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2015 Book Prize

The Society for Romanian Studies announces the winner of the Third Biennial SRS Book Prize for 2015: Sean Cotter’s Literary Translation and the Idea of a Minor Romania (Rochester, 2014). The book prize committee, consisting of Holly Case (Cornell, History, Chair), James Augerot (University of Washington, Slavic Languages and Literatures) and Vladimir Solonari (University of Central Florida, History) solicited nominations for the best book published in English in any field of Romanian studies (including Moldova) in the humanities or social sciences.

The books this year were of very high quality. In the end, Sean Cotter’s book stood out as an exceptional example of rigorous scholarship and original argument. The book wonders “Under what conditions could literary translation move to the center of the national imagination?” To do so, he makes the “minor” status of Romanian culture into an interpretive mechanism, largely through following the careers of Lucian Blaga, Constantin Noica, and Emil Cioran in the aftermath of the Second World War. Being minor is not merely a matter of size or scale, but a matter of nature and type, a “translated nation,” as he calls it. The Soviet occupation prompted Cotter’s protagonists to “rethink the country in minor terms.” Tracing literary debates, personal dilemmas, and translations of their work and ideas both within and beyond Romania, Cotter shows that the essence of “minor” cultures can be read through careful analysis of translation practices.


The committee also recognizes Moshe Idel’s Mircea Eliade: From Magic to Myth (Peter Lang, 2013) with an honorable mention. Idel presents Eliade in an admiring light, yet does not hesitate to include the various blemishes in the wide-ranging career of one of the best-known Romanian writers of the twentieth Century.

2013 Book Prize

The Society for Romanian Studies is pleased to award the 2013 Society for Romanian Studies Biennial Book Prize to Peasants under Siege: the Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), by Gail Kligman and Katherine VerderyPeasants under Siege was selected from among a very strong field of English language books which appeared between January 2011 and December 2012.  Entries for the prize included a large number of excellent works from multiple disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. 

The prize selection committee appreciated the scope and rigor of the research undertaking upon which Peasants under Siege is based. The book builds upon the authors’ decades of experience doing field research in rural Romania. Kligman and Verdery make use of multiple types of sources, including archives, the communist press and extensive interviews, to analyze the relationship between the collectivization of agriculture in Romania and the process of party and state building that transformed the countryside and Romanian society as a whole. The authors stress that in the process of collectivization, the Party apparatus and the Securitate were not only changing property relations according to the Soviet model but also creating the new institutions of the Party-state through local practices and policies they devised in and for Romania. An important part of the documentary research that underpins the study was carried out in the Securitate archives (CNSAS). The authors’ field work, along with that of the other nineteen researchers from various disciplines who collaborated on the project, provides a wealth of intimate detail from the point of view of the participants in the collectivization process that refines and modifies the picture that emerges from Party reports and similar documentary sources. 

In sum, Peasants under Siege represents a central contribution to the literature on Romania during the communist period, and indeed on the history of collectivization in other contexts, as well. Because the communist past is an ongoing battlefield in the present-day politics of memory in Romania, an accurate history establishing the extent of participation in and the full range of responses to collectivization is all the more important.  Kligman and Verdery demonstrate with great subtlety the particular ways in which the Soviet model was carried out in the particular Romanian context. As the authors write: “Blueprints may provide a plan, but social practices are not so easily hammered or welded into place.” In Romania collectivization was as much negotiated as it was violent. The authors skillfully reconstruct what it created (a new kind of state, society and “person”) while simultaneously offering a full account of what it destroyed (communities and lives).

This beautifully conceived and clearly written work of history, anthropology and sociology shows how fruitful it can be to ignore the boundaries between disciplines in the interest of gaining insight into the fraught nexus between society and state. Peasants under Siege will provide a valuable guide to scholars seeking to understand rural transformation in the region for years to come, and serve as a primary reference point for those wishing to understand what really happened in the long decade of the 1950s in Romania, and what it meant for those who lived it.

The 2013 SRS Biennial Book Prize Selection Committee:  William Crowther, (chair), Holly Case and Valentina Glajar.

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.

