2019 Reginald Zelnik Book Prize
The 2019 Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History was awarded to Sarah Cameron for The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan (Cornell University Press)
Sarah Cameron analyzes how famine, natural and man-made, remade Kazakhstan and reveals the inner workings of Stalinist transformation. Cameron confronts directly the regime’s culpability in over a million deaths—Kazakhs suffered, proportionately, more than any other Soviet nation—but also works to understand how, even if in a perverse sense, this disaster became productive. The causes and effects of famine created new networks, opened doors to mobility within and outside of the partystate apparatus, and offered new ways to see a Kazakh nation and state. Cameron masterfully blends top-down and bottom-up approaches through meticulous archival work. She brings the Kazakh famine and transformation into a global perspective on modernization, skillfully incorporating imperial, environmental, and ecological approaches. Her lucid prose draws readers into victims’ suffering as they are forces to make horrible choices to survive—for another day, another week—or die. The Hungry Steppe is also opening important, poignant, discussions among historians, regional politicians and families of those who suffered through this famine, which has remained almost hidden from history, and is already being translated into both Russian and Kazakh.
Honorable Mention: Natalia Nowakowska
Title: King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther: The Reformation before Confessionalization (Oxford University Press)
Natalia Nowakowska’s book reshapes fundamental historical paradigms about the geographic parameters of the Protestant Reformation and the chronology of the Reformation in Poland. Looking at how Lutheranism penetrated the Polish space, Nowakowska explores the causality of Poland’s famous early modern religious tolerance, demonstrating that King Sigismund I permitted a broad range of religious dissent so long as it did not challenge his political authority. In Nowakowska’s account, however, the Polish king’s religious inclusivity was motivated less by explicit political or economic concerns, as previous scholars have argued, and more by religious sensibilities of the time. Sigismund’s views, she argues, reflected a continuation of medieval “catholic” consensus building and acceptance of divergent views. Sigismund’s tolerance of his Lutheran subjects was thus not an early wave of enlightenment thinking but rather the last iteration of an inclusive Catholic Church. In her marvelously vivid account of Lutheran political movements on Polish territory, Nowakowska captures the complexity of early sixteenth-century church-state relations and fluidly integrates the religious history of the Polish Republic into wider European trends, portraying it as a key example of how Protestantism dramatically ruptured worldviews across the continent.