Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

2021 Citation Recipient


Ana Hedberg Olenina

Established in 1983, the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Slavic, 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 2021 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize was awarded to Ana Hedberg Olenina for Psychomotor Aesthetics: Movement and Affect in Modern Literature and Film (Oxford University Press).

Ana Hedberg Olenina’s Psychomotor Aesthetics deftly explores the interconnections in the early Russian twentieth century between aesthetic philosophy and psychophysiological phenomena—essentially, the interface between art and the body. Across a range of practices—Futurist poets’ exploration of how recitation influences the listener’s perception of verse; attempts by Soviet cinematographers to use actors’ gestures to trigger kinesthetic responses in viewers; Proletkul’t interest in the role that bodily movement plays in labor efficiency—Olenina shows how avant-garde artistic experimentation in Russia unfolded in a close dialogue with concurrent research in the fields of psychology and physiology. Drawing on a truly impressive erudition in an extensive list of Russian, German, French, and English sources, her study definitively situates a now-familiar picture of experimentation by the Russian avant-garde in its deeper intellectual context of technological innovation (devices for recording, measuring, lighting) and evolving scientific knowledge (and quasi-knowledge) about the mind’s interaction with the body. Olenina suggests that the early Russian twentieth century experimentations also provide important insights for contemporary neuroscience and advocates for the “neurohumanities.” Her luminous study, at once meticulously detailed and nimbly alert to resonances across several fields, will become a definitive contribution to Russian and Soviet cultural studies for some time to come.

Honorable Mention: Ronald Grigor Suny

Title: Stalin: Passage to Revolution (Princeton University Press).

Based on a wealth of new archival material, Suny’s Stalin: Passage to Revolution represents not only the definitive biography of Stalin from his birth up through the Revolution of 1917, but also Suny’s own magnum opus. This monumental study is not about the making of a ruthless, demon dictator, but about how Stalin became one of the most respected and prominent Bolsheviks by 1917. The author treats Stalin’s psychological evolution as the interplay between the evolving character of the sickly boy from the margins of the Russian empire and the unique sociocultural milieu in which he matured, painstakingly documenting how Stalin’s life experiences molded young Soso, later Koba, and finally Stalin, the man of steel. In clear, detached prose Suny masterfully examines Georgian society and culture, the role of the revolutionary intelligentsia, the fractious Marxist movement, Stalin’s life in the underground, his six imprisonments and exiles to inhospitable places, and Stalin’s participation in the revolutionary events of 1917. While painting a nuanced and compelling portrait of Stalin’s passage to revolution, Suny invites readers to engage his crucial point that for Stalin becoming a revolutionary was a choice that emerged out of complex political and cultural realities rather than a mere personal pathology.