Committee: R. Chris Davis (Lone Star College-Kingwood), Valentina Glajar (Texas State University), Ron King (San Diego State University), Diane Vancea (Ovidius University of Constanta)
The Ninth Annual SRS Graduate Student Essay Prize is awarded to the most outstanding unpublished essay or thesis chapter written in English by a graduate student in any social science or humanities discipline on a Romanian subject during the long academic year 2016–17. The prize committee received over twenty essays from a wide range of disciplines, submitted by graduate students and recent graduates from across North America, Europe, and Asia. The committee debated the merits of many prize-worthy essays. In the end, one essay stood above the others. It is with great pleasure that the committee awards this year’s Graduate Student Essay Prize to Dana Muresan for her essay “Brancusi: The Construction of a Romanian National Hero.”
Muresan’s well-researched and highly sophisticated essay examines through the lens of Brancusi the complex relationship of art and nationalism. It explores the role of Romania in the formation of Brancusi’s universal modern art and, in turn, the role of Brancusi and his art in the formation of Romanian identity and promotion of national culture. In particular, Muresan addresses the value the Romanian state derived from claiming Bransuci as a national hero, as a cultural symbol combining historic identity and contemporary sophistication. Yet this appropriation explicitly could not include full appreciation for the content of the work, given that Brancusi the émigré was producing art that was distinctly non-socialist in theme and format. The paper beautifully explores this contradiction, especially as it played out in official Romanian artistic discourse, highlighting both statements and silences of that official discourse. All at once, Muresan reflects on the legacy of Brancusi’s biography and art in both Romania and Paris; widens the analytical frame of Romanian identity discourses; and makes a significant contribution to an array of scholarly fields, including nationalism studies, identity studies, and art history, among others. Equally important to the committee, the essay showcases the field of Romanian Studies in an international context. Finally, Muresan achieves something very rare in academic writing these days, namely the ability to communicate ideas to specialists and non-specialists alike.
The committee felt three other finalists from this year’s competition deserved special mention: Kathryn Grow Allen’s “Migration, Conversion and the Creation of an Identity in Southeast Europe: A Biological Distance and Strontium Isotope Analysis of Ottoman Communities in Romania, Hungary and Croatia”; Alin Rus’s “‘Building’ Cultural Patrimony in Ceaușescu’s Neopatrimonial Romania”; and Karin Steinbrueck’s “Aftershocks: Nicolae Ceaușescu and the Romanian Communist Regime’s Responses to the 1977 Earthquake.” The quality and diversity of this year’s submissions certainly bodes well for the future of Romanian studies.