Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

2021 Citation Recipient


Anita Kurimay

The Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe or Eurasia in the field of history in the previous calendar year.

Co-Winner: Krista A. Goff
Title: Nested Nationalism: Making and Unmaking Nations in the Soviet Union (Cornell University Press).

This is a groundbreaking book. Deeply researched and methodologically sophisticated, it is the first to examine the history of the Soviet Union’s non-titular nationalities from the early Soviet period to the present day. The focus is on Azerbaijan, but the scope is far broader. The book seeks the roots of non-titular populations’ current national self-awareness not only in Soviet nationality policies from the 1920s onwards and in the policies of Azerbaijan’s leaders, but also in the impact of World War II and developments, including geopolitics, in the broader region beyond Soviet borders. This history, she argues, has shaped the current activism of national minorities and is vital to understanding the ethnic conflicts that erupted as the Soviet Union gradually came apart. Remarkably, even as the book paints a large and complex canvas, it rarely loses sight of its human subjects. In addition to extensive archival research, Goff has made exceptionally creative use of visual and ethnographic sources to illuminate matters about which the archives were either silent or rendered off-limits by nationalist politics. Nested Nationalism remains an engaging read throughout, a tribute to Goff’s authorial skill.

Co-Winner: Anita Kurimay
Title: Queer Budapest, 1873-1961 (University of Chicago Press).

Anita Kurimay’s Queer Budapest, 1873-1961 is a trailblazing study of non-normative sexualities in Hungary that sweeps across successive eras and political regimes. Kurimay traces shifts in state policy from monarchy, revolutionary socialism, interwar authoritarian conservatism, fascism, and socialism to reveal the close connection between Hungarian state building and its management of non-normative sexual behavior. Her work demonstrates the persistence of repression, which changed in form and intensity, from registration to harsh punishment to heteronormativity and decriminalization. Kurimay masterfully links her meticulous research to larger European discourses about sex and the transnational circulation of ideas and information. Her creative use of medical, cultural, and police records allows her to bring to life a subculture long hidden in the shadows, illuminating the collective silencing enforced by generations of Hungarian policymakers despite radically different politics. Most striking, is the surprising contrast between the illiberal tolerance of conservative policymakers and the more intrusive socialist emphasis on transformation. Firmly centering the growing metropolis of Budapest in wider European discussions about sexuality, she situates the state’s shifting policies as well as the struggle for sexual freedom as part of a larger project of modernity.