Citations for Past Winners of the Reginald Zelnik Book Prize


Aileen Kelly for The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen (Harvard University Press)

Aileen M. Kelly’s pathbreaking book stuns readers with a new answer to an old question: who was Alexander Herzen? Other historians have provided in influential assessments of Herzen and his contribution to Russian intellectual life. While taking that scholarship seriously, Kelly provides a deeper and richer portrait of one of Russia’s leading thinkers and philosophers, and one that encompasses the entire span of Herzen’s life. In this exhaustively researched and beautifully written study, Kelly obliges us to jettison the conventional ways in which we have understood his thought and integrated its development into our narratives of nineteenth-century Russian history. Instead of the Herzen who, in dialogue with Western European systems of thought, devised a peasant socialism based on a utopian vision and historical teleology, Kelly reveals a thinker whose knowledge of scientific method, proto-Darwinian, and Darwinian ideas of evolution caused him to understand history as the contingent unfolding of chance events. The result is a Herzen who, in an intellectual age of systems-building on the right and the left, above all championed a method of thinking grounded in reality, and, furthermore, free will. Herzen was an opponent, rather than a creative assimilator, of intellectual systems of any kind. Kelly has produced this authoritative recasting of Herzen by placing her mastery of Russian and European intellectual history in the service of a narrative that emphasizes, in stunning parallel to her subject’s intellectual stance, the “concatenation of contingencies” in which Herzen made the philosophical, historical, and political choices that he did. A model of erudition and iconoclasm, the book is also written in elegant prose supremely accessible to readers who are not specialists in the field. The result is a study that will allow Herzen’s intellectual dilemmas, and decisions, to have the contemporary resonance that they deserve.


Honorable Mention

Mark Bassin for The Gumilev Mystique: Biopolitics, Eurasianism, and the
Construction of Community in Modern Russia (Cornell University Press)

Mark Bassin has written a deeply researched and erudite study of the thought of Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev (1912-1992), known to most of us as the son of Nikolai Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova. Lev Nikolaevich was not only an important thinker in his own right, but, in his creative synthesis of a specific genre of Eurasianist ideas, the generator of an intellectual system whose components have great resonance in post-Soviet Russia, including with Vladimir Putin. Bassin excavates Gumilev’s “Eurasianist” ideas in a narrative that elaborates with great skill on their origins, development, and reception, taking us from the Silver Age to the post-Soviet present. His painstaking research has unearthed the personal networks that allowed Gumilev to re-enter Soviet academic life after his return from the camps, and that also caused his ideas to be disseminated as broadly as they were during the Soviet period. To read this book is to possess a greater understanding of how certain Eurasianist ideas were poised, by the end of the Soviet period, to have the post-Soviet influence that they have had. The prodigious effort that Bassin brought to the book—so evident on every page—is all the more impressive given that their one meeting in 1980 did not, from the author’s perspective, go well. It also required supreme intellectual dedication to write an authoritative study of a thinker known as an anti-Semite and disdainful of empirical rigor.


Adeeb Khalid for Making Uzbekistan: Nation, Empire, and Revolution in the Early USSR (Cornell University Press)

Adeeb Khalid’s seminal study of Uzbekistan is more than an enormously erudite and superbly researched book. It is a book that turns the traditional historiography of the Soviet nationality policies inside out. Khalid convincingly shows that Uzbekistan was not primarily a creation of Soviet revolutionary policies that emanated from Moscow. Instead, the idea of the Uzbek nation was a product of the Muslim intellectual elite with roots in the Jadid movement prior to the revolution. Thus, the emergence of Uzbekistan in the 1920s was a result of a complex interaction between the modern Muslim intelligentsia and the early Soviet policies. 

