ASEEES/Orbis Books Prize Winners
The AAASS/Orbis Books Prize for Polish Studies, sponsored by the Orbis Books, Ltd. in London, is presented annually for an outstanding English-language book on any aspect of Polish affairs.
The Kulczycki Prize for the best book in any discipline, on any aspect of Polish affairs goes to Brian Porter-Szűcs for Faith and Fatherland: Catholicism, Modernity, and Poland. Published by Oxford University Press, this fresh and compelling exploration of modern Catholicism in the Polish context effectively historicizes Catholic doctrine, moving past the widely held assumption that the Church took a relatively unchanging approach to social problems. Porter-Szűcs' work lies at the intersection of religion and ethnonational identity, demonstrating the Church's pattern of constantly recontextualizing its doctrine to make itself an arbiter of Polish identity. Faith and Fatherland recalibrates how we think about the fundamental relationship between the Catholic Church and the Polish nation, giving eccleciastical leaders more agency in the modernization of religious institutions to ensure that they maintain their social relevance. Porter-Szűcs' study also brings fresh insight—and some hard hitting analysis—to our understanding of anti-Jewish sentiment among the Polish clergy. Similarly, he draws intriguing connections between Poland's distinctive Marian cult and the gender dynamic in modern Polish society. Overall, the meticulously researched, highly engaging narrative speaks to what Poland has been and what it is becoming. The book is sure to become a classic within Polish studies.
Antony Polonsky for The Jews in Poland and Russia, vol. I, 1350-1881 and vol. II, 1881-1914 (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization).
An honorable mention goes to Bożena Shallcross for The Holocaust Object in Polish and Polish-Jewish Culture (Indiana University Press).
The first two volumes of Antony Polonsky's The Jews in Poland and Russia comprise a truly landmark study of East European Jewish history from the mid-fourteenth century to the outbreak of World War I. This work is an invaluable synthetic exposition of Jewish civilization in Poland and Russia that also pays close attention to the larger historical context in which Jewish history unfolded in these areas. While exhaustive in presenting historical detail and utilizing available sources and data of all types, Polonsky is also masterful in conveying the texture of Jewish life in different regions during each period. His study weaves together numerous aspects of that life -- among others, the relationship of Jewish communities to the states in the region and their governance mechanisms; Jewish religious and political movements; the evolving role of the synagogue in communities; the wide variety of Jewish organizations over time and space; cultural changes, including the development of the mass press, modern literature, and theater; the experiences of Jewish women; and descriptions of the towns and cities in which Jewish history played out.
The contribution of Polonsky's study, however, is not only an impressive synthesis of a vast topic and vast amount of information. In integrating all of this material, the author also deftly crafts his own interpretations of trends in the area and the timing of shifts in them. His marshaling of evidence and his own insights add up to a compelling set of arguments about the course of Jewish history. Polonsky addresses Jewish, Polish, and Russian historical developments all with great nuance, and that depth of understanding allows him to present the complexities of these intertwined histories with a subtlety rarely achieved in projects of such ambitious temporal and spatial scope. This study will become the "go to" reference for scholars of East European Jewish history for a long time to come.
- Clare Cavanagh received the prize for Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (Yale University Press).
- Neal Pease received the prize for Rome's Most Faithful Daughter: The Catholic Church and Independent Poland 1914-1939 (Ohio University Press & Swallow Press).
Clare Cavanagh's Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics is an outstanding scholarly work with a broad critical agenda. An overview of modern East European poetry, specifically Russian and Polish, it is also a comparative study of modern poetry on both the Eastern and Western side of the great political divide, known as "the iron curtain," as well as a polemic with Western postmodern philosophical theories from French structuralism and deconstructivism to American cultural criticism and New Historicism. Cavanagh manages to do justice to all three endeavors, but it is the polemical aspect of her study that is of particular interest. The book provides a new perspective on recent critical discussions of the lyric as politically and socially irrelevant. It offers a welcome "Slavic corrective" to the narrow and myopic approach to the problem by American critics. Cavanagh demonstrates how the practice of personal lyric in totalitarian states such as Poland and Russia, far from being escapist, was a bold political statement and a costly act. She shows how "intensely private" poems were often an expression of values shared by the collectivity, thus performing "a public service." In the context of programmatic collectivism, the personal lyric reverberates with a special singularity, and it was not the odes to Stalin but love poems that carried political weight and sent their authors to gulags or reduced them to silence. By including in her narrative the stories of often tragic fates of poets, Cavanagh makes her critical argument even more poignant. Cavanagh's selection of poets is judicious. Whitman, Yeats, Mayakovski, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Brodsky, Milosz, Herbert, Szymborska, Zagajewski --these are the names that define the 20th-century lyric while they represent an array of different poetic schools, styles, and philosophies. this book is a master work that will richly reward readers from all disciplines.
