2016 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize
The Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and the Stanford University Center for Russian and East European Studies, is awarded annually for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year.
The 2016 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize was awarded to Ronald Grigor Suny for “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide (Princeton University Press)
Ronald Suny’s book on the Armenian genocide is a masterwork by a leading scholar in the field of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian studies. It provides a comprehensive overview and deep analysis of an historical event that stands out not only for its senseless brutality, but also for its longstanding denial. In contrast to other historical works that have focused on documenting the tragedy, Suny’s book sets out to explain the causes of the Armenian genocide. Suny argues that the Armenians were victims of the rise of exclusive ethnic nationalism in what was once the Ottoman Empire. At the time of its collapse, triggered by the start of the First World War, the Young Turks, who fought to create a Turkish nation state on the ruins of the empire, believed the Armenians to be a dangerous fifth column connected to Russia and sympathetic to the plans of foreign powers. Turkish nationalism took shape, in part, through ethnic cleansing of the Armenian other. Suny develops this argument in a magisterial fashion, drawing on a wealth of new archival material. It combines the best of history and the social sciences. It will likely be the single best book on the Armenian genocide and its causes for many years to come.
Michael Kunichika received an honorable mention for “Our Native Antiquity”: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Culture of Russian Modernism (Academic Studies Press)
Kunichika’s first book is a tour de force. It examines what modern Russian literature made of Russia’s “native antiquity,” in particular the stone “babas,” or statues left by Asiatic peoples on kurgans (burial mounds) throughout the Russian steppe, the mounds themselves, and the treasures concealed within. These antique objects constituted a mystery to be unraveled by archeologists, who in the late 19th and early 20th century studied their origins and meanings. At the same time, Kunichika shows that writers sought to discover whether these objects had some relevance to Russian culture and identity or were, in some way, foreign. Thought to be the product of Scythian culture, the babas and kurgans were subject to highly ambiguous interpretation in writing and art, both a distinctive feature of the Russian steppe, but also a representation of seemingly non-European culture. Just as French modernists embraced traditional African and Asian culture, Russian modernists embraced their “native antiquity” in the construction of modern art and cultural representations of the nation.
Douglas Rogers received an honorable mention for The Depths of Russia: Oil, Power, and Culture after Socialism (Cornell University Press)
Douglas Rogers’ book explores the development of an oil state at the regional level in Russia and the ways it shaped an incipient civil society through a detailed analysis of the Perm region. Home to Lukoil, the oil and gas industry in Perm took on a new importance after the collapse of Communism. As the state pulled back in many areas and oil companies suddenly became massively profitable, oil companies throughout Russia took on a leading role in many natural resource-extracting regions. Oil industry and state institutions fused, and a revolving door was created between officials of the oil state. In turn, the emerging oil state helped to form a burgeoning civil society and cultural projects that emphasized the protection of traditional culture and regional identity. Rogers traces the changes that took place in Perm’s economy, institutional environment, governance and culture from the late Communist period through the post-Communist era. It is a sweeping work on a regional level that provides a vital regional perspective on the development of contemporary Russia’s oil state and culture.