Sacvan Bercovitch with Tatiana Venediktova, the seminar
In the span of less than a year, Sacvan Bercovitch spent time
in two countries that he had never visited, Russia and
the Czech Republic, where he deepened his understanding of the
relationship between American literature and American popular
culture. Bercovitch accomplished this through two different Fulbright
Programs: (1) a grant through the core Fulbright Scholar Program
to Moscow in June 2002 and (2) a grant through the Fulbright
Senior Specialists Program to four
cities in the Czech Republic in March 2003. In both countries
Bercovitch gave a series of lectures on "The Myth of America"
covering significant works of American literature, such as The
Scarlet Letter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Great
Bercovitch's first Fulbright grant to Russia proved to be an
eye-opening experience. Far from his position at Harvard, Bercovitch
traveled to Russia to lead a short, two-week course for a summer
program on cultural mythmaking at the University of Moscow. Upon
his arrival, he quickly learned that this experience was not going
to be what he expected. He discovered firsthand how difficult
it was for Russian professors and students to get books and other
supplies when his own requests never showed up or arrived too
late in the seminar to be of any use.
Faculty and students
Bercovitch also did not expect his Russian students to be so
different from their American counterparts. On the one hand, Bercovitch
was "impressed by the enormous diversity of the group,"
which was composed of students from all parts of Russia and covered
a wide range of ages. However, on the other hand, he noted, "the
students did not speak up enough, and it was hard to get their
participation." One of the reasons for this, thought Bercovitch,
pertained to their relation to authority in general and perhaps
pedagogic tradition in particular. Another reason, he assumed,
may have had to do with the current state of Russian universities,
which lack library resources and research opportunities.
Faced with these unexpected problems, Bercovitch had to quickly
adjust his perspective and teaching style. When he came to understand
that the seminar participants wanted information about how to
look at American literature, how to obtain basic materials for
research and teaching, and what was happening in the United States,
the sessions became more meaningful.
Students at the final banquet
Eight months later Bercovitch took part in the Fulbright Senior
Specialists Program, traveling to the Czech Republic. Over a two-week
period he presented several one-time lectures at four universities.
His lectures touched upon many of the same topics as in Russia,
but he found his experience in the Czech Republic to be quite
different from the two weeks he spent in Moscow. According to
Bercovitch, as a result of his grant to Russia, "I was able
to get more from the experience in the Czech Republic because
I had a better sense of what to expect."
Bercovitch's grants to Russia and the Czech Republic gave him
"a different perspective on the American literature tradition
that he was not aware of before. It sharpened his view of
what is distinctive about American literature and culture."
Although Bercovitch and his students came from very different
worlds, he stresses that his Fulbright grants provided "an
intellectually rewarding experience for the people of the seminar
and for himself personally and professionally."
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