discussions of class assignments, or they may explore the world beyond this class syllabus, Sign-up sheet 20180404151223094.pdf
  • 25% quizzes on assigned readings
  • 25% journal on Latvia (incl. peer-to-peer exchange) + 3-5 pages long (double-spaced, size 12 font) take-home essay* (final exam) - to be handed in by May 24th, theme by April 17th

*Final essay can be an art project, media project, animation, even a performance, but make sure you discuss it with me beforehand, also be ready to present it in the class and please add 1 page of the description of the idea behind and connection with Latvian Culture course. (Only at projects will be presented and only they should have 1 page explanation.)

Required Readings

  • Selected works of literature, music and film, as posted on class website
  • Andrejs Pumpurs, Bearslayer, translated by Arthur Cropley (2005)

Lecture Schedule

Follow the “Assignments” on the course website for links to online readings and course updates. 

Week 1 (March 27, 29): Why study Latvia? Reading Latvia’s Landscape, Discovering Latvians in the Countryside

Tue: Course Introduction, An insider’s point of view: Cultural references

  • Riga, capital of Latvia; Old Riga (poem by Vizma Belševica)
  • National Library of Latvia; Fortress of Light (poem by Auseklis)

Thu: Folklore in the landscape. Guest lecture by prof. Guntis Šmidchens

Guntis Šmidchens has research interests in Baltic Studies; Baltic Languages and Cultures; Folklore; Russian Folklore; Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian languages and literatures.  He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Slavic, Executive Board member at the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, and past President of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS).

Author of The Power of Song: Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution (UW Press 2013).

  • Read before class: Poetics of Latvian folksongs
  • Film (in class), Ruch and Norie
  • Latvian folksongs (dainas) and the singers in “Suiti”

Take-home journal: Latvian geography, landscape, people keywords

Week 2 (April 3, 5): Deeper in the History

Tue:  Guest lectures by Latvian poet Kārlis Vērdiņš. Nazi War Propaganda in Occupied Latvia

Kārlis Vērdiņš is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis and a researcher at the Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia. He has published four collections of poems and two books for children. He translates poetry mostly from English and Russian.


  • Guest lecture by Latvian historian Aldis Purs. Latvian History in a Nutshell

Aldis Purs is Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington. He has published widely on the Baltic region including The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (co-authored with Artis Pabriks et al., 2002).

  • Discovering Livs in Latvia. Liv songs and stories, from past to future

Film (in class), Livonian Stories (1991) Livonian Stories (1991)

Tulli lum – Eijõ Tulli lum - Eijõ

Take-home journal: Latvian history, Livonian stories

N.B.! Wed, Apr 4th lecture '100 Years of Latvian Poetry: Modernity and Latvian Poetry' by Kārlis Vērdiņš: 7 pm Allen Auditorium

Week 3 (April 10, 12): Traditional Stories, Past and Present

Tue: Mythological motifs; A few more folktales, legends and songs


Take-home journal: small state reflections, Lāčplēsis - characters & descriptions 


Thu:  Library Tour by Michael Biggins: we'll meet in Suzzallo Library, room 102A at 12:30. 

Michael Biggins is the UW’s Slavic, Baltic and East European studies librarian, and is tasked with supporting the information needs of faculty and students in the REECAS program.  He teaches courses in Slovene language and literature, is a widely published translator of Slovene literature into English, and writes on topics in Slovene literary history and criticism. M. Biggins is also a Honorary Consul of the Republic of Slovenia in Washington.

  • Continue reading Bearslayer

Take-home journal: 1) UW’s Baltic library assignment; 2) 2 recipies of Latvian food (one that you like and would like to cook, another – no way, never)

Week 4 (April 17, 19): Power of Latvian Music

Tue: Guest lectures:

Sarah Pizzichemi. Composer Pēteris Vasks. 

Sarah Pizzichemi: Doctorate of Musical Arts, Chamber Music Performance, 2015, violinist in the Skyros Quartet.

- Elisabeth Cherland. Composer Laura Jēkabsone and Latvian Choral Music

Elisabeth Cherland is a conductor, singer, song leader, violinist, music educator, and Lutheran church musician originally from Saskatchewan, Canada. Elisabeth’s research interests include feminist scholarship, hymnody, song leading, and narrative inquiry. 


1. Guest lecture by Heather MacLaughlin-GarbesLatvian Song and Dance Festival Traditions

Heather MacLaughlin Garbes received her PhD of Musical Arts degree at the University of Washington. While at UW, she helped to develop and maintain the UW Baltic Choral Library, the first collection of its kind in the United States. She has recently published her work in the chapter “Baltic Languages: Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian” in the book The Use of the International Phonetic Alphabet in the Choral Rehearsal (Scarecrow Press), a collaborative effort with Dr. Duane Karna and Andrew Schmidt. She is the conductor of the Mägi Ensemble, a professional women’s vocal ensemble that performs and records music from the Baltic regions as well as the conductor of the Seattle Finnish Choral Society.