Khalid shows how, throughout the 1920s, the Muslim intellectuals nationalized the Bolshevik revolution by eschewing the contradiction between the concepts of Soviet and Uzbek. The Muslim intelligentsia saw the revolution, above all, as a cultural project on the road to modernization. Khalid argues that the region experienced a cultural revolution throughout the 1920s, and much of the book examines the emergence of a new literary tradition and modern Uzbek language. By the end of the decade, the new Soviet policies left little room for the national Communists, as Moscow pushed to reign in the national elites, to introduce collectivization, and to intensify the anti-religious campaign. When the Muslim intelligentsia resisted Moscow’s policies perceived as a continuation of tsarist colonialism, the Soviet regime unleashed the first wave of purges in 1929- 1930. By the late 1930s, the Muslim intelligentsia in Central Asia was no more.   

The book is based on an extraordinarily wide range of archival and print sources in Russian, Turkic and Tajik languages. The large empirical base, erudite discussion, and novel view of Central Asia and early Soviet policies make this a truly path-breaking book. 

Honorable Mention

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

In this beautifully written and exhaustively researched book, Eileen Kane offers a history of Russia's sponsorship of hajj infrastructure that obliges us to rethink basic assumptions concerning the empire’s relationship to Islam, to population movement within and across its borders, and the projection of Russia's power in the world. Pushing back against historiography that portrays an imperial state as seeking to isolate the Muslims in the empire from those beyond it out of fear of pan-Islamism, she demonstrates that the imperial elites that supported the hajj used it as a mechanism of integration as well as informal expansion into Ottoman lands.  When the government took advantage of the new transportation technologies —railroads and steamships— it exploited the emergence of the Russian empire at a global hajj crossroads, central to major routes to Mecca used by Muslims from Russian, Persian, Afghan, and Chinese lands.  But Kane recasts our understanding of the Russian hajj not only by demonstrating the previously unrecognized political, economic and imperial ambitions of the elites who promoted it.  One of the book’s most astonishing achievements is allowing readers to see the hajj as a contingent, collaborative process created through interaction between Russian officials and Muslim pilgrims, a decades-long improvisation that went on inside and beyond the Russian empire’s formal boundaries.  Based on previously untapped Russian and Ottoman archival materials, Kane’s book has opened a new and important chapter in the historiography of the Russian empire.


Agnès Nilufer Kefeli for Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy (Cornell University Press)

Agnès Kefeli poses the fascinating question of how communities, of originally animist belief, migrated back and forth between Islam and Orthodox Christianity over several generations, and how the two religions “struggled” over these people, with and without assistance of state authorities. The account is multi-layered, based in deep and knowledgeable reading, but the exposition always lucid. Kefeli does not reduce. The key elements in play are: ethnic or proto-ethnic identity (very local but also a growing regional one), the operations of missionaries, the acts of high state officials (Catherine the Great in particular), and then, in unpredictable but intellectually intriguing development, faith based in knowledge, and knowledge requiring but also advancing literacy. The symbiotic character of that last relation is especially interesting.

As the story develops the various characters themselves adapt. Apostatizing villagers “use” literacy to study and sometimes misrepresent instruments of the state that might serve them; unofficial Islamic missionaries make their teaching coincide with valued aspects of local identity; and Orthodox counterparts become more serious about their own faith and how to transmit its messages in order to compete. Among Kefeli’s intriguing discoveries is the critical role of Muslim women in preserving and spreading the message of Islam in Tatar communities.

Kefeli maintains a sense of complexity while also projecting some basic messages about the central question of “apostasy”, and makes the success of Islam understandable, while not permitting readers to accept any of many simplifications that may be in currency about that faith. The author knows her theology and history quite intimately, and her subject is both manageable and expansive.

