Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History


Honorable Mention

Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca

Honorable Mention: Eileen Kane
Title: Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Cornell University Press)

In this beautifully written and exhaustively researched book, Eileen Kane offers a history of Russia’s sponsorship of hajj infrastructure that obliges us to rethink basic assumptions concerning the empire’s relationship to Islam, to population movement within and across its borders, and the projection of Russia’s power in the world. Pushing back against historiography that portrays an imperial state as seeking to isolate the Muslims in the empire from those beyond it out of fear of pan-Islamism, she demonstrates that the imperial elites that supported the hajj used it as a mechanism of integration as well as informal expansion into Ottoman lands.  When the government took advantage of the new transportation technologies —railroads and steamships— it exploited the emergence of the Russian empire at a global hajj crossroads, central to major routes to Mecca used by Muslims from Russian, Persian, Afghan, and Chinese lands.  But Kane recasts our understanding of the Russian hajj not only by demonstrating the previously unrecognized political, economic and imperial ambitions of the elites who promoted it.  One of the book’s most astonishing achievements is allowing readers to see the hajj as a contingent, collaborative process created through interaction between Russian officials and Muslim pilgrims, a decades-long improvisation that went on inside and beyond the Russian empire’s formal boundaries.  Based on previously untapped Russian and Ottoman archival materials, Kane’s book has opened a new and important chapter in the historiography of the Russian empire.

Winner: Adeeb Khalid