USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies

2019 Citation Recipient


Maria Taroutina

The 2019 USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies was awarded to Maria Taroutina for The Icon and the Square: Russian Modernism and the Russo-Byzantine Revival (Penn State University Press)

In 1913 the Moscow Archeological Institute reinvented Russian art history, indeed the icon itself, with its Exhibition of Ancient Russian Art, which included 147 icons from private collections soon to be acquired by the Imperial Russian Museum. In 1915 in Petrograd, several blocks away from the Museum, Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin shocked the art world with their reinventions of the icon at the 0:10 Last Futurist Exhibit of Painting. So antithetical in their aims, aesthetics, and politics, the two events marked a turn in the course of Russian art that continues to influence artists across the globe.

In The Icon and the Square, Maria Taroutina traces the origins of the RussoByzantine revivalist movement that led to the 1913 unveiling of Russia’s Quattrocento and the 1915 re-imagining that unveiling inspired in the Russian avant-garde. Integrating volumes of Russian scholarship, most of which has never been translated into English, with museology, and the theories of today’s leading Byzantinists, Taroutina weaves a compelling narrative of two centuries of art and politics—from Voronikhin and Thon to Pussy Riot and the Sinie nosy—that brilliantly accomplishes its goal of proposing “a new set of cultural coordinates from which to interrogate both the inherent mechanisms and theoretical underpinnings of Russian modernism.” In addition to rigorously researched scholarship, Taroutina offers deft analyses of artistic technique and form, which she situates in the broader context of intellectual and art history. Skillfully organized, meticulously researched, accessibly written, and exquisitely illustrated, Taroutina’s contribution serves student and specialist, historian and artist, Russianist and globalist, challenging with erudition and innovation prevailing opinion on the motivations, inspirations, and trajectories of Russian modernism.

Honorable Mention: Edyta M. Bojanowska

Title: A World of Empires: The Russian Voyage of the Frigate Pallada (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

In Edyta Bojanowska’s book A World of Empires, Ivan Goncharov’s Frigate Pallada emerges as a lens through which the reader can observe Russian imperial perspectives taking shape. Goncharov writes and travels, all the while reflecting on the British Empire, Japan’s interactions with the West, Siberia, and the Caucasus. Bojanowska identifies the connections and tensions between Goncharov’s travelogue and imperial policy, and demonstrates how Goncharov’s immediate, eyewitness accounts helped to form Russia’s idea of its place in an ever-expanding world. This complex portrait of Goncharov—who is simultaneously a mouthpiece for imperial policies and an inconsistent observer of the world around him— reveals how his sense of duty and subjectivity combined to present a unique perspective on how imperial history was written. By removing the focus from historical teleology to human agency and subjective frames of interpretation, A World of Empires adopts a microhistorical approach to put an individual face on imperial history. It takes on the challenge of integrating interpretation and reception into the very retelling of imperial history, uncovering anxieties and fantasies about rival empires, race, civilizing missions, and national identity along the way. Situating Russia’s imperial mission within the wider context of global empires and contemporary elaborations of post-colonial critiques, Bojanowska’s book has given new life to Goncharov’s travelogue and new perspectives on how his story can be told.