Honorable Mention

Willard Sunderland for The Baron’s Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution (Cornell University Press)

In this beautifully written and masterfully conceived book, Willard Sunderland has wrought a remarkable reconstruction of the imperial lives of Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg (1885-1921), a Baltic German military officer who sought to restore the Romanov and Qing Empires. Sunderland recasts the so-called “mad Baron” as a representative type in the Russian Empire’s last decades, an “imperial cosmopolitan” whose political logic derived considerably from his geographic odyssey from Graz, Austria, to the Baltic Provinces, St. Petersburg, Manchuria, the Far East, Prussia, Mongolia, Siberia, and elsewhere. To read the book is to understand the insufficiently appreciated, yet destructively consequential, role that such imperial cosmopolitans played in the violent unravelling of the Russian empire’s political structures—and, in turn, how that process shaped, and was shaped by, the other empires on which the Romanov empire bordered.


Stephen K. Batalden for Russian Bible Wars: Modern Scriptural Translation and Cultural Authority (Cambridge University Press)

If some books blaze a trail through unknown territory, Stephen Batalden's, Russian Bible Wars has just built the highway through a desert.  This is a superb study of a subject that has received little attention from scholars, a history of the Bible translation and Biblical studies in the Russian empire.  The topic offers an unusual perspective on 19th century Russia by discussing the politics and processes of translating the Bible and by showing how seemingly pure theological issues were inextricably connected to the competing secular ideologies and the rise of modern identities.  Batalden succeeds in relating the results of his immense research and theoretical knowledge in clear and lucid prose, making the book a joy to read. This is a truly excellent study of a novel topic that provides a new perspective on the Russian church, society and autocracy, and it does so in a way that may interest many readers from far afield.  Batalden connects to literature on secularization, but ultimately the book is a profound reflection upon the power of language, a holy language of specific formulations, which far from "frozen" or "dead" seemed to have a life of its own.

Honorable Mention

James Mace Ward for Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia (Cornell University Press)

In this balanced and eloquently presented account Ward asks how a Catholic priest could lead a Central European Slavic state to close alliance with Nazi Germany.  To do so he takes us back to the days when Slovakia was embedded in Habsburg rule, and his subject, Jozef Tiso, a product of institutions both Catholic and Hungarian.  He traces Tiso's astounding development: from early supporter of Czechoslovakia to a nationalist leader who helped erode the unified state; to "puppet" leader of a fascist regime who occasionally defied Germany but also ordered the destruction of Slovak Jews as well as the bloody suppression of an uprising for Slovak independence. Ward makes sense of a complex figure while resisting temptations to oversimplify, merging probing exploration of a Christian statesman with analysis of a calculating politician, thus contributing a crucial chapter on Central Europe's recent past, as well as the most revealing study of clerico-fascism we possess. Ward's command of an enormous literature as well as unexplored archival sources is inspiring for what it tells of the powers of the historian's craft.  


Scott Ury, for Barricades and Banners: The Revolution of 1905 and the Transformation of Warsaw Jewry (Stanford University Press)

Displaying an impressive mastery of a range of sources, Scott Ury offers a sophisticated analysis of how Warsaw Jewry’s engagement with the modern city and experiences with participatory politics, particularly in the aftermath of the upheaval of 1905, gave birth to institutions and behaviors that defined Jewish society and politics for the remainder of the twentieth century. Traditional Jewish communal institutions and practices yielded to new forms of collective behavior such as coffee houses, popular theater, and the Yiddish press that articulated and protected Jewish interests. The emergence of civil society and a public sphere created distinct politically mobilized communities divided by ethnicity and language between Jews and Poles. Barricades and Banners enhances our understanding of how modern political movements and ideologies offered Jews (and Poles) tools to weather the challenges of life in an urban metropolis. Ury engages a variety of methodological and historiographical literatures that underscore the impact of modernity on European Jews and demonstrates how 1905 was a watershed in terms of politicizing ethnic differences.

