Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

2011 Citation Recipient

Matthew Lenoe

The Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe, or Eurasia in the field of history in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Matthew Lenoe
Title: The Kirov Murder and Soviet History (Yale University Press)

Matthew Lenoe’s meticulous and nuanced investigation of the December 1, 1934 assassination of Leningrad Party Secretary Sergei Kirov — a major turning point in the history of Stalinism — and of its subsequent role in Stalinist and post-Stalinist Soviet political life is nothing short of a tour de force. Based on hundreds of newly available Party and KGB documents, The Kirov Murder and Soviet History is a model of archival detective work, painstaking research, and the most careful and judicious consideration of evidence, while simultaneously being a true crime thriller and a major contribution to understanding the high politics behind the Stalinist purges.

Like the Kennedy assassination in the U.S., the Kirov murder spawned persistent conspiracy theories, ranging from Stalin’s own hyperbolic linkage of the crime with both the former opposition and the Nazis to anti-Stalinists who saw the Soviet dictator’s own hand behind that of the gunman. Lenoe carefully and patiently debunks these theories, demonstrating that Leonid Nikolaev, the pathetically troubled killer, acted alone. Yet Lenoe also shows clearly how the killing and the regime’s response to it revealed much about the social and political crisis of the 1930s and the evolving nature of Stalin’s increasingly paranoid regime. The book includes translated texts of 125 critical documents, allowing readers to test Lenoe’s detailed arguments on their own. Often reconstructing events on an hour-by-hour basis, Lenoe manages to hold readers spellbound until the final pages of his 872 page masterpiece.

Honorable Mention: Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild
Title: Equality and Revolution: Women’s Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905-1917 (University of Pittsburgh Press)

In her elegantly written study of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century, Ruthchild demonstrates how Russian women and their movement for suffrage and gender equality were central to the social changes and revolutionary politics of late tsarism. Previous studies of prerevolutionary Russian feminism emphasized the movement’s privileged character and the tensions between its allegedly “bourgeois” activists on one side and women workers and socialists on the other. Equality and Revolution demonstrates, however, that socialists and feminists often worked in tandem within a broader democratic movement, and that, at critical moments, their joint struggle for gender equality drove the broader revolutionary and democratic movements forward. As a consequence, Russian women were in early 1917 the first of their gender in a major power to gain the franchise. Ruthchild also situates the Russian women’s movement in a broader international context and brings back to life several influential but long-forgotten figures in the movement. Eschewing ideology for compelling narrative based on a broad base of archival and rare published primary sources, Ruthchild succeeds in restoring Russian women to their rightful place at the center of the revolutionary narrative and in relating their compelling and gripping tale with compassion and dignity.