2014 Graduate Student Essay Prize

The Sixth Annual Graduate Student Essay Prize was presented to Roxana Lucia Cazan for her “Jewish Motherhood, Heritage, and Post-memory in Anca Vlasopolos’s No Return Address and Haya Leah Molnar’s Under a Red Sky,” a chapter from her dissertation on Contested Motherhood: The Politics of Gender, Ethnicity, and Identity in Contemporary Romanian-American Literature and Culture, which she has been completing at Indiana University Bloomington. Oscillating between disciplines and geographical scales, Cazan’s essay gave a truly transnational, comparative, and global edge to Romanian Studies. Cazan examined the meaning of motherhood in a complex prism of Romanian state communism, Jewish identity, the Shoah, communist pro-natalism and post-memory. The essay was impressive both for its conceptual approach and its contents. We learn about two fascinating books by Anca Vlasopolos (No Return to Address: Memoir of a Deplacement) and Haya Leah Molnar (Under a Red Sky: Memoir of A Childhood in Communist Romania), which, in turn, entices the reader to discover and read these books independently. Dealing with two periods of repression – the Fascist period (1920s-1940s) and the early Communist period (1950s-1960s) – Cazan reflects on identity, gender, and memory. What does a memoir by a Romanian Jewish émigré tell us about modern Romanian history, society, and debates about the past? Quite a lot: Cazan’s piece challenges more comfortable boundaries of what constitutes Romanian Studies. Not only is her work interdisciplinary, but the subject matter under investigation highlights that ‘Romanian Studies’ has a global, transnational dimension to it, and thus forces us to re-examine what and where the boundaries of Romanian Studies lie. The author and protagonist of the first novel under investigation (Vlasopolos) is a point in case: a Romanian Jew of Greek origin who leaves Romania with her mother in the early Communist period having lived through the earlier Fascist period. They end up in Detroit, via Western Europe, where Vlasopolos marries a German-American and starts a family. In this intricate web of travel, exile, and memory, Vlasopolos writes her memoir reflecting on a ruptured 20th century. Such stories and Cazan’s masterful analysis compel us to think of Romanian Studies not as an isolated field, but one that is marked by war, exile, movement, cross-border experience and multifaceted identity. Interdisciplinary and very ‘fuzzy round the edges’, Cazan’s work reminds SRS how exciting, diverse, and multifarious research in and around Romanian Studies is. Long may it continue.

2013 Graduate Student Essay Prize

Committee: Roland Clark (chair), Margaret Beissinger, Oana Armeanu.

The SRS awarded the 2013 graduate student essay prize to Dr. Florin Poenaru, who successfully defended his PhD in Sociology to Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, in October 2013. The ten submissions considered for this year’s prize included a number of outstanding essays and the committee was at times fascinated, horrified, intrigued, and impressed by the findings of these authors. Poenaru’s contribution entitled “The Illusion of Anti-Communism: Articulating Anti-Hegemonic Struggles in Post-Communism” stood out for its clarity, originality, extensive research, and theoretical depth. A chapter of the author’s PhD dissertation on intellectual debates in contemporary Romania, the essay explores the challenges faced by young intellectuals disillusioned with the mainstream critiques of the country’s communist past. Poenaru uses a collected volume entitled Iluzia anti-comunismului: lecturi critice ale Raportului Tismăneanu (Chişinău: Cartier, 2008) as a case study of conflict between politically, economically, and socially influential intellectuals and a group of much younger but passionate and articulate writers. Studying networks of intellectuals as they compete for hegemony over limited resources, Poenaru exposes the limits of Romania’s post-Socialist public sphere and the impact of a transitional market economy on intellectual discourse. He shows how members of the younger generation are forming alliances with their elders to generate a conversation based on universal and standardized values that challenges the celebrity culture of mainstream anti-communism. Writing on a delicate and highly politicized subject, Poenaru’s approach is balanced, sophisticated, and highly analytical. On behalf of the SRS the committee would like to congratulate Dr. Poenaru!

2012 Graduate Student Essay Prize

Committee: Margaret Beissinger, James Koranyi, and Paul Sum.

The Fourth Graduate Student Essay Award was presented at the 2012 ASEEES conference in New Orleans, LA to Jonathan Stillo (City University of New York) for his outstanding essay titled “We are the losers of Socialism”: Tuberculosis, Social Cases and Limits of Care in Romania’. A doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology at the City University of New York, Jonathan exposes the complex relationships between the state’s “social contract,” former middle-class industrial workers, and social care in post-1989 Romania. Based on two years of fieldwork, including a six-month stint living in a TB sanatorium, Jonathan presents a trenchant and revealing analysis of tuberculosis in post-socialist Romania. He effectively incorporates the testimonies of those affected by the social issues that surround tuberculosis in contemporary Romania, showcasing the disturbing and dismal plight of the victims of TB. The project that Jonathan has tackled is challenging, yet his findings are striking and indeed moving, as he places the individual voices of those who treat as well as endure TB at the very centre of his analyses. Jonathan introduces, for example, a fraught nurse in Northern Moldova attempting to help a middle-aged TB sufferer and alcoholic. He includes other equally harrowing narratives of broken individuals such as Tudor who, at the age of fifty, has been homeless for twelve years without any social network to support him. In short, Jonathan assembles a meticulously researched mosaic, which informs broader debates on health and society in contemporary post-socialist Europe and indeed the wider world. The research presented in this essay is much-needed and promises to generate additional work that will comprise important contributions to the field. The SRS Graduate Student Essay Prize committee was unanimous in selecting Jonathan’s work as the very best from a truly excellent array of submitted essays. It is clear from Jonathan’s findings and his writing that a great deal of both academic and emotional labour has gone into his work, and for this he is hugely deserving of the 2012 Graduate Student Essay Prize of the Society for Romanian Studies.

2011 Book Prize

Committee: Margaret Beissinger, Peter Wagner, Lavinia Stan.