Honorable Mentions

Jonathan Bolton, Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism (Harvard University Press)

Worlds of Dissent is an original and well researched contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of late socialism in Eastern Europe. Drawing upon diaries, correspondence, and essays, Jonathan Bolton explores the resistance to political and cultural repression by examining how the Czech intellectuals, writers, and artists understood and experienced their struggles against the post-1968 regime in Czechoslovakia. Bolton casts his net widely, focusing not only on the luminaries such as Vaclav Havel but also the obscure and forgotten men and women who played major roles in the world of dissent. The book is a compelling account of political and cultural dissent that restores historical contingency to the analysis of the movement and offers what is perhaps the most illuminating discussion of Havel’s writings.

Christina Ezrahi, Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Christina Ezrahi focuses on the Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies to illuminate the complicated relationship between late Imperial Russian debates about the nature of ballet and the communist regime’s efforts to use ballet as a means of political education. She explores how the ballet companies’ insistence on preserving pre-1917 balletic traditions should be seen as a way to maintain a degree of creative and professional autonomy and challenged the Kremlin’s efforts to impose its vision of ballet in particular and culture in general. Swans of the Kremlin revises our notion that challenges to the ideological straitjacketing of the Kremlin tended to come from the artistic fringes influenced by European and American counterparts rooted in modern and even post-modern trends. The conservatism of the Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies reveals an effort to “repossess” the ballet and evade the unpleasant task of producing ballet imbued with communist values. Moreover, the book illuminates the process by which art and culture were made in the Soviet Union.


Tracy McDonald, for Face to the Village: The Riazan Countryside Under Soviet Rule, 1921-1930 (University of Toronto Press)

Writing Soviet peasants back into history, Tracy McDonald presents a new and vivid picture of rural life under NEP and of the uneasy relationship between state and villages that collectivization abruptly and purposefully ended. Drawing upon police, rural soviet, and judicial reports as well as newspaper accounts to illuminate the challenges and obstacles faced by the fledgling Communist government in its effort to bring socialism to the Soviet countryside, Face to the Village is a model of "microhistory" that brings to life the difficulties of imposing Bolshevik control in the vast Soviet hinterland. Its account of how both peasants and the authorities struggled with banditry and "hooliganism" reveal just how complex and unstable rural society could be. The book's concluding account of the hitherto understudied rebellion against collectivization in the village of Pitelino is masterful. 

McDonald offers a compelling analysis of the factors that impelled the Kremlin to embark on the tragic path of collectivization as a means of asserting Communist power and authority. Her work expands our understanding of the workings of local institutions that both protected the interests of the peasantry and served as the intermediary between the central authorities and the village. The book is a fascinating and important account of how village institutions operated in the 1920s and interacted with the central authorities in the crucial years leading up to collectivization.

Honorable Mentions

Wendy Goldman, Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin's Russia (Cambridge University Press)

In a remarkably accessible and absorbing follow-up to her previous work on the Stalinist terror, Wendy Goldman focuses on the grassroots political culture of the terror, especially its effects on interpersonal relations, in five Moscow factories. In her detailed and fascinating tales of denunciation and counter-denunciation, the terror at the grassroots emerges as a "messier" and more complex phenomenon than earlier accounts might suggest. Based on previously untapped archival sources, Inventing the Enemy demonstrates that once the process of "unmasking" enemies began, ordinary people got caught up in and necessarily helped to perpetuate and spread the terror independently of the state and its security apparatus. In Goldman's account the terror's victims and its perpetrators are often the same individuals, making their fates all the more tragic and their stories all the more human.

Barbara Alpern Engel, Breaking the Ties That Bound: The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia (Cornell University Press)

Drawing primarily on a clearly defined body of sources -- some 260 fully documented cases from the tsarist Chancellery brought by women seeking to separate from their husbands -- Barbara Engel provides a fascinating perspective on changing understandings of marriage and the changing practices of the tsarist state, as well as on the broader changes sweeping Russian society in the final decades of tsarist rule. The process of petitioning the tsar relied on the most traditional understandings of autocracy and paternalism, and therefore, Engel demonstrates, ironically, the Chancellery often made decisions more favorable to women than the ostensibly more liberal courts, for which marriages were a form of legal contract. Breaking the Ties that Bound provides a different view of both the functioning of the tsarist state and of changing values and practices in Russian society, while simultaneously offering readers a series of all too human tales, replete with heroines and victims, honor and deceit. 