2. Latvian Pop- and Rock- Music

  • Continue reading Bearslayer: National mission, national warrior hero for Latvia
  • Bearslayer (Lāčplēsis) from folktale to epic.
  • Read before class: Bearslayer, 42-160

Take-home journal: Latvian music - 1) composer reflections and 2) Youtube playlist SCAND152

Week 5 (April 24, 26) Introducing Latvian heroines

Tue: Women and revolution. Guest lecture by Michael Faucette. Latvian Poet Aspazija

  • Read before class: Aspazija, The Silver Veil, (excerpts)
  • Read before class: Māra Zālīte, Laimdota’s song

Michael Faucette has is professor in the Department of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in Seattle Central College. He has a PhD from University of Washington, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Thu: Mythical Women

  • Read before class: Kārlis Skalbe, My Voyage to the North Maiden (excerpt)
  • Read before class: Rainis, Fire and Night (excerpts)

Guest lecture by Laura ČaupeleDramatic reading and analyse of Silver Veil.

Laura Čaupele is Latvian theatre director, actress and public speaking coach.

Take-home journal:

1) Women in Literature. Compare Aspazija to your favorite American (or any other) poet or writer. What is different, what is similar? What is country-specific (nature, symbols) or era specific and affects the literary work? What is universal? (~1 page)

2) Director's Treatment: write how you would stage the play (Silver Veil): what time (era) and why? Where and why there? What would be genre of it and why?  Introducing the characters, who are they, how they look and why? Who is performing and why?

Week 6 (May 1, 3) Traditional Latvia and Latvian Language

Tue: Guest lecture by Liina-Ly Roos. Latvian Cinema in a Nutshell

Liina-Ly Roos is a Ph.D. candidate in Scandinavian Studies. She has received the Alvord Fellowship  (2017-2018) in the Humanities for her teaching and her research in Estonian literature and film, Baltic cinema, and Nordic cinema and culture. 

Film 'Child of Man'

  • Read before class: Jānis Klīdzējs, “The Important Letters” (excerpt from Child of Man)


  • "Baltā galdauta svētki" - celebrating May 4th
  • Latvian Language – one the Oldest Languages in the World
  • A child’s-eye view of tradition
  • Read before class: Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš, “Herring” and “Boy in the Bathhouse” (excerpts from The White Book)
  • Read before class: Vizma Belševica, “Bille” (excerpt)
  • Midsummer in Latvia. Film (in class), Midsummer Madness: Midsummer Madness EN (2008) -

Week 7 (May 8, 10): Modernizing Latvia

Tue: Expanding horizons

Thu: Globalizing country, multiethnic country

Take-home journal assignment: A. Čaks poetry assignment.

Week 8 (May 15, 17): Wars and Trauma, Past and Present

Tue: World War II in Latvia and its Devastating Effect on Nation

  • Read before class: Andrejs Eglītis/Lūcija Garūta, God, thy earth is aflame
  • Read before class: Aina Roze, a child’s memoir
  • Read before class: Knuts Skujenieks, TBA
  • Pēteris Vasks, Musica Dolorosa Vasks, Musica Dolorosa, Kremerata Baltica


1. Guest lecture by Richard Wiest. Other Voices, Other Rooms — International Broadcasting and Emigre Organizations In Post-war Latvian History

Richard (Dick) Wiest studied History and German as an undergrad and holds an MA in European History and a BA in Applied Linguistics from the UW. The larger part of his 32-year European career was spent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Munich and Prague, helping soft power undermine communism.  Before that, he and his Latvian-American wife spent four straight years as Fulbright scholars and lecturers in Eastern Europe when communism was alive and some thought even moderately well: Romania 1975-77 and Poland 1977-79.

2. Life of refugees. Guest lecture (discussion) by Inta Wiest and Vaira Christopher

Take-home journal assignment 1: find and describe 1 activity/event/campaign/product of Latvian Centennial celebration. You might want to start your research here:

Take-home journal assignment: 
1. What national values and culture elements you would like to preserve and pass to next generations if you would have to leave the country because if the opression, occupation or totalitarian regime.

TEAM work: Imagine yourself to be a journalist in the newly starting Latvian Broadcast Service in September 1975. The chief editor tells you that she/he wants to launch a series on ‘Recapturing our Lost History’ with a gripping program to undo Soviet lies and distortions. Give an outline of the topic you would choose and prepare the broadcast.

Week 9 (May 22, 24): Soviet Life

Tue: Soviet culture, unofficial culture

  • Read before class: Ojārs Vācietis, “The Little Bird must be caught”
  • Film (in class) Rolands Kalniņš, Four White Shirts

Thu: Young people rocking national identity, 1981-1986

  • Film (in class) Juris Podnieks, Is it Easy to be young (excerpt)
  • Songs by the rock group, Pērkons
  • Džemma Skulme "Tautasdziesma" (Folk Song), 1969
  • Attēlu rezultāti vaicājumam “džemmas skulmes “tautas dziesma””

Take-home journal assignment: What are three most important things that you’ve learned about Latvia, Latvian history, Latvian literature and culture, and why do you think they are important.

