2019 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize
The Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and the Stanford University Center for Russian and East European Studies, is awarded annually for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year.
The 2019 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize was awarded to Eleonory Gilburd for To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture (Harvard University Press).
In the years immediately following Stalin’s death, international culture from film to literature to popular song burst forth across the Soviet Union. After decades in which any contact with foreigners or foreign culture was severely circumscribed—and even dangerous—suddenly Soviet citizens could read translations of foreign books, watch Italian films, and sing along with French popular songs. Eleonory Gilburd’s To See Paris and Die takes on this rich period of cultural encounter and exchange, concentrating mainly on the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. Gilburd brilliantly analyzes international exhibitions, festivals, and tourism, including the 1957 Moscow International Youth Festival as a watershed event in this process of allowing international ideas, arts, and even people to enter Soviet space. Always conflicted, partial, and contradictory, this process of cultural and intellectual opening was denounced by Soviet traditionalists as a source of sedition, political dangers, and espionage. Gilburd admirably shows how extreme enthusiasm for certain aspects of foreign—usually European and North American—culture among some groups of Soviet citizens provoked denunciations of decadent, overly sexualized, and insufficiently socialist aspects of these same books, films, art, and music. Bringing together different strands of cultural life, politics, and their everyday reception, this work offers scintillating insights into the social landscape of the post-Stalinist USSR.
Honorable Mention: Sarah Cameron
Title: The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan (Cornell University Press)
Modern states rarely live in harmony with nomadism. Sarah Cameron shows how Soviet attempts to “modernize” Kazakh herders through forced collectivization led to catastrophe. Placing the events of 1931-1934 in a larger context, Cameron begins in the pre-revolutionary period, showing that Russian authorities also wrestled with making the Kazakh steppe more productive, and continues this story through the 1920s. Using both Russian and Kazakh sources to illustrate the turns and twists of party policy in this region, this study of the Kazakh tragedy in the context of modernization is a major contribution to our understanding of Stalinist social engineering.
Honorable Mention: Victoria Smolkin
Title: A Sacred Space is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism (Princeton University Press)
In A Sacred Space Is Never Empty, Victoria Smolkin provides an insightful and comprehensive history of atheism in the USSR from 1917 to 1991. Smolkin’s rich account illustrates the social and cultural challenges that Soviet Communism faced in trying to destroy religion, as well as the need to create alternative atheist institutions, rituals, and even an atheistic “cosmology” in its place. The book sheds light on the complex ways social revolution unfolded in practice, and also on how the failure to fill the sacred space set the stage for the postSoviet religious revival.