2020 Distinguished Contributions Award Recipient Katherine Verdery

The 2020 Distinguished Contributions to Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Award, which honors senior scholars who have helped to build and develop the field through scholarship, training, and service to the profession, is presented to Katherine Verdery, Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York. 

Professor Katherine Verdery has profoundly shaped Russian and East European Studies and core debates in the social sciences. An anthropologist of political, economic, and cultural transition in East Central Europe, and particularly Romania, Verdery is a leading ethnographer of the region and theorist of socialism and postsocialism.  

Verdery earned a BA in Anthropology from Reed College and a MA and PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University. Pathbreaking doctoral fieldwork provided the basis of Verdery’s first book, Transylvanian Villagers: Three Centuries of Political, Economic and Ethnic Change (University of California Press, 1983), which became a key text in the study of ethnicity. With her next book, National Ideology Under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceauşescu’s Romania (University of California Press, 1991), Verdery explored the production of national identity, returning to the question in her foundational article, “Whither ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’?” (Daedalus, 1993). The award-winning books that followed, What was Socialism, and What Comes Next? (Princeton University Press, 1996), The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Postsocialist Change (Columbia University Press, 1999) and The Vanishing Hectare: Property and Value in Postsocialist Transylvania (Cornell University Press, 2003), have been enormously influential in disciplines beyond anthropology, including history, sociology, and political science.  

Together with Gail Kligman, Verdery undertook a ten-year project with an interdisciplinary team of researchers in Romania to produce Peasants Under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962 (Princeton University Press, 2011), a model of collaborative research. With her most recent books, Secrets and Truths: Ethnography in the Archive of the Romanian Secret Police (Central European University Press, 2014) and My Life as a Spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File (Duke University Press, 2018), Verdery has turned a critical eye to her own decades of research, analyzing the 2,700 pages of her Securitate police file to pose questions about the nature of anthropological research and the role of surveillance in contemporary life. My Life as a Spy was reviewed in scholarly journals and in major media outlets in the U.S. and in Romania, where the Romanian translation sold out in a matter of weeks. 

Verdery has held teaching positions at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, and City University of New York Graduate Center, training multiple generations of scholars, who describe her as the model they aspire to as they mentor their own students. Verdery has chaired each of the anthropology departments in which she held professorships, she has directed Michigan’s Center for Russian and East European Studies, and she has served as the President of AAASS/ASEEES, among many other roles in the organization and in service to the profession.  

In light of her brilliant, wide-reaching scholarship, and her extraordinary leadership and mentorship, ASEEES is pleased to present Katherine Verdery with the Distinguished Contributions Award in recognition of her singular influence on Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.