W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize

2006 Citation Recipient

Douglas Northrop

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: Douglas Northrop
Title: Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia (Cornell University Press)

Douglas Northrop’s Veiled Empire is a book remarkable in its interdisciplinary and thematic breadth. Northrop uses the hujum—the Soviet government’s campaign against female veiling in Uzbekistan from the 1920s through the 1930s— as the entryway to a complex analysis of the dynamics of nation building in the early Soviet state. Northrop explores how party ideologues struggled to define distinguishing traits of national and ethnic identity in the fluid situation of Central Asia, and finally made veiling a marker for Uzbek identity, despite the ubiquity of veiling practices across the region. He chronicles debates between central and local authorities about the attempt to fit Uzbek culture into a class-based formula of identity; he tracks how the Party pragmatically utilized categories of gender and ethnicity to forge Uzbek nationality. In its insistence on transforming daily life to conform to the norms of a presumed “superior” Russian civilization, Northrop argues, the early Soviet state acted as a colonial power, evoking a label that both the Soviet regime and its historians are loath to use. However, Northrop regards Central Asia as an atypical empire, comparable to the American empire of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which leaders and scholars are similarly reluctant to categorize as “colonial.”

Northrop grounds his argument in massive empirical research. His focus is on the individuals who made, enforced, and resisted the policy of hujum; he draws evidence from public health records, ethnographic studies, memoirs, newspapers, and Party records. Informed by anthropological theory, Veiled Empire portrays “lived experience,” transmitting the feel of the turbulent interplay of ideology, state power and community and individual resistance that plagued the Soviet effort to change patterns of daily life. His chapter on legal prosecutions of violations of dress policy particularly masterfully demonstrates the contradictions of central policy and the complexity of community resistance to it; his focus on women’s agency encompasses not only those who resisted change, but also those who embraced it. His work is not devoid of irony, inasmuch as Northrop shows that Uzbek national identity was forged as much in the stubborn assertion of traditional cultural norms as in the adoption of new Soviet culture. Veiled Empire is a work of distinction, written with grace and depth and the prize committee—Gregory Freeze, Terry Martin and Nancy Kollmann— is pleased to present the second W. Bruce Lincoln Prize to Douglas Northrop.