Week 10 (May 29, 31): Break on Through to Liberty


1. Young people rocking national identity. Guest lecture by Egle Žuraiskaite

2. Singing national identity, 1873-2014. Guest lecture by prof. Guntis Šmidchens

  • Read before class: National anthem, God Bless Latvia
  • Unofficial anthems, Fortress of Light and Oh Wind in 1985 Link to YouTube
  • Film (excerpts in class), Juris Podnieks, Baltic Requiem (1991)
  • Knuts Skujenieks / Imants Kalniņš, “Prayer” Dziesmu svētki - Lūgšana
  • Watch before class: How we played the revolution 
  • Skyforger, selected songs
  • Baltic Way

Take-home journal: the Baltic is awaking up!

Final exam: essay

No class on May 31st (AABS conference)


Exam Week (June 5): Latvian landscapes, revisited

Tue: Final Exam (Essay, Journal, Art Projects)


Further Reading:


  1. Plakans Andrejs. The Latvians (A Short History). Hoovers Institutional Press, Stanford, California. 1995.
  2. David I. Smith, Artis Pabriks, Aldis Purs, Thomas Lane. The Baltic States. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
  3. Bleiere D., Butulis I., Feldmanis I., Stranga A., Zunda A. History of Latvia: the 20th Century. 2006.
  4. Skapars J. The Baltic: Way to Freedom. 2005.
  5. Germanis U. The Latvian Saga. 2007.
  6. Aldis Purs. Baltic Facades: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 1945. 2012 

Folklore and Traditions:

  1. Astrida B. Stahnke. Latvian Folk Tales. Zvaigzne ABC, Riga. 1998.
  2. Saulcerite Viese. Krigjanis Barons: The Man and His Work. Raduga Publishers. 1985
  3. Latvian Sun Song Melodies. Selected and commented by V. Vile-Freiberga. Karogs, Riga. 2005.
  4. Grīns, M. Grīna. Latviešu gads, gadskārta un godi. (Summary in English). Everest, Riga. 1992.


  1. Andrups, V. Kalve. Latvian Literature. The Golden Appletree, Stockholm. 1954.
  2. Latvian Literature. Edited by Aleksis Rubulis. Daugavas Vanags Publishers, Toronto. 1964.
  3. Bear's Ears, an Anthology of Latvian Literature. Compiled and edited by I. Zauberga, A. Veisbergs, A. Chesterman, Riga, University of Latvia. 2003.
  4. Latvian Literature. Isue No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Edited by P. Bankovskis. Latvian Literature Centre.
  5. Ekmanis R. Latvian Literature under the Soviets: 1940-1975. Nordland Publishing Company, Belmont, Massachusetts. 1978.
  6. Juris Rozitis. Displaced Literature. Images of Time and Space in Latvian Novels Depicting the First Years of the Latvian Postwar Exile. Stockholm University. 2005.
  7. Bearslayer: the Latvian legend. Translated by Arthur Cropley, 2007,
  8. The Religious Philosophy of Janis Rainis, by Arvids Ziedonis. Latvju grāmata, Waverly, Iowa, USA. 1968.
  9. The Golden Steed. Seven Baltic Plays, edited by Alfreds Straumanis. Wavelands Press, Inc. Illinois. 1979.
  10. Fire and Night. Five Baltic Plays, edited by Alfreds Straumanis. Wavelands Press, Inc. Illinois. 1986.
  11. Ragana. The Silver Veil, interpretation by Astrida B. Stahnke. Pils. 2003
  12. Astrida B. Stahnke. Aspazija: Her Life and Her Drama. University Press of America. Lanham, New York, London. 1984.
  13. Ziedonis A. A study of Rudolfs Blaumanis. 1979,
  14. A Century of Latvian Poetry. An Anthology compiled and translated by W.K, Matthews. John Calder Publishers, London. 1957
  15. Let Us Get Acquainted. Nine Soviet Latvian Poets. Zvaigzne, Riga. 1973.
  16. Flowers of Ice. Imants Ziedonis. Translated by Barry Callaghan. Exile Editions, Toronto. 1987.
  17. Ezera. The Swing. Raduga Publishers, Moscow. 1984.
  18. World Literature Today. Quarterly Magazine of the University of Oklahoma. Volume 72, Number 2, Spring 1998,
  19. In the Name of Freedom. President of Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. A Biography by Ausma Cimdiņa Jumava, Riga. 2003.

Photo albums and Encyclopedias:

  1. The Story of Riga. Andris Kolbergs. Jaffa seta Publishers, Riga. 1998.
  2. Riga in Images. Zvaigzne ABC, Riga.
  3. Lielā Latvijas Enciklopēdija. Zvaigzne ABC, 2005,
  4. Maija Tabaka. Solo exhibition in the State Museum of Art. 2005.
Catalog Description: 
Survey of Latvian literary and cultural history from the nineteenth century to the present. Authors include Pumpurs, Rainis, Aspazija, Blaumanis, Nesaule, Bels, and Zalite.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:20pm