Jakub S. Beneš for Workers and Nationalism: Czech and German Social Democracy in Habsburg Austria, 1890-1918 (Oxford University Press)

This outstanding monograph based on extensive primary work vividly portrays a crucial, but too often neglected aspect of central European history, namely the relationship between the workers’ movement in imperial Austria and nationalism. Beneš’ stimulating social and cultural historical approach to the analysis of political action focuses on workers’ participation in social movement activities, such as protests for suffrage and election campaigning. He persuasively argues that workers’ embrace of nationalism was neither inevitable nor the result of a gradual process, but was deepened during experiences in intense events. His concern with the roots of a new language of social democracy, his close attention to popular working class culture (and its religious sentiment), the sheer variety of material he employs, and his interest in multiple spaces of interaction bring new insights from below to social democratic culture. A great strength of this study is its original contribution to current debates about supposed “national indifference”; Beneš offers vital empirical evidence in this regard. The parallel attention to the Czech and German parts of Austrian social democracy further forms a significant aspect of this work, as Beneš moves away from “nationalized” histories of social democracy. Beneš’ convincing argument that the importance of leftist populist nationalism has been underrepresented and his stimulating methodological approach to everyday ethnicity have important implications for multiple scholarly fields.


Jelena Batinić for Women and Yugoslav Partisans: A History of World War II Resistance (Cambridge University Press)

This exceptional monograph tells the story of how the Yugoslav Communist party successfully mobilized large numbers of women during World War II. Drawing from Yugoslav military and Communist party archives, the organs of the Anti-fascist Front of Women, local and national Partisan press, participant memoirs and diaries, and postwar fiction and films, Batinić examines the Communists’ distinct rhetorical, institutional, and practical strategies for mobilizing women. Particularly effective is the way that Batinić combines a close reading of daily practices among the Partisans with discursive analysis of Party propaganda—notably the adaptation of heroic imagery from epic folklore—to make sense of the paradox of the Communists’ success with large segments of a conservative and illiterate peasant female population. She demonstrates that, counterintuitively, traditional notions of gender, sex, motherhood, and even morality were deployed for revolutionary purposes. Moreover, contrary to socialist claims of gender equality, Batinić reveals that the ways that women participated in the Partisan army and the way that their participation was represented in postwar discourse cemented traditional, even reactionary gender norms in socialist-era Yugoslavia. War and revolution proved not catalysts for thorough change, but agents of calcification in important social realms. Batinić’s skillful integration of comparative cases speaks to the significance of the Yugoslav example in thinking about questions of gender, war, and Communism in Eastern European history and memory.  In the book’s final chapter, Batinić offers a compelling cultural analysis of how the legacy of the partizanka–the female wartime Partisan–was appropriated in socialist discourses and woven into the Communists’ foundational myths of Yugoslavia, only to be forgotten by mass culture after the Communists fell from power in the 1990ѕ.   

Honorable Mention

Robert Donia for Radovan Karadžić: Architect of the Bosnian Genocide (Cambridge University Press)

Donia’s book examines the life of Radovan Karadžić, the Bosnian Serb political leader convicted by the ICTY for genocide, in order to understand the political, social, and economic conditions under which someone could shift from political indifference to radical nationalism, converting from an intellectual who respected people of other backgrounds into a politician intent on realizing a Serb utopian vision using any means deemed necessary. Donia’s nuanced reading utilizes a unique source: his own testimony against Karadžić as an expert witness at the ICTY, an experience that included a cross-examination by Karadžić himself. The book integrates this personal experience with close readings of previously untapped primary source material, including reports amassed by the ICTY, transcripts of the wartime sessions of the Bosnian Serb Assembly, the diaries of Ratko Mladić, Karadžić’s top military commander, and Karadžić’s speeches and texts. Ultimately, the book proves not only a biography of one génocidaire; it is also an exploration of the causes, conduct, and consequences of Bosnian Serb nationalism in the 1990s.


