Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History

2012 Citation Recipient

Tracy McDonald

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: Tracy McDonald
Title: Face to the Village: The Riazan Countryside under Soviet Rule, 1921-1930 (University of Toronto Press)

Writing Soviet peasants back into history, Tracy McDonald presents a new and vivid picture of rural life under NEP and of the uneasy relationship between state and villages that collectivization abruptly and purposefully ended. Drawing upon police, rural soviet, and judicial reports as well as newspaper accounts to illuminate the challenges and obstacles faced by the fledgling Communist government in its effort to bring socialism to the Soviet countryside, Face to the Village is a model of “microhistory” that brings to life the difficulties of imposing Bolshevik control in the vast Soviet hinterland. Its account of how both peasants and the authorities struggled with banditry and “hooliganism” reveal just how complex and unstable rural society could be. The book’s concluding account of the hitherto understudied rebellion against collectivization in the village of Pitelino is masterful.

McDonald offers a compelling analysis of the factors that impelled the Kremlin to embark on the tragic path of collectivization as a means of asserting Communist power and authority. Her work expands our understanding of the workings of local institutions that both protected the interests of the peasantry and served as the intermediary between the central authorities and the village. The book is a fascinating and important account of how village institutions operated in the 1920s and interacted with the central authorities in the crucial years leading up to collectivization.

Honorable Mention: Wendy Goldman
Title: Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin’s Russia (Cambridge University Press)

In a remarkably accessible and absorbing follow-up to her previous work on the Stalinist terror, Wendy Goldman focuses on the grassroots political culture of the terror, especially its effects on interpersonal relations, in five Moscow factories. In her detailed and fascinating tales of denunciation and counter-denunciation, the terror at the grassroots emerges as a “messier” and more complex phenomenon than earlier accounts might suggest. Based on previously untapped archival sources, Inventing the Enemy demonstrates that once the process of “unmasking” enemies began, ordinary people got caught up in and necessarily helped to perpetuate and spread the terror independently of the state and its security apparatus. In Goldman’s account the terror’s victims and its perpetrators are often the same individuals, making their fates all the more tragic and their stories all the more human.

Honorable Mention: Barbara Alpern Engel
Title: Breaking the Ties That Bound: The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia (Cornell University Press)

Drawing primarily on a clearly defined body of sources — some 260 fully documented cases from the tsarist Chancellery brought by women seeking to separate from their husbands — Barbara Engel provides a fascinating perspective on changing understandings of marriage and the changing practices of the tsarist state, as well as on the broader changes sweeping Russian society in the final decades of tsarist rule. The process of petitioning the tsar relied on the most traditional understandings of autocracy and paternalism, and therefore, Engel demonstrates, ironically, the Chancellery often made decisions more favorable to women than the ostensibly more liberal courts, for which marriages were a form of legal contract. Breaking the Ties that Bound provides a different view of both the functioning of the tsarist state and of changing values and practices in Russian society, while simultaneously offering readers a series of all too human tales, replete with heroines and victims, honor and deceit.