Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

2010 Citation Recipient

Robert Edelman

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: Robert Edelman
Title: Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Workers’ State (Cornell University Press)

In a highly competitive field, Spartak Moscow stood out as much more than just the history of a single Russian sports team. It offers its readers a unique vision of Russia’s entire 20th century, as told through the remarkably revealing prism of the Spartak experience. The core of the book, on the years from 1935 to 1964, is packed with insights not only into sport and popular culture, but Soviet society and politics. If these insights are not explicitly revisionist, they still compel a more complex and subtle understanding of these tumultuous years. Sport history is a growing field, both in its own right and as part of the greater emphasis historians now place on culture, broadly (or anthropologically) defined. With respect to Russia, Edelman has been a pioneer in the field and he’s done a remarkable job of integrating the institutional history of the game, urban social history, and the history of masculinity with the unique and critical political and social issues posed by the Soviet experience.

Spartak Moscow is a lively and compelling read. Sports fans will enjoy Edelman’s riveting accounts of key matches and his portraits of remarkable individuals, while scholars, students, and general readers will also find an engaging but serious commentary and interpretation of important issues, based on painstaking and thorough research.

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.