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Ewa M. Thompson

Research Professor of Slavic Studies, Rice University

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?

When I was getting my Master’s Degree in English from Ohio University in 1964 (I was a newcomer to the country then), I noticed that neither my colleagues nor my professors knew much about Central and Eastern Europe. So I chose to major in Comparative Literature for my PhD, with Russian as the major language (that was the only choice). I received the PhD in 1967 from Vanderbilt University and went on to teach at several universities before settling at Rice.

How have your interests changed since then?

I taught literature, but I soon realized that literature inevitably directs one toward history, political science, and philosophy. My books and articles dealt mostly with belles-lettres, but already in Understanding Russia: the Holy Fool in Russian Culture (1987) I went in all these other directions. It was then that my interest in epistemology began to take shape, and it was because of the epistemological inconsistencies that I saw in the writings of some literary scholars that I began to look at the problem of colonialism. I realized that colonialism and suppression were practiced by European empires not only in Asia and Africa, but also in Europe. This is why I wrote Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism (2000). The book has since been translated into Chinese, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish and, partly, Russian. The Hungarian translation is in preparation. The resonance that this book has found in Central and Eastern Europe (as well as in the former Soviet Asian republics) indicates that I have been dealing with an important, indeed, a vital topic.

What is your current research project?

I still publish articles on white-on-white colonialism, but I now concentrate on language and epistemology. I am currently writing a text that intends to demonstrate how the radical nominalism of postmodern philosophy has impoverished language, both on the level of scholarship and on the level of journalism. I hope to complete this manuscript next year. I am also engaged in writing a chapter on Sarmatism for the forthcoming History of Polish Literature that will be published by University of Toronto Press.

What do you value about your ASEEES membership?

An opportunity to see what other scholars are doing (their doings neatly packaged in Slavic Review) is priceless. I think that no one in the United States taking serious interest in Central and Eastern Europe can afford to ignore what ASEEES is doing. I like the Newsletter as well, although I wish it made a greater effort to be as comprehensive about non-Russian Slavic studies as it is concerning the Russian (I intend to speak about it at the forthcoming ASEEES meeting in San Antonio).

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

I am an eco-freak. I collect plastic bags and carry them to disposal centers. I put my coffee grounds into the soil in my garden. And I support a huge welfare population of wildlife in my backyard that borders on a creek. I feed them all, including about a hundred birds.