Association for Women in Slavic Studies Prizes 2016

By Choi Chatterjee, President of AWSS

The Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS) is pleased to announced the following 2016 award and prize winners. They will be recognized at the AWSS reception during the ASEEES Convention in Washington, D.C. For more information on becoming a member, see the AWSS membership page.

The Association for Women in Slavic Studies is pleased to announce that Dr. Lisa Kirschenbaum is winner of the 2016 Outstanding Achievement Award. Dr. Kirschenbaum is Professor of History at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. An extraordinary scholar, whose distinguished record of continuous publication has set the highest standards in our field, Dr. Kirschenbaum is also a caring mentor, and a warm and generous colleague who has served both the ASEEES and the AWSS in numerous roles. 

With little institutional support for research and all the while teaching eight courses a year, Dr. Kirschenbaum has published three monographs, one co-authored textbook, seven book chapters, and eight refereed journal articles. In the words of Dr. Deborah Field, “each of Lisa’s books is highly original and each is very different from the others. However, all of her work shares certain qualities: thorough and imaginative research, integration of gender analysis, elegant prose, and a very humane concern with how individuals understand their role in history.” Her first book, Small Comrades: Revolutionizing Childhood in Soviet Russia, 1917-1932 (2001), a history of childhood in the Soviet Union during the first two decades, was unusual and important in terms of subject matter. In her second book, The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1995: Myth, Memories and Monuments (2009), Dr. Kirschenbaum approached the well-known historical terrain of the siege from a completely new angle. She analyzed the array of myths and memories, both official and unofficial, that this seminal event produced. Her third book and perhaps her finest, International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion (2015), is a deeply nuanced exploration of everyday life and lived experiences in the transnational world of communism during the 1920s and 1930s. 

While maintaining unparalleled scholarly productivity, Dr. Kirschenbaum is an outstanding professor to her students. We received numerous letters of commendation from her former and current students. She pushes her students to excel, to present their research at conferences, to compete for grants, to publish their research, and apply for jobs. Her fearlessness as a woman scholar has inspired many of her students. She has played a key role in sustaining the Women and Gender Studies Program at West Chester University. Dr. Kirschenbaum has also maintained a distinguished record of service to our field. She has served on the program committee for the annual conference of the ASEEES and on the Zelnik Book Prize committee. She was the co-editor of the AWSS newsletter along with Dr. Sally Boniece, and currently serves as the treasurer for our organization.

Finally, Dr. Kirschenbaum is also one of the most collegial members in our field. We received numerous letters from scholars who spoke about her intellectual generosity, unfailing good humor, unparalleled ability to sustain friendships, and her uncanny ability to meet deadlines even before they appeared on the horizon. AWSS is very proud to honor Dr. Kirschenbaum with the AWSS Outstanding Achievement Award for her exemplary scholarly record, her advocacy of women's and gender studies, and her generous and joyful mentorship of students and fellow scholars.

The Association for Women in Slavic Studies is pleased to announce Dr. Margaret Samu as the recipient of the Mary Zirin Prize for independent scholarship.

Dr. Samu received her PhD from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts in 2010, specializing in art history. The list of Dr. Samu’s activities and accomplishments is impressive. She currently maintains adjunct positions at New York University, Parson’s School of Design at the New School, and the Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University, while maintaining an active schedule of conference presentations. Dr. Samu serves as a lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she has previously been a Fellow, research assistant and translator. Her museum experience includes time at the Neue Gallery in New York and the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

She is currently a resident at the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, and has had fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks and the Library of Congress. She has also won a Fulbright Fellowship Grant to Russia, an Erwin Panofsky Fellowship for Graduate Study, and an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in Humanistic Studies. The National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on America’s Russian-Speaking Immigrants and Refugees and the Solow Art and Architecture Foundation Fellowship has awarded Dr. Samu research grants. Her scholarly publications appear in both Russian and American journals, while the article submitted to the Zirin committee, “Making a Case for Realism: The Female Nude in Russian Satirical Images of the 1860s,” appeared in the anthology she co-edited with Rosalind Blakesley, From Realism to the Silver Age: New Studies in Russian Artistic Culture.

“Making the Case for Realism” works “to overturn the long-held assumption that censorship and socially critical realist art excluded the production of nudes in Russia.” Dr. Samu’s current book-length project focuses on the female nude in the Russian art world. Provisionally titled Russian Venus, the book will argue “that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian artists sought to establish cosmopolitan credentials by undertaking themes associated with Western European art, in particular, the female nude. [This] work shows how the prestige of the nude in art came under attack when nationalist sentiments began to undermine westernizing impulses in the 1860s. It concludes by assessing the impact of life classes, with their emphasis on drawing from female models, on the nascent Russian avant-garde.”

The Zirin committee commends Dr. Samu for both her work as an academic and as a museum professional, and for bringing these two communities together in her work. She played an important role is re-establishing SHERA, the Society of Historians of East European, Eurasian, and Russian Art and Architecture – a vital and vibrant organization which contributes in manifold ways to the field of Slavic studies.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Samu, an outstanding independent scholar and this year’s recipient of the Mary Zirin Prize.

