2020 Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize

The Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize, established in 2006 and sponsored by the KAT Charitable Foundation, is awarded annually for an outstanding English-language doctoral dissertation in Soviet or PostSoviet politics and history in the tradition practiced by Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen. The dissertation must be defended at an American or Canadian university, and must be completed during the calendar year prior to the award.

Winner: Kelsey Norris

Title: “The Ties that Bind” (University of Pennsylvania)

In her well-argued, meticulously researched dissertation, “The Ties that Bind,” Kelsey Norris breaks new ground in the study of Soviet society during the Great Patriotic War. “The Ties that Bind” is the first work to examine state efforts to reunify families torn apart by the chaos of battle, evacuation and deportation of 1941-1945. It shows that official Soviet efforts to bring families back together prioritized the needs of the state over those seeking loved ones. The wartime radio program “Letters to and from the Front,” for example, was supposed to help families locate relatives, but broadcasters saw the program largely as “agitation” for the unity of front and rear, and letters read on the air were edited in this spirit. After the war Soviet leaders ratcheted down efforts to trace lost family members, while emphasizing that the bereft would find a new home in “the great Soviet family”. Simultaneously, they pressed hard for the return of “Soviet” children who had ended the war in Western occupation zones. The primary purpose of this campaign was not to return children to biological families (most of those repatriated ended up in orphanages or with foster parents), but to lay claim to children from previously independent areas like the Baltic states, and to demonstrate resolve in the developing Cold War.

“The Ties that Bind” methodically and systematically gets at the hollowness and instrumentality of Soviet policies supposedly intended to support families during and after WWII. It demonstrates too that families continued to seek their lost relatives well into the Brezhnev era, suggesting that the regime concept of “the Great Soviet family” never really took hold. In its originality, rigor and compassion, Kelsey Norris’ work is well-deserving of the Tucker-Cohen Prize.