SCAND 590 A: Special Topics in Scandinavian Literature

Winter 2024
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm / SMI 307
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
SCAND 454 A , HSTEU 454 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Pdf copy of the syllabus, including an at-a-glance calendar of meeting topics & reading assignments.

This year, Baltic History will explore connections between individual lives and broader historical events.

Our core readings will be:

  • One standard textbook survey of the past 1,000 years on the territory of today's Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania;
  • and three life stories, each of which interweaves with many more lives, including ours. 

Most English-language histories of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania follow a structure of "which king ruled the territory" - organized into a series of imperial colonizers based in Rome, Stockholm, Warsaw, St. Petersburg, Berlin, or Moscow, with a few short interludes where the indigenous populations ruled their own territories. This course attempts to transfer agency to those colonized or post-colonial peoples - Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, and, more concretely to individual persons among them. Will I/we succeed?  Maybe, and maybe not: Imperialist frames have left a heavy imprint on how we imagine this region's history.


  • Reading (about 150-200 pages per week) and in-class discussion;
  • Short weekly response essays* (about 100 words) in online discussions;
  • Three short (about 1000 words) response essays*, drafted, peer-reviewed, revised & resubmitted at the end of the quarter.
  • One long essay* (2000+ words) that integrates an individual life or lives into the history of people in the Baltic region. Drafted, peer-reviewed, revised and resubmitted at the end of the quarter.

Note: the word "essay" in this class can definitely be a traditional written essay; students are also free to experiment with other expressive forms, for example, video essays or exhibits (=images + captions), as long as they follow methods of history research: they must (1) engage primary and secondary sources, and (2) apply methods of "source criticism."  Word counts listed above may vary depending on the topic discussed, and how it is presented.


  • 25% in-person "quizzes"
  • 25% contributions to weekly online discussions
  • 30% Three short assigned response essays (see above note on possible "essay" formats).
  • 20% Final essay: Drafted, peer reviewed and revised.

Reading list:

Textbook / timeline of Baltic history

  • A.Plakans (2011) Concise History Of The Baltic States. Cambridge University Press.  (buy this book at UW Bookstore)

Life stories

  • Life of Modris Eksteins (born 1943) and his known ancestors...
    • M.Eksteins (1999) Walking since daybreak : a story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the heart of our century. Houghton Mifflin .  (buy this book at UW Bookstore)
  • Life of  Julija Beniuševičiūtė-Žymantienė (1845-1921) and her husband...
    • V.Kelertas, ed. and transl. (2020) Zemaite: Marriage for love : a 19th century Lithuanian woman's fight for justice. Birchwood Press. (buy this book at UW Bookstore)
  • Life of Johann Köler (1826-1899)
    • Ljubov Kisseljova. "The Autobiographical Story of Artist Johann Köler"; and J.Köler "Биография профессора г. Келера. Публикация и комментарии Л. Киселевой." Edited by Ljubov Kisseljova. In Pild, L., ed. (2012). Jaan Kross and Russian culture. Pages 174-227. University of Tartu Press. [online e-book in UW Libraries Catalog] [use machine translator to read this!]
  • Other lives, shorter readings: Tadeusz Kościuszko, Garlieb Merkel, Emily Plater, Lydia Koidula, Elza PliekšāneVytautas Landsbergis, and many more, including four key agents of the Singing Revolution (1988-1991) whose life stories were recorded by our instructor

Case studies

  • G.Šmidchens (2014) The Power of Song: Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution. U Washington Press. Selected chapters.  [e-book in UW Libraries Catalog]       
  • Vladas Sirutavicius, D. S. / V. S. (2011). A Pragmatic Alliance: Jewish-Lithuanian political cooperation at the beginning of the 20th century. Central European University Press. [e-book in UW Libraries Catalog]
  • Other article-length case studies to be added in the Syllabus final version by January 3, 2024.

Note: Although most of our reading assignments will be in English-language sources, non-English languages will not be a barrier. We will carefully explore uses of machine translators to read stuff that no American-English-only speaker has ever read before!


Religious Accommodations: 

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form ( to an external site.)

Last updated:
July 12, 2024 - 5:09 pm