Best Book in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Women’s Studies 

Keely Stauter-Halsted, The Devil's Chain: Prostitution and Social Control in Partitioned Poland (Cornell University Press, 2015).

In The Devil’s Chain, Keely Stauter-Halsted has painstakingly excavated the archive to provide a rich and detailed portrait of sex work, the sex industry, and the trafficking in women in the lands of partitioned Poland. Drawing on newspaper accounts, police registries, medical reports, records of rescue shelters, charitable associations, reports form international congresses devoted to sex trafficking, writings of contemporary experts touching on women’s sexuality and mental health and sexology, and trial proceedings of traffickers, Stauter-Halsted places prostitution and its attendant disorders at the center of discussion about the Polish nation’s future.

As Stauter-Halsted points out, Polish elites in the late 19th and early 20th centuries engaged in conversations about modernizing the Polish national body in preparation for national independence. However, to truly understand these discourses, she argues it is necessary to examine nation building through the lens of gender and sexuality. Stauter-Halsted demonstrates that these discourses mattered to the nation-building process because of how they framed elite ideas about gender propriety, social class, morality, family and reproductive life, and gender roles.   

It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Stauter-Halsted’s earlier work that she excels at the granular, finding and reconstructing stories of young peasant women moving to city in search of work. She details how the contingent nature of work in bourgeois households led the neediest into part-time prostitution, thus providing a steady stream of women for the brothels visited by the male members of the bourgeois households. Not willing to depict these women as passive victims, Stauter-Halsted reveals how they often determined their own fates. The Devil’s Chain not only focuses on the lower-class streetwalkers and brothel residents but also on the social activists who were determined to control and reform “immoral” women and incorporate them into a new Polish nation-state. Stauter-Halsted’s monograph represents the best that women’s and gender history has to offer to the field of East European and Russian studies.  Readers will not be able to read The Devil’s Chain without thinking about how gender and sexuality shape our modern national identities.  

The 2016 Heldt Prize committee applauds Dr. Stauter-Halsted for her painstaking research, the readability of the monograph and the ways that it challenges Polish historiography to put gender at the center of any discussion on nation and state building.  

Honorable Mention

Jennifer Suchland, Economies of Violence: Transnational Feminism, Postsocialism, and the Politics of Sex Trafficking (Duke University Press, 2015).

In Economies of Violence: Transnational Feminism, Postsocialism, and the Politics of Sex Trafficking, Jennifer Suchland shifts the paradigm away from sex trafficking as solely about violence against women and individual exploitation and toward seeing it as part of the global political economy, precarious labor markets, and postsocialism. Suchland provides a genealogy of global human trafficking that maps two intersecting processes: the development of sex trafficking and discourses that arose around its brutality and violence; and the politics of postsocialism as a particular location and a “metageographically imagined space.” By analyzing language deployed by the United Nations to describe and then advocate against sex trafficking, Suchland ties the discourse of human trafficking to transnational feminist studies, feminist political economy, and human rights.

Suchland’s book deserves to be recognized since it calls for rethinking the rhetorical tropes surrounding sex trafficking. In Economies of Violence challenges activists to see trafficking as a symptom of “multifaceted injustices” and to advocate for improved conditions within industries that are sites of normalized violence rather than simply finding and helping victims after the fact.   


Best Book by a Woman in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Lisa Kirschenbaum, International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

In her most recent book, Lisa Kirschenbaum seeks to shift from the polarized debates about the Spanish Civil War to examine the “webs of interaction” through which the international communist movement evolved. Rather than focusing on the actions of party leaders, she shows how activists inspired by the Russian revolution came together, first in Moscow, then in Spain, to create a transnational collaboration and movement. The lives of party members, their relationships with one another, and the importance of their experiences in Spain as a “personal and political point of reference” form the foundation of this narrative. Marshaling a wide array of archival and published sources from collections in Moscow, Madrid, Barcelona, and the U.S., the book provides a transnational perspective on the lives of party members, their idealism, and their responses to the realities of life in the USSR during the 1920s and 1930s. As they moved to Spain to fight against Franco in the late 1930s, they faced shortages of arms and supplies, tensions among anti-fascist forces, and, ultimately, defeat. Later, during the aftermath of World War II, late Stalinism, and anti-communist campaigns, these veterans sought simultaneously to re-unite the movement and to distance themselves from the USSR. In sum, Kirschenbaum’s book is an important contribution to the historiography of this era of international communism.

Honorable Mentions

Erika Monahan, The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Russia (Cornell University Press, 2016).

The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Russia challenges received opinions about early modern Russia, such as the alleged risk-averse nature of its merchantry, and opens up a region and social caste to closer inspection. In doing so, Monahan not only describes a portrait of Siberian merchants as actively pursuing their financial interests, but shows the interaction between trade and state-building while placing Russia in a comparative global context that questions the view of the country as an outlier and shining a spotlight on imperial borderlands. Monahan integrates a broad range of archival, primary, and secondary sources into a compelling argument in a manner that is both engaging and clear. 