Matthew Lenoe, for The Kirov Murder and Soviet History (Yale University Press)

Matthew Lenoe's meticulous and nuanced investigation of the December 1, 1934 assassination of Leningrad Party Secretary Sergei Kirov — a major turning point in the history of Stalinism — and of its subsequent role in Stalinist and post-Stalinist Soviet political life is nothing short of a tour de force. Based on hundreds of newly available Party and KGB documents, The Kirov Murder and Soviet History is a model of archival detective work, painstaking research, and the most careful and judicious consideration of evidence, while simultaneously being a true crime thriller and a major contribution to understanding the high politics behind the Stalinist purges. 

Like the Kennedy assassination in the U.S., the Kirov murder spawned persistent conspiracy theories, ranging from Stalin's own hyperbolic linkage of the crime with both the former opposition and the Nazis to anti-Stalinists who saw the Soviet dictator's own hand behind that of the gunman. Lenoe carefully and patiently debunks these theories, demonstrating that Leonid Nikolaev, the pathetically troubled killer, acted alone. Yet Lenoe also shows clearly how the killing and the regime's response to it revealed much about the social and political crisis of the 1930s and the evolving nature of Stalin's increasingly paranoid regime. The book includes translated texts of 125 critical documents, allowing readers to test Lenoe's detailed arguments on their own. Often reconstructing events on an hour-by-hour basis, Lenoe manages to hold readers spellbound until the final pages of his 872 page masterpiece.

Honorable Mention

Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Equality and Revolution: Women's Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905-1917 (University of Pittsburgh Press)

In her elegantly written study of the women's suffrage movement in the early 20th century, Ruthchild demonstrates how Russian women and their movement for suffrage and gender equality were central to the social changes and revolutionary politics of late tsarism. Previous studies of prerevolutionary Russian feminism emphasized the movement's privileged character and the tensions between its allegedly "bourgeois" activists on one side and women workers and socialists on the other. Equality and Revolution demonstrates, however, that socialists and feminists often worked in tandem within a broader democratic movement, and that, at critical moments, their joint struggle for gender equality drove the broader revolutionary and democratic movements forward. As a consequence, Russian women were in early 1917 the first of their gender in a major power to gain the franchise. Ruthchild also situates the Russian women's movement in a broader international context and brings back to life several influential but long-forgotten figures in the movement. Eschewing ideology for compelling narrative based on a broad base of archival and rare published primary sources, Ruthchild succeeds in restoring Russian women to their rightful place at the center of the revolutionary narrative and in relating their compelling and gripping tale with compassion and dignity. 


Robert Edelman, for Spartak Moscow: A History of the People's Team in the Workers' State (Cornell University Press)

In a highly competitive field, Spartak Moscow stood out as much more than just the history of a single Russian sports team. It offers its readers a unique vision of Russia's entire 20th century, as told through the remarkably revealing prism of the Spartak experience. The core of the book, on the years from 1935 to 1964, is packed with insights not only into sport and popular culture, but Soviet society and politics. If these insights are not explicitly revisionist, they still compel a more complex and subtle understanding of these tumultuous years. Sport history is a growing field, both in its own right and as part of the greater emphasis historians now place on culture, broadly (or anthropologically) defined. With respect to Russia, Edelman has been a pioneer in the field and he's done a remarkable job of integrating the institutional history of the game, urban social history, and the history of masculinity with the unique and critical political and social issues posed by the Soviet experience.

Spartak Moscow is a lively and compelling read. Sports fans will enjoy Edelman's riveting accounts of key matches and his portraits of remarkable individuals, while scholars, students, and general readers will also find an engaging but serious commentary and interpretation of important issues, based on painstaking and thorough research.

