Holly Case, 34
Associate Professor of History, Cornell University, 2008-Present
Much of history writing, as I understand it, consists of drawing connections between seemingly unrelated events or phenomena. In that tradition, I will try to explain how growing up in South Dakota prepared me for academia and the study of East-Central European history. As is the case with many East-Central European states and sub-state regions (Slovenia, Slovakia, Slavonia, etc.) not many people are able to differentiate between North and South Dakota. Indeed, I have found that, even shortly after hearing that I am from South Dakota, a new acquaintance will invariably ask me what it was like growing up in North Dakota. To confirm my suspicion that the conflation of the two in the minds of non-Dakotans is complete and indiscriminate, for a time I claimed to be from North Dakota. This control experiment-coupled with the testimonies of North Dakotans I knew-cemented the hypothesis I had drawn from previous encounters: namely that"Dakota" is an undifferentiated, static and monolithic near-void in the global collective consciousness (and perhaps even in reality).
Similarly, it is hardly uncommon for someone (say, a former president of the United States) to confuse Slovenia with Slovakia during a conversation with the prime minister of the former. Despite the resentment that such conflations invariably arouse, there are advantages to being undifferentiated. I met my now-husband thanks to the manner in which the various small Slavic nationalities are commonly conflated. Some years ago I was in my home town of Mitchell, South Dakota (home of the Corn Palace, a Kremlin-like structure the likes of which North Dakota does not-indeed cannot-possess, by virtue of it being the"world's only") when a local professor friend said he'd like me to meet a Slovak student of his, and wasn't it fortunate that I speak Slovak (which I didn't) so that I could communicate with this young man. It turned out, however, that the young man in question was about as Slovak as I am North Dakotan. In fact he was of an entirely different externally undifferentiated Slavic nationality. It turned out we had a lot in common, and shortly became even less differentiated than we had previously been.
By Holly Case
About Holly Case
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