Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

2020 Citation Recipient


Eliot Borenstein

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 2020 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize was awarded to Eliot Borenstein for Plots against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy after Socialism (Cornell University Press). 

Written with irony and wit, Eliot Borenstein’s Plots Against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy after Socialism analyzes Russian national myths and disturbingly popular beliefs in the internet age. Borenstein’s tour of the darker side of Russian internet, popular fiction, television, and movies, where conspiracy theories flourish with baroque profusion, opens a window onto the engaging and terrifying landscape of contemporary Russian fantasy. Plots against Russian culture and sovereignty mingle with historical grievances, homophobia, and antisemitism. Far from being a “fringe” phenomenon, Borenstein argues convincingly, these beliefs inform many Russians’ attitudes toward the world, including the invasion of Ukraine, and Russian perceptions of “the west” (as rotten, diseased, yet threatening). This book offers insightful analysis of conspiracy narratives that shape public opinion and regime support in Russia today within the ludicrous froth of the Russian internet and popular culture. Far from dismissing contemporary Russian popular culture – even in its less agreeable manifestations – Borenstein demonstrates how a sense of historical loss and post-1989 political traumas have shaped a significant part of Russian political consciousness in the 21st century.

Honorable Mention: Joan Neuberger

Title: This Thing of Darkness: Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible in Stalin’s Russia (Cornell University Press)

Impressive in its profound scholarship and brilliant insight into Eisenstein’s filmic and historical achievement, Joan Neuberger’s This Thing of Darkness provides the most wide-ranging account to date of Eisenstein’s classic and controversial film.
Neuberger switches seamlessly between two historical epochs (Ivan’s and Eisenstein’s/Stalin’s), incorporating the director’s cinematic, artistic, and political philosophy. The very different nature of part 1 of the film (Stalin Prize, if barely) and part 2 (repressed until well after Stalin’s death) and the backstory of the film’s reception are given detailed and fascinating attention. Far more than a simple film history, Neuberger revisits the film-making process from various angles and in so doing sheds new light on the difficult and risky choices forced on artists in authoritarian regimes. Neuberger’s use of a wide range of materials, from personal diaries, letters, and drawings to Eisenstein’s theoretical writings, reviews in the Soviet press, and official pronouncements by the Party is a tour de force of scholarly agility. This book provides a scintillating new perspective not only of this film and director, but more broadly of how art was produced within the political culture of Stalin’s Soviet Union.