Members of the research team attended the two-day seminar on the gulag, “Gulag and Finland – History and Memory” which took place in Helsinki. The first day was consisted of open lectures in the Helsinki public library that were devoted to the experiences of Finnish deportees and prisoners in the Russian gulag. Among the invited guest speakers were Irina Flige from Memorial St Petersburg, Nicolas Werth distinguished gulag scholar from the Sorbonne, Paris and our own Judith Pallot. Judith’s presentation, which was translated into Finnish, discussed the legacies of the gulag in the present day penal system in Russia but cautioning against the overuse of historical parallels
The seminars were followed by film showings that evening and the following day of films about the gulag. The highlight was the showing of the three-hour documentary about the gulag produced by Nicolas Werth, Patrick Rotman and Francois Ayme.
Professor Pallot visited Georgia in order to negotiate access for the project to Georgian penitentiaries and for permission to interview prisoners from a variety of culture, ethnic and linguistic groups. She had very productive discussions with deputy Justice Minster, Mr Gocha Lordkipanidze and other members of the Ministry of Justice concerned with international law and Georgia’s membership of the Council of Europe and with Mr Nika Tskhvarashvili, Deputy Director General of the Special Penitentiary Service and with other members of the SPS sub-departments. During the course of three days of intensive discussion Professor Pallot learned about the current reform of the penitentiary system and especially the effort being directed towards the resocialisation-rehabilitation and vocational training of offenders. She was able in her spare time to reacquaint herself with Tbilisi which she last visited in 1991 as a participant of the Anglo-Georgian Geography seminar in 1993.
The team members of the GULAGECHOES project have been busy working through interdisciplinary bodies of literature on ethnicity, race, prisons, historical perspectives on prison systems and their evolution in North America, Europe, Russia, Eastern and Central Europe. In order to find new ways of approaching this task, Olga Zeveleva attended a workshop “Speed up your literature review with IRIS.AI”, organised by the IRIS.AI team in collaboration with the University of Helsinki Library (16 January, 2020). The software, which University of Helsinki employees can access online using their university emails, automates searches across academic journals and allows researchers to create complex and hierarchical search queries based on their research questions and abstracts. So far, the programme only contains open access databases across all disciplines, but in the future the number of available journals and articles will grow. The programme has helped to expand the collection of papers the team members are building on in their work.
On 13-14 January 2020, the postdoctoral researchers of the GULAGECHOES team attended a workshop organized by Andrey Indukaev at the University of Helsinki, titled “Words and Actions. Political text mining”. The workshop provided an overview of methods social scientists and computer scientists have used to analyse large corpora of text data and images. Questions about how far computational linguistics and AI can take us, and how we can use them in a way that is driven by our research questions, are relevant to discussions among GULAGECHOES team members with regard to the large corpus of Gulag memoirs we are analysing.