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2015 Graduate Student Essay Prize

Committee: Delia Popescu (Chair), Inessa Medzhibovskaya, and Benjamin Thorne.

The committee evaluated ten entries, most of which were high quality historical or sociological work. Ion Matei Costinescu won the prize with his “Interwar Romania and the Greening of the Iron Cage: The Biopolitics of Dimitrie Gusti, Virgil Madgearu, Mihail Manoilescu, and Ştefan Zeletin.” This is a chapter from his dissertation on The Village as Quest for Modernity: The Bucharest Sociological School and the Romanian Alternative Way, which he has been completing at the University of Bucharest. The dissertation explores the work of the Bucharest Sociological School in interwar Romania to propose an “alternative modernity project configured along biopolitical lines.” Costinescu offers a constructivist twist to a Weberian argument by recasting the notion of the iron cage in the terms of the Bucharest Sociological School. The chapter offers an impressive critical assessment of alternate visions of modernity, which propose the biopolitical transformation of the people, and the creation of a new national ethos infused with a mythos of superior moral and ethnic value. Costinescu suggests that the Weberian model was adapted to accommodate such a new vision of the state imbued with a new and mobilizing “secular magic” of Romanian nationalism. The essay leads with a robust critical argument that is well developed, interesting, and contributes to developments in the field. The strong theoretical focus of the piece offers a much needed and nuanced addition to the small but extremely important literature on Romanian biopolitics by focusing on the latter half of the compound term, politics. It is an important intervention that both deepens and expands our knowledge of the period, is well-researched and engagingly written. Many congratulations to Ion Matei Costinescu for a fascinating essay!

Honorable mentions

Madalina Valeria Veres’ “Constructing Imperial Spaces: Habsburg Cartography in the Age of Enlightenment” is an important contribution to the study of historiography and the geopolitics of space in Central and Eastern Europe. Her imaginative and objective interpretation is based on the examination of rare archival material, which is organized with impeccable fairness and scholarly tact. This beautifully written piece is a comprehensive and compelling presentation of patterns by means of which constructs enter politics, a sobering invitation to take nothing for granted– and to reinvigorate the analysis of what appears to be a closed topic. The submission is part of her doctoral dissertation, titled Mastering Space: The Great Military Map of Transylvania, which she is completing at the University of Pittsburgh.

Zsuzsanna Magdo’s “Ceausescu’s Thaw and Religiosity: The Central Committee Considers Atheism, 1965-1974” examines the sort of political dialectic occasioned by the encounter of communist state policy and Romanian cultural religiosity. The essay makes use of archival documents from the Department of Religious Cults, the Committee of Historical Monuments, and the Ministry of Culture, to propose a compelling and sophisticated analysis of the “religion question” in the autochthonous modernity project delineated by the Romanian communist state. Magdo offers an interesting and well-researched historiography with a strong argument that leads to a rich picture that traces historical developments and transformations in the context of communist ideological development. Magdo recasts the politico-ideological interchange between Marxism, modernity, and national spiritual life. The clear and prominent integration of archival material on Agitprop is a particular highlight of the essay, and Magdo succeeds in being both informative, analytical, and infusing the occasional sense of humor, which smooth the way to an enjoyable and thought-provoking piece of reading.  Magdo’s entry is part of her dissertation, The Socialist Sacred: Atheism, Religion, and Culture in Communist Romania, 1948-1989, which she is completing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


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