Neal Pease has written one of the best works on interwar Poland in several decades, in any language, as well as the most serious and thorough work on the Catholic Church in modern Poland. Rome's Most Faithful Daughter tackles one of the most vexing questions of modern Polish history, the relationship between Catholicism and Polish politics. Pease places the triangular relationships among the Church hierarchy in Poland, the government of the fledgling Polish state and the Vatican within an international context and against the background of European politics in the 1920s and 1930s. The presentation of the interwar Church caught between traditional Catholicism and its traditional role as the guardian of Polish national identity on the one hand, and the modern secular culture on the other hand, is illuminating as well as subtle and nuanced. Avoiding sweeping generalizations about Polish Catholicism and Polish politics, Pease succeeds in maintaining a balance along some of the most treacherous canyons of Polish studies. When discussing the anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church in Poland, for example, Pease exposes the frequent duplicity of the Polish episcopate, and also places it in a broad European context, especially in comparison with Nazi racist attitudes in neighboring Germany. He is thus able to indicate how the Church's uneasy relationship with Poland's sizeable Jewish community would lay the groundwork for Poles' destructive ambivalence during the Holocaust and afterward. Rome's Most Faithful Daughter is written with verve and wit, and is based upon thorough archival research. Pease displays a gift for succinct presentation of an era, an event, or a personage, capturing salient characteristics without ignoring its complexities. He captures the Polish sense of mission; the needs and desires of those difficult decades; and most importantly, a sense of what all this has to do with Poland's (and Polish citizens') terrible fate after 1939. It will become essential reading for historians of Poland and of the Church in interwar Europe.
- Tomasz Inglot received the prize for Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919-2004 (Cambridge University Press)
- Roman Koropeckyj received the prize for Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic (Cornell University Press)
Tomasz Inglot’s book Welfare States in East Central Europe, 1919-2004 is a major contribution to our understanding of social policy in the region prior to the communist regimes, under communism, and in the post-communist transition period. A rigorous examination of any one of the eras and types of social policy he covers would have strengthened our understanding of the topic; covering all of them makes this book the major work in the field to date. With its historical and institutional analysis of Polish, Czech and Slovak, and Hungarian cases using the methods and standards of policy analysis in the West, the book also makes a strong contribution to the comparative study of European welfare states. From the vantage point of the Orbis prize, Inglot’s analysis of Polish social policies on its own, let alone in comparative relief, creates new knowledge about very important phenomena in Poland over the course of a century.
The combination of rigor, breadth, and deep research presented in this study is truly impressive. The book integrates analysis of institutions and policy processes in the arena of social policy and relates changes in this policy sphere to more general political and economic developments, including crisis moments that generate a different mode of policymaking. Leaving any of these aspects out would have weakened the author’s analysis – tackling them all was extremely ambitious and produced a compelling and revealing account of social policy and its formation in the region. The author also used his research on social welfare systems to break down the disjunctures implied by the categories of pre-communist, communist, post-communist and to restore historical complexity to blanket notions about the "Eastern bloc" under Soviet domination. He makes a convincing case that all communist regimes were not the same, even in the matter of social policy. While he criticizes some standard social science methods and interpretations, he chooses selectively from among them to develop an unusually nuanced theory. The complexity of this approach allows balanced and sensitive examination of each case while avoiding the trap of reducing explanation to “national characteristics.”
For both its rich content and its sophisticated interpretation, Welfare States in East Central Europe will remain the standard for the field for a long time to come.
A poet so deeply identified with romantic nationalism is not easy to introduce to the English-speaking world. Indeed, scholars in Polish Studies have long known that their students and colleagues are unlikely to be able to appreciate the greatness of Mickiewicz’s art or the significance of his life. That is no longer the case. Roman Koropeckyj’s Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic is not just the first major biography of the great Polish poet in English, though that would be achievement enough. It is truly a monumental feat for any scholar. Koropeckyj’s biography presents one of Polish history’s most remarkable figures as he has never been seen in English. It is a portrait, indeed, which is as valuable as any we have in any language. Koropeckyj draws on a thorough knowledge of Mickiewicz’s life and times, following the poet from Lithuania to Russia to Paris and, finally, to death in Istanbul. With equal dexterity, he shows us the student revolutionary, the celebrated exile, the acclaimed lecturer, the devoted mystic, the fervent journalist, and the military adventurer. He weaves together cogent analyses of Mickiewicz’s greatest works with astute portraits of the women and men in Mickiewicz’s life, and a sober understanding of the ideas both familiar and bizarre that moved the bard. In Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic, Roman Koropeckyj has succeeded in making Adam Mickiewicz accessible and, indeed, necessary to the scholarship of the twenty-first century. Its lucidity, exemplary research, and remarkable even-handedness towards its legend-encrusted subject mark it as a major contribution not just to anglophone scholars of European Romanticism, but to all students of Mickiewicz in whatever language or culture.