W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize

2004 Citation Recipient

Benjamin Nathans

The W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize, established in 2004 and sponsored by Mary Lincoln, is awarded annually for an author’s first published monograph or scholarly synthesis that is of exceptional merit and lasting significance for the understanding of Russia’s past, published in the previous year.

Winner: Benjamin Nathans
Title: Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia (University of California Press)

Benjamin Nathans’ Beyond the Pale is a book remarkable for its originality of conception, its innovative and wide-ranging research, and its vivid characterization of the figures he describes. It accomplishes nothing less than a rethinking and reformulation of the Jewish experience in Russia. Shifting the focus from the shtetl to Petersburg and emphasizing the role of the Petersburg Jewish elite in defending Jewish interests, Nathans gives us new insights into the culture of Russian Jews and their relationship to Russian state and society. His concept of “selective integration” explains the seeming contradictory impressions we have of Jews as an oppressed and persecuted minority and yet numbering among them leading figures in the pre-revolutionary merchantry, intelligentsia, and bar. Although acutely aware of the barriers to Jewish mobility, Nathans does not emphasize anti-Semitism to explain the vagaries of tsarist policy or the disappointments and outright oppression of Russian Jews. He analyzes privileged Jews, their Russian colleagues, and tsarist policymakers with reference to broad patterns of political, social, and economic change in post-emancipation Russia. The chapters on the Jews in the university and in the legal system are particularly brilliant. They reveal the extent of Jewish involvement in pre-revolutionary intellectual life in Russia, and how Jews took advantage of the opportunities opened to them in the Russian educational and legal system. Nathans shows that though these opportunities were curtailed with the reactionary tendencies on the rise in the late nineteenth century, educated Jews, and particularly attorneys, played a crucial role in advancing Russian law and legal practice, as they came to see the legal system as the principal means to defend Jewish rights. In addition to telling a moving story of human struggle, hope, achievement, and failure, Nathans situates his subject in the broader picture of European Jewry and illuminates the larger problem of the birth of the modern world for European Jews, Russian Jews, and Russians themselves. Beyond the Pale is a work of great distinction, written with grace and power and the prize committee—Richard Wortman, Elise Wirtschafter, and Elizabeth Wood—is pleased to present the first W. Bruce Lincoln prize to Benjamin Nathans.