Julia Phillips Cohen for Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era (Oxford University Press)

In Becoming Ottomans, Julia Phillips Cohen uncovers the process by which Jews, who were marginalized before the onset of the reform period that began in 1839, became a “model community” within the Ottomans’ modern Islamic empire by the end of the nineteenth century. This is no simple story, however: Cohen persuasively argues that the narrative of Ottoman-Jewish friendship that depicts the Ottoman Empire as a safe haven for Jewish refugees and a place of unprecedented tolerance is a myth. On the contrary, the Ottoman state and its Jewish subjects engaged in complex, multi-layered, and sometimes uneasy relations. Cohen analyzes a series of historical moments ranging from war to an invented holiday to a World’s Fair as well as an impressive array of archival sources and literature in Ottoman Turkish, French and Ladino to demonstrate how Jewish leaders crafted an ideal image of their community in response to their new patriotic project. The resulting book uses the Sephardic community to test and ultimately challenge the way we think about Ottomanism, citizenship, and the emerging modern state.

The committee believes this work highlights the intersections between the different geographic regions represented by the Jelavich prize, and suggests the fruitfulness of closer integration of Habsburg, Romanov, and Ottoman history. Notable works of Habsburg history (including past Jelavich Prize winner Lois Dubin’s The Port Jews of Habsburg Trieste) have explored the extent to which Jews in the Habsburg Monarchy were its most patriotic subjects. Cohen’s study, which speaks to broader Ottoman history but is simultaneously nested in southeastern Europe, shows how critical it is for historians in the twenty-first century to recognize the ways in which Ottoman history is of and in Europe.


Katherine Lebow for Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism and Polish Society, 1949-56, (Cornell University Press)

Beautifully written and exhaustively researched, Katherine Lebow’s Unfinished Utopia explores the history of Stalinist and post-Stalinist Poland from a remarkable range of perspectives. Urban planners, workers, women, Roma, and youth all feature in this history of Poland’s Socialist new city, Nowa Huta. Lebow challenges the myth of the postwar era as a time of longing for quiet, apolitical “normalcy,” and demonstrates that many of the workers and citizens of Nowa Huta were deeply invested in the ideals of the early Stalinist era. When the experiment failed to meet their expectations, they developed a culture of protest that contributed to the emergence of the Solidarity movement. The book ultimately succeeds not only as a history of a single city, but as a broader exploration of the hopes and disappointments that characterized Stalinist society.


Mary Neuburger for Balkan Smoke: Tobacco and the Making of Modern Bulgaria (Cornell University Press)

Mary Neuburger’s Balkan Smoke is a searching investigation of the role of tobacco in the creation of the modern Bulgarian state and, in a way, of Bulgarianness as a modern national identity. Relying on a rich archival base, as well as indigenous periodicals and local scholarship, Neuburger traces tobacco’s role in trade networks, social custom, and political economy. The book ranges from smoke-filled nineteenth-century coffeehouses to the tobacco industry’s influence on Bulgarian foreign policy during the two world wars, from Communist-era assembly halls clouded in a gray haze to the collapse of the state monopoly and the globalization of tobacco production. Neuburger uses the social, environmental, and economic history of tobacco as a way of understanding the power and weakness of the Bulgarian state in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, showing how the desire to control both the production and consumption of a key good influenced everything from popular culture to the development of governmental institutions. Although many books have been written on tobacco, and even on tobacco in the Ottoman and Russian spheres of influence, no one has delved as deeply into the Bulgarian-language sources as Neuburger has, where her skills are particularly admirable. Neuburger is also to be commended for an outstanding effort at including women in her story as mainstream protagonists, a feature of history-writing on eastern Europe and Eurasia that is still too infrequently encountered. She writes with verve and imagination, truly bringing to life a world created by commodities, consumption, and the contrasting ideologies of health and national greatness. Most broadly, Balkan Smoke presents new information on Bulgarian history that may change what people think about the functioning of Communist economies and the potential for entrepreneurial creativity within them; the tension between economic motives and public health motives in defining a state’s attempts to influence the behavior of its citizens; and the myriad connections between southeastern Europe and the pan-European and global economies.