Honorable Mentions

Howard Louthan, Converting Bohemia: Force and Persuasion in the Catholic Reformation (Cambridge University Press)

Howard Louthan's Converting Bohemia counters the simplicities of nationalist and confessional historiography. Louthan seeks to explain why, although the Czech national myth is founded in the country's Hussite legacy, most Czechs have been Catholic since the 17th century. While not ignoring the use of terror and violence in the Habsburg re-Catholicization of the Bohemian lands, Louthan skillfully shows how the Counter-Reformation succeeded by combining force with persuasion. Although this is a work aimed at specialists, it is remarkably accessible to those with relatively little knowledge of the period. Converting Bohemia is a model of revisionist history. Its arguments are all the more persuasive because Louthan judiciously avoids the temptation to oversell them. In short, this is a remarkable work of scholarship.

Christine Ruane, The Empire's New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (Yale University Press)

Christine Ruane's study of the Russian fashion industry is a stunning synthesis of social and cultural history. Once Peter the Great decreed that Russian nobles should dress in Western styles, Russia was compelled to create its own fashion industry. Ruane tells the story of this industry from its origins to its collapse in 1917, from the viewpoints of its cultural leaders, its skilled (and also unskilled) workers, and its consumers. Master tailors and suffering apprentices share the pages with society ladies, both noble and bourgeois, Slavophile intellectuals, and the tsarist state, each of which sought -- with questionable success -- to reshape Russian culture through fashion. The story is also well-illustrated with a large variety of striking visual images, beautifully presented in "coffee table" style, which deeply enrich a compelling and well-presented story. 


Elena Shulman, for Stalinism on the Frontier of Empire: Women and State Formation in the Soviet Far East (Cambridge University Press)

The Zelnik Prize in History is a new award for the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, co-sponsored by the Institute of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where the late Professor Reginald Zelnik served with great distinction for over forty years. In this inaugural year, more than thirty monographs were nominated for consideration. The prize committee was impressed by the high quality of scholarship, theoretical innovation, thorough research, and diversity of approaches exhibited by the many fine works submitted for consideration.

Within a highly competitive field, Elena Shulman's pathbreaking study of a campaign to attract mainly female settlers to the frontier of the Soviet Far East in the late 1930s stands out for its painstaking research and sophisticated argument, presented in a clearly written and readable style. Shulman's work makes a significant contribution to our understanding - and to some extent compels reinterpretation - in several major areas of Soviet history. Using the little-known movement of the so-called Khetagurovites, the work sheds new light on the history of the Soviet frontier; on gender relations in the 1930s; and on the relationship between repression and "enthusiasm" under Stalinism. Her work compels a major rethinking of the division between an early 1930s great leap/cultural revolution and a later 1930s "great retreat."

Shulman succeeds in explaining women’s sense of agency, control, and participation in a period otherwise understood as emphasizing the nuclear family and tyranny of all kinds. She brings her topic to life with compelling portraits of several participants in the movement: Khetagurova herself, whose call for settlement initiated the movement, but even more three otherwise ordinary young women whose lives she traces intermittently throughout the narrative. Fittingly, this reminds us of Reginald Zelnik=s own approach to writing the history of workers.

In short, Stalinism on the Frontier of Empire is a model of original research, interpretive imagination, and accessible scholarship.

Honorable Mention

Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Cars for Comrades: The Life of the Soviet Automobile (Cornell University Press)

This may well be the perfect subject for an historian of the Soviet Union who teaches in Michigan. Engagingly written with considerable wit and close attention to evidentiary detail, Cars for Comrades successfully combines technological, institutional, economic, social, and cultural history. Siegelbaum uses the automobile to shed considerable light on multiple facets of the Soviet experience, including urbanization, consumption, economic relations with the West, and the culture of everyday life. The book will enlighten and entertain specialists and students alike.