ASEEES Distinguished Contributions Award

2019 Citation Recipient

David Ransel

The Distinguished Contributions Award is ASEEES’ highest honor, recognizing individuals with an exemplary record of sustained achievement in the field through scholarship, training, and service to the profession. The 2019 award will be presented to David Ransel, Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, Bloomington.

David Ransel’s wide-ranging and innovative books on the history of family, motherhood, and village life in Russia have been enormously influential, as have his co-edited volumes on empire and everyday life. A generous mentor to young scholars, Ransel directed the Indiana University’s Russian and East European Institute for fourteen years. He has served two terms on the ASEEES Board of Directors and was President of the Association in 2004. For five years he was the editor-in-chief of Slavic Review before moving on to fulfil the same role for a decade at the American Historical Review, where he championed the fields of women’s and cultural history.

A graduate of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ransel received his MA in European and African History at Northwestern and his doctorate in Russian History from Yale. After rising to the rank of Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ransel moved in 1985 to Indiana, where he was the Robert F. Byrnes Professor of History.

Although his first book, The Politics of Catherinian Russia: The Panin Party (1975), was a work of political history, Ransel has been particularly influential as a pioneering scholar of women’s history.  His four books in this field include Mothers of Misery: Child Abandonment in Russia (1988), a careful study of the institution of the foundling hospitals that uses this institution as a way of exploring Russia’s engagement with the enlightenment as well as the linkages between the city and the village. These foundling homes were designed as a way of fostering a new class of artisans but proved to be factories of mortality. Ransel makes extensive use of available statistics, but his focus frequently returns to human motivations. Human motivation is at the heart of Village Mothers: Three Generations of Change in Russia and Tartaria (2000), the source base for which is a series of oral histories collected and recorded by Ransel and his Russian assistants in the early 1990s. His portrait of the lives of women belonging to “the second generation,” i.e. born between 1912 and 1930, is particularly striking: simultaneously compassionate and chilling.  A Russian Merchant’s Tale: The Life and Adventures of Ivan Alekseevich Tolchënov (2009) is an amazing tour-de-force; Ransel uses a diary from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to conjure up an entire hitherto unexamined world. 

Ransel has served as both a dissertation director and an informal advisor to historians throughout the United States. The conferences he has organized at Indiana have led to the publication of influential scholarly anthologies that have earned wide recognition while advancing the careers of junior colleagues. His prolific work as a book reviewer has brought the contributions of scholars from both the West and Eastern Europe to international attention, building bridges between academic communities. A staunch proponent of academic freedom, Ransel remains active and is currently working on urban and environmental activism in Russia. In David Ransel the Distinguished Contributions Award recognizes a remarkable scholar whose impact on the field of Russian history continues to be profound.