Gail Kligman and Katherine Verdery for Peasants under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962 (Princeton University Press)

Peasants Under Siege is a monumental work: something approaching a “total history” of collectivization in Romania, written by two social scientists with deep commitments to comparative and theoretically engaged scholarship. Kligman and Verdery show how the process of collectivization from 1949 to 1962 actually made the Romanian Communist Party. The experience of party cadres’ working among the country’s vast peasant population; the institutional innovations that collectivization required; and the persistent practices of avoidance employed by average citizens all imparted to the party a set of habits that would define its role in government up to 1989 (and perhaps, in different guises, even beyond). Leading a team of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and others, Kligman and Verdery have also demonstrated the power of collaborative work. Peasants Under Siege is an important testament to the possibilities of multi-method, multidisciplinary research–a true model for how the state-socialist past should be approached by historians, sociologists, and others. In its scope, depth, and conceptual sophistication, it has no equivalent in the study of peasant politics and collectivization in other east European and Eurasian contexts. It is destined to become a classic in the field, truly required reading across multiple disciplines, given its use of evidence ranging from state archives to music and poetry. Most remarkably, the book stands as an illustration of how deep engagement with place, process, and the lives of real people can enhance our understanding of high politics.


Sean McMeekin for The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

The work is a fast-paced, dramatic account of German efforts to undermine the British Empire during World War I. With its ambition to build a railroad from Berlin to Baghdad, imperial Germany had already established itself as a significant player in the Near East in the years before 1914. Once the war broke out, Germans sought to foment internal revolt among Muslims living under British, French and Russian rule. Germany heartily endorsed the Ottoman declaration of jihad against the Allied Powers, and continued throughout the war to build on its prewar economic and military influence in the region. McMeekin manages to weave together a narrative that includes historical figures high and low. The cast of characters includes Great Power statesmen and diplomats, military strategists, orientalist scholars, Zionist and Arab leaders, and a collection of other colorful schemers seeking profit in the region. He has written a beautifully crafted book, based on extensive research in multiple languages and archives in several countries. The author is an intrepid researcher. The committee commends McMeekin for his gifts as a storyteller; with an appreciation for the absurd, he tells a serious and sweeping tale of Great Power intrigue. In so doing, he breathes new life into what historical actors referred to as the Eastern Question. McMeekin succeeds in putting the Ottoman Empire and the East again at the center of the history of the period. The book revisits big questions and recasts the way we look at a crucial period in European and Near Eastern history. It is an excellent example of international history, and does the Jelavich-inspired tradition of Ottoman diplomatic history proud.


Holly Case for Between States: The Transylvanian Question and the European Idea during World War II (Stanford University Press)

Holly Case’s book is an insightful reconsideration of one of Europe’s most stubborn and most historiographically productive “questions.” The Transylvanian question began in the 19th century and is still alive. Through wide-ranging, imaginative research and a conceptually original approach, Between States reframes our understanding of national questions, the European idea, and the course of World War II; it challenges assumptions about the abilities of small states to have major impacts on the Great Powers.

The book stands out as a new type of history: It is systematically trans-national and trans-genre. Writing from neither Romanian nor Hungarian perspective, Case succeeds in depicting the strict and self-consciously constructed reciprocity between the two sides in this protracted stand-off. But the book is as much about Transylvania as it is about Europe. Case explains how Hungarian and Romanian intellectuals, patriots, and politicians used the ground of the Transylvanian question to cast the relationship between their nation and “Europe” –a concept associated with the musculature of any particular moment’s Great Powers. She also demonstrates the similarity between appeals made to Europe’s Western powers, to the Axis, to Stalin, and to the European Union. Case’s focus on the connection between territorial claims and the treatment of minorities –including the singularly embattled Jews in World War II –is novel. Her argument, that the small powers of East Central Europe were carrying out a “war within a war” during Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union, redraws the outlines of the war. Romania & Hungary, Case shows, were using Hitler’s campaign to achieve their own territorial objectives, and, unsure of its outcome, prepared the same dossier of claims, proofs and grievances for both potential victors.

Between States moves among diplomatic, military, legal, social, and cultural levels. Case’s research deals with every locus of the Transylvanian question from international treaties and opportunistic alliances to radio broadcasts and drinking taverns; from atlases and censuses to court records, board games and postage stamps; she shows how territorial claims were made by local and national authorities, by ordinary people, by opposition parties and by ruling dictators in all these many venues. Using a variety of sources in many languages, Holly Case deconstructs the social and political worlds and propaganda strategies of Romanians and Hungarians over more than a century. Her book provides a new and ambitious model of historical scholarship.


Tara Zahra for Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900-1948 (Cornell University Press)

Entering a well-trodden field of innovative studies on nationalism and national identity formation in Eastern and Central Europe, Zahra’s monograph breaks new ground by focusing on the fledgling identities of children in the Bohemian lands, and on nationalists’ efforts to wrest control of children’s education from parents, in order to inscribe the youngest members of society into German and Czech national categories. The committee found the book to be a “densely researched archival masterpiece.” Zahra documents ambiguous national identities among inhabitants of all ages in Bohemia and Moravia, and a profound sense of indifference to nationalism, an obstacle over which all nationalist activists in those regions stumbled.

