Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History


Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mention: Howard Louthan
Title: Converting Bohemia: Force and Persuasion in the Catholic Reformation (Cambridge University Press)

Howard Louthan’s Converting Bohemia counters the simplicities of nationalist and confessional historiography. Louthan seeks to explain why, although the Czech national myth is founded in the country’s Hussite legacy, most Czechs have been Catholic since the 17th century. While not ignoring the use of terror and violence in the Habsburg re-Catholicization of the Bohemian lands, Louthan skillfully shows how the Counter-Reformation succeeded by combining force with persuasion. Although this is a work aimed at specialists, it is remarkably accessible to those with relatively little knowledge of the period. Converting Bohemia is a model of revisionist history. Its arguments are all the more persuasive because Louthan judiciously avoids the temptation to oversell them. In short, this is a remarkable work of scholarship.

Honorable Mention: Christine Ruane
Title: The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (Yale University Press)

Christine Ruane’s study of the Russian fashion industry is a stunning synthesis of social and cultural history. Once Peter the Great decreed that Russian nobles should dress in Western styles, Russia was compelled to create its own fashion industry. Ruane tells the story of this industry from its origins to its collapse in 1917, from the viewpoints of its cultural leaders, its skilled (and also unskilled) workers, and its consumers. Master tailors and suffering apprentices share the pages with society ladies, both noble and bourgeois, Slavophile intellectuals, and the tsarist state, each of which sought — with questionable success — to reshape Russian culture through fashion. The story is also well-illustrated with a large variety of striking visual images, beautifully presented in “coffee table” style, which deeply enrich a compelling and well-presented story.

Winner: Robert Edelman