USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies

2016 Citation Recipient

Stephen Lovell

The University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe, or Eurasia in the fields of literary and cultural studies in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Stephen Lovell
Title: Russia in the Microphone Age: A History of Soviet Radio, 1919-1970 (Oxford University Press)

Stephen Lovell’s Russia in the Microphone Age: A History of Soviet Radio, 1919-1970 is the first full history of Soviet radio in English. Based on substantial original research in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhnii Novgorod. Russia in the Microphone Age explores the institutional, technological, and ideological parameters of a cultural institution that helped shape the history of the Soviet Union. A vanguard of experimentation and technological utopianism in the 1920s, converted into an oracle of Stalinism in the 1930s, radio played its part in the trials and triumphs of Soviet history, from polar expeditions and show trials, to the Second World War, to the launch of Sputnik and Gagarin’s first flight, before finally ceding its primacy to television in the 1970s. Privileging the social and cultural dimensions of radio (reception, impact, content) while grounded in thorough archival research that includes journals, memoirs, party records, and the like, Russia in the Microphone Age provides a “media-based approach to Soviet history” – that is to say, a study that traces the development of a technology alongside with its implementation and reception, and never reduces that technology to the status of a mere “handmaiden” of Soviet ideology. The result is a pioneering treatment of broadcasting as an integral part of Soviet culture from its early days in the 1920s until the dawn of the television age. As Lovell puts it, “living in Bolshevik Russia not only felt and looked different, it sounded different.” (10) Lovell’s excellent study underscores the double-sided nature of Soviet radio, from its transmission of the voice of power (Stalin, the Party), on the one hand, to bringing home the “voice of the people” (censored, controlled, but nevertheless present), on the other. This history proceeds from the first wireless transmission of the human voice on 27 February 1919 broadcast from Nizhnii Novgorod, to loudspeakers in Moscow delivering “spoken newspapers” in the 1920s, to the home “tochka” or “tarelka” that brought the show trials to the listeners all over the Soviet Union, to Levitan’s voice from the front that unified the country during WWII, to finally, the short wave receivers that allowed those same listeners to replace Soviet broadcasts with the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. In Lovell’s study, radio takes its rightful place within the larger framework of sound production and reproduction, alongside the telegraph, telephone, gramophone, cinema, and the like. Russia in the Microphone Age reshapes our understanding of Soviet history by foregrounding the orality of Soviet culture and its cultural reception.

Honorable Mention: Alice Lovejoy
Title: Army Film and the Avant Garde: Cinema and Experiment in the Czechoslovak Military (Indiana University Press)

Alice Lovejoy’s Army Film and the Avant Garde: Cinema and Experiment in the Czechoslovak Military throws light on a remarkable collection of films made between the 1930s and the late 1960s that were mostly shelved after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Lovejoy’s sophisticated analysis of this corpus of films would have constituted an important accomplishment in itself. However, Army Film and The Avant Garde does much more: it inserts these films within the history of the Czech New Wave, of Eastern European Socialist Realism, and of international documentary in such thought-provoking ways that scholars in these major fields in film studies will be challenged and enriched by Lovejoy’s work. For instance, through her focus on the military studio, Lovejoy “locates some of the New Wave’s roots in instructional filmmaking,” thus “shedding light on the Czechoslovak film miracle of the 1960s, underlining its deep and systematic links to governmental and industrial media practices.” (8-9) As a result, she is able to show how “moments in the chronology of East European cinema and media history that are traditionally seen as caesurae in fact represent points of continuity” (10). Well versed in the history and theory of cinema, Lovejoy is singularly able to show us the larger stakes of her unique archive in ways that point toward an “international history of postwar documentary.” Such an ambitious history undermines old Cold War dichotomies and instead highlights “common roots and similarities between nonfiction film East and West;” it also powerfully rearticulates the relationships between cinema and the state as “institutional actors with multiple dimensions.” Few books thread archival work and theoretical argumentation as rigorously and productively as Army Film. Congratulations on a solidly grounded, ambitious book!