Eileen Kane, Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Cornell University Press, 2015).

Eileen Kane’s book argues that the tsarist state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became a key player in the hajj, especially in its creation of transportation networks from Russia, Persia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus to the Black Sea, Istanbul, and Mecca. Kane conceptualizes empire not as a territory that is acquired and occupied, but, instead as the mobility and movement of people through space. Thus, she sees transportation as one key to imperial power, which for Russia faded under the pressures of war and revolution. Kane makes outstanding use of archives in several countries, official and unofficial documents, and original maps to reconstruct the history of the imperial and, later, Soviet sponsorship of the Hajj, despite the state’s close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, this book is an important contribution to late imperial and Soviet history.


Best Article in Slavic/East European/Eurasian Women’s Studies

Claire E. McCallum, “Scorched by the Fire of War: Masculinity, War Wounds and Disability in Soviet Visual Culture, 1941-65,” Slavonic and East European Review 93 (2): 251-85.

Claire E. McCallum’s article, “Scorched by the Fire of War: Masculinity, War Wounds and Disability in Soviet Visual Culture, 1941-65,” explores how Soviet cultural genres -- in particular visual images such as photographs, cartoons, posters, sculpture, and paintings -- have treated the issue of war-damaged disability in relation to masculinity. Drawing on a wide variety of source material, McCallum carefully differentiates between works that only appeared in thick art journals as opposed to those reproduced in popular magazines or designed—like wartime posters--to reach a mass audience.  Her thorough and fascinating study marks a major contribution to our understanding of the Soviet construction of masculinity, how it changed over time and how the visual arts followed a unique trajectory distinct from that of film and fiction, despite all cultural forms facing the same ideological constraints. To a large extent those differences stemmed from the intrinsic limitations of the visual arts, compared to film and fiction, to set disability in a wider context or narrative. Tracking changes in visual portrayals of the terrible legacy of war from 1941 to 1964, McCallum notes that the visual arts consistently showed the wounded male body almost entirely in military settings, where injured soldiers either determinedly fought on or demonstrated a willingness to die for their country. A shift in visual presentation occurred in the mid-1960s—not during the Thaw, as one might expect—but in response to the Brezhnev administration’s reinstatement of Victory Day as a public holiday, a move accompanied by the intensification of the War cult and by a wave of memorial building. For the visual arts a more realistic view of military heroism emerged, one that turned more attention to the brutal legacies of war, including psychological anguish as well as physical disfigurement. 

The Graduate Essay Prize Committee is delighted to award the graduate essay prize to Joy Neumeyer, a Ph.D. student in History at the University of California at Berkeley, for her masterful essay, “Brezhnev, Vysotsky, and the Death of Developed Socialism: A Tragic Farce in Five Acts.” The committee was unanimous in their great appreciation of this essay. It is beautifully written, a pleasure to read, and the rare scholarly piece that makes an effective argument through an engaging and analytical narrative structure. By contrasting the cult of Brezhnev and the cult of Vysotsky as the “twin faces of late socialism,” Neumeyer captures the cultural atmosphere of the late Brezhnev years. On the one hand, Brezhnev was becoming a living corpse, “every year, the medals on his chest expanded while his wrinkles grew deeper and his speech slurred.” Vysotsky, on the other hand, was a dynamic and popular figure, but he, too, was linked to death “through his songs and his signature role of Hamlet” and because of his addiction to drugs. Neumeyer tells their two stories in parallel, illuminating the frustrations of the Brezhnev era through underground jokes, Vysotsky’s lyrics, and the population’s reactions to the these two men as they lived and died. While fans despaired at the death of Vysotsky, they were secretly relieved at the passing of Brezhnev from a living corpse into a dead one, and aware that his death made a new era possible. The committee hopes that Ms. Neumeyer will submit this essay for publication in the near future so that it can receive the wide audience it deserves. For now, we are pleased to award her the AWSS Graduate Essay Prize.

The AWSS Graduate Research Prize is awarded annually to support promising graduate-level research in any field of Slavic, East European, or Eurasian Studies by a woman, or on a topic in Women’s or Gender Studies related to Slavic, East European, or Eurasian Studies by either a woman or a man. For 2016 the AWSS Graduate Research Prize is awarded to Rebecca Hastings, PhD candidate in History at the University of Oregon (Major Advisor: Julie Hessler). Hastings’s project, “Oil and Society in Azerbaijan, 1860-2015,” examines the intersection of ethnic identities and regional cultures in shaping the development of the oil industry in Azerbaijan under the Imperial Russian, Soviet, and Post-Soviet states. Her project is a study of both Imperial exploitation and regional development, taking a holistic approach to the policies and their implications surrounding the oil industry and the South Caucasus. AWSS is pleased to support Hastings in her research trip to Baku and her pursuit of this project.