Presented at the 2015 Commencement Ceremony at Franklin & Marshall
Lina Bernstein came to Franklin & Marshall College in the fall of 1991 as the institution’s first full-time professor of Russian in decades. Her appointment was in response to strong and sustained student interest in both the Soviet Union and Russian language and culture. Several months after she arrived on campus, however, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the study of Russian language and culture entered a challenging new phase. Professor Bernstein proved equal to the challenge and steered the Russian program ably through the changing landscape of the academic study of Russian in the United States.
In addition to her language teaching, she developed popular new courses that helped students understand the literary and cultural traditions of 19th-century Russia and the emergence of new cultural and literary paradigms in the 20th century with the establishment of the Soviet Union. A lasting legacy of Professor Bernstein’s work with students is the vibrant Russian and Eastern European Club that she helped establish.
Professor Bernstein’s scholarly work investigates the language of poets, but also that of letters, autobiographies, and literary salons. She has published on famous writers such as Gogol, but also on the intersection between the literary and everyday life writing of figures as diverse as 18th-century Russian merchants and the 20th-century Russian artist Madga Nachman. Her work on the latter, which she continues in her retirement, examines the tumultuous first half of the 20th century through the life of a Russian artist who managed to be present in St. Petersburg for the Russian Revolution, in Berlin for the rise of Hitler, and in Mumbai for the war of independence in India.
Professor Bernstein, who has a degree in comparative literature, also published several studies showing the interconnections between writers of German romanticism and Russian authors. Her departmental colleagues appreciated her interest in and knowledge of German. Professor Bernstein contributed significantly to the program in Comparative Literary Studies, teaching many popular courses in the program, including a course on medicine and literature that drew guest lecturers from across the campus and helped bridge the gap between the natural sciences and the humanities. In 2013, Professor Bernstein organized a major collaborative, interdisciplinary effort to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” bringing together the fields of Russian studies, music, art, history and dance.
One of Professor Bernstein’s scholarly interests, the hostesses of literary salons in 19th-century Russia, most likely inspired her own passion for organizing gatherings at her home. These evenings attracted a variety of people, ranging from colleagues to local patrons of the arts, to present and discuss translations, musical pieces, essays, poetry, and other works of art and criticism.
Those discussions and her myriad contributions to the intellectual and cultural life of the College will be missed, but never forgotten.