Zahra’s research is original not only in the focus on children, and adult national fence sitters, but also in the bold way in which it traverses historical periods and regimes, from the supra-national Habsburg Monarchy to postwar communist Czechoslovakia in order to trace important continuities. Zahra’s book qualifies Czechoslovak democracy as nationalist democracy, as she points to utterly intertwined strands of a single German/Czech political culture.


Deborah R. Coen for Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life (University of Chicago Press)

In this fresh and finely focused study, Deborah R. Coen revisits the ever-fertile ground of intellectual life in Vienna and Austria at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. By choosing a family, the extraordinary Exners, rather than an individual, school, or movement, she is able to reveal the important of milieu, climate, and generation to the development of the social and physical sciences. By choosing a family of scientists, she is able to introduce into debates about Vienna and the special Viennese fin-de-siecle accomplishments, conceptions, and methodologies that historians have tended to neglect. By choosing a family of influential scientists, she ensures that the implications of her study concern not only a particular group of people, but rather the thinkers and institutions of the period that we thought we had already come to understand. In particular, she is able to argue, that neither commitment to aesthetic ideals nor scientific progress required faith or belief in certainty, that uncertainty itself could be an energizing rather than an enervating condition. In recognition of her enticing, persuasive, and beautifully written revision of a crucial moment in the history of ideas, science, family, and society in the Habsburg monarchy, we award Deborah R. Coen the 2008 Jelavich Book Prize.


Pieter M. Judson for Guardians of the Nation: Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria (Harvard University Press)

Pieter Judson’s study examines the transformation between the 1880s and 1914 of broad swaths of rural Austria into “language frontiers,” inhabited by members of opposed nations. This transformation, Guardians of the Nation argues, was not organic or inevitable. Particular people and organizations brought it about, through hard ideological work. Nor was it trivial. Local cultures, rooted in bilingualism and non-national loyalties, were blocked from view, and undermined. Even as national indifference persisted, rural societies were reshaped in the image of national conflict. Judson’s book places a periphery at the center, showing that nationalists implied the existence of unproblematically national lands by creating national conflict at newly imagined borderlands.

Written with clarity and style, Guardians of the Nation focuses on the construction of language frontiers which were German-Czech, German-Slovene, and German-Italian. Individual chapters explain various strategies developed by national activists for recruiting rural inhabitants: mythologizing embattled minority schoolhouses, asserting links between national movements and the modernization of the countryside, colonizing language frontiers with settlers, promoting national tourism, and elaborating a national discourse of rural violence. Judson reinforces the recent turn away from national histories and toward histories of nationalism. He challenges the traditional treatment of the Austrian case as anachronistic or pathological, arguing that historians should instead use it to achieve more nuanced understandings of the relationship between nationalism and modernity. Guardians of the Nation promises to become a classic in its field.


Alison Frank for Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia (Harvard University Press)

Alison Fleig Frank’s Oil Empire tells the story of how, between the 1860s and 1918, diverse inhabitants of the imperial Austrian crownland of Galicia, together with the political and physical environments, shaped and were shaped by a petroleum boom which soon became a bust. All three members of the Prize Committee (Nick Miller, Maria Todorova, and Jeremy King) found Frank’s first book to be written with rare style and insight. It digs deep into local dynamics, but frames them from the first page within broader contexts. It combines archival research in several languages with cutting-edge social science.

Oil Empire also shows new paths for historians. In recent decades, many scholarly studies about Central and Eastern Europe have centered on nationalism. Frank’s book, in contrast, centers on matters in which national interests, Polish or Ukrainian, German or Jewish, figured less prominently than did international markets, technology, and nature. It works to extract Austrian history from a kind of national ghetto, and to integrate it with the histories of states such as Germany and France. Frank also deprovincializes the Austrian past by drawing on historical studies of the environment. At the same time, she shows that the oil bust, when it came, owed much to Galicia’s autonomy from the rest of Austria — an autonomy won by Polish nationalists. Oil Empire is readable, subtle, and provocatively but responsibly revisionist.