Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

2013 Citation Recipient

Scott Ury

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: Scott Ury
Title: Barricades and Banners: The Revolution of 1905 and the Transformation of Warsaw Jewry (Stanford University Press)

Displaying an impressive mastery of a range of sources, Scott Ury offers a sophisticated analysis of how Warsaw Jewry’s engagement with the modern city and experiences with participatory politics, particularly in the aftermath of the upheaval of 1905, gave birth to institutions and behaviors that defined Jewish society and politics for the remainder of the twentieth century. Traditional Jewish communal institutions and practices yielded to new forms of collective behavior such as coffee houses, popular theater, and the Yiddish press that articulated and protected Jewish interests. The emergence of civil society and a public sphere created distinct politically mobilized communities divided by ethnicity and language between Jews and Poles. Barricades and Banners enhances our understanding of how modern political movements and ideologies offered Jews (and Poles) tools to weather the challenges of life in an urban metropolis. Ury engages a variety of methodological and historiographical literatures that underscore the impact of modernity on European Jews and demonstrates how 1905 was a watershed in terms of politicizing ethnic differences.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Bolton
Title: Worlds of Dissent: Chater 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism (Harvard University Press)

Worlds of Dissent is an original and well researched contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of late socialism in Eastern Europe. Drawing upon diaries, correspondence, and essays, Jonathan Bolton explores the resistance to political and cultural repression by examining how the Czech intellectuals, writers, and artists understood and experienced their struggles against the post-1968 regime in Czechoslovakia. Bolton casts his net widely, focusing not only on the luminaries such as Vaclav Havel but also the obscure and forgotten men and women who played major roles in the world of dissent. The book is a compelling account of political and cultural dissent that restores historical contingency to the analysis of the movement and offers what is perhaps the most illuminating discussion of Havel’s writings.

Honorable Mention: Christina Ezrahi
Title: Swans of the Kremlin: Ballet and Power in Soviet Russia (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Christina Ezrahi focuses on the Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies to illuminate the complicated relationship between late Imperial Russian debates about the nature of ballet and the communist regime’s efforts to use ballet as a means of political education. She explores how the ballet companies’ insistence on preserving pre-1917 balletic traditions should be seen as a way to maintain a degree of creative and professional autonomy and challenged the Kremlin’s efforts to impose its vision of ballet in particular and culture in general. Swans of the Kremlin revises our notion that challenges to the ideological straitjacketing of the Kremlin tended to come from the artistic fringes influenced by European and American counterparts rooted in modern and even post-modern trends. The conservatism of the Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies reveals an effort to “repossess” the ballet and evade the unpleasant task of producing ballet imbued with communist values. Moreover, the book illuminates the process by which art and culture were made in the Soviet Union.