The committee unanimously chosen Tom Gallagher’s Romania and the European Union: How the Weak Vanquished the Strong (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009) as the best book in Romanian Studies published in English in 2009-2010. The study was a clear first choice because of its highly contemporary and relevant subject matter, original and provocative analyses, logical approach, and lucid style. Romania and the European Union is a remarkable account of how corruption penetrated Romania’s entry into the EU in 2007. It relates how the local elite not only managed to orchestrate admission into the EU on the basis of an astonishingly minor set of changes but also how Romania has left promises of significant reform  unfulfilled. Gallagher’s own unparalleled familiarity with Romania and its politicians greatly informs his novel interpretations. Original and courageous in his interpretations, Gallagher masterfully integrates case study and EU accession study by laboriously identifying the various points of contention that surfaced during the years of negotiation over Romania’s entry to the EU and the ways in which all of those points were disregarded and even shoved aside. The Romanians involved in the EU discussions were able to pull the wool over the eyes of the anxious and uncertain EU leadership, gaining accession with only a measly agenda for reform. He shows how local figures falsely persuaded the EU that they would satisfy many of the economic criteria for membership, thus convincing the EU to disregard the violations that would occur and even those then taking place. Gallagher furnishes a disturbing account of the long-standing deceit and exploitation among Romania’s post-communist elite as well as the EU leadership’s inability to detect and counteract such conduct. Romania and the European Union is a major contribution to Romanian and European studies, a commanding and convincing monograph that is relevant far beyond Romania as the “West” and “East” Europes of the Cold War now seek to eliminate boundaries. EU accession has been the single most important historical event in post-communist Romania. It is fitting, then, that the SRS Book Prize be awarded to Gallagher, whose intrepid and chilling account of Romanian-EU maneuvers over the past ten years offers an extraordinary analysis of these events—an original and powerful reading that boldly confronts and challenges many of the conventional political views and insights. It is a truly great case study. Congratulations, Tom Gallagher, for this seminal and provocative contribution to Romanian Studies! Tom Gallagher taught in the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford.

2011 Graduate Student Essay Prize

The Third Graduate Student Essay Prize was presented at the 2011 ASEEES conference in Washington, D.C. to Cristina Onose (University of Toronto) for her paper “EU Funding to Romanian SMEs: A Blueprint for Bankruptcy?”

2010 Graduate Student Essay Prize

The Second Graduate Student Essay Prize was presented to Anca Mandru (University of Illinois) for her paper “Recurrent, Integrative, and Anti-Statist? Cultural Nationalism as Embodied in the Summer School at Valenii de Munte, Romania (1908-1940).” The essay was chosen because of its excellent style, grounded connections to theory, and overall contribution to the field of Romanian Studies. The goal of the paper is to apply John Hutchinson’s theory of cultural nationalism to the case of a series of summer schools organized by Nicolae Iorga at Valenii de Munte before and during the Greater Romania period between the World Wars. The case study also tests the validity of Hutchinson’s model. The essay is clearly and engagingly written, providing substantial background on both the relevant theories of nationalism and the historical context of the treated summer schools. The discussion and conclusions highlight how the summer schools contributed to the historical and political events of the time in considerable detail, however the essay remains accessible and informative even for the non-specialized reader. The essay is an outstanding example of how a case study can inform both historical knowledge and broader theoretical concerns. For this reason, Mandru’s essay stood out for all evaluators as the winner. The paper examines the summer school organized by the Romanian nationalist historian and politician Nicolae Iorga at Valenii de Munte in the interwar period from the perspective of John Hutchinson’s theory of cultural nationalism. Iorga’s summer school is here used as a case-study for testing the theory’s main premises, namely the recurrent, integrative and anti-statist character of cultural nationalism. Examining the challenges posed by the creation of Greater Romania and the subsequent integration of minorities and Romanians from the new provinces in the new state, the paper argues that Iorga’s otherwise traditional ideology was nevertheless integrative, aiming at creating a unified national culture. While Iorga’s project was characterized by strong anti-statist rhetoric, this paper argues that in fact the survival of cultural nationalism in the form promoted by the summer school at Valenii de Munte depended on support from, and cooperation with, the authorities, thus undermining John Hutchinson’s assumption of the essentially adversarial relation between cultural nationalism and the state. Anca Mandru is a doctoral student in History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She holds a Master’s degree in Central European History from the Central European University in Budapest and a Bachelor’s degree in History from the American University in Bulgaria. She has received numerous awards related to her outstanding academic work, has presented two conference papers, and has a research article under review at a major journal. Her winning essay was written in the Spring Semester, 2010, for a course entitled “Introduction to Historical Writing.”

2009 Graduate Student Essay Prize

Committee: Margaret Beissinger, Lavinia Stan, and Ileana Orlich.

The First SRS Graduate Student Essay Prize went to Roland Clark, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, for his paper “Singing Fascist Style: Music in the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael.” The committee wrote: “It was a very fine essay. We found that it was well written, well documented, with a clearly defined research question, and well argued. Clark’s findings on the role of music in the Iron Guard were fascinating and his interpretations were superb. His essay contained definitions ‘of appropriate terms (‘legionary’) based on a diversity of information sources, included Securitate documents obtained recently by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.’ We also all felt that it was a topic that has not been covered adequately in the English-language literature on the Iron Guard.” Exploiting a support base built by earlier Romanian anti-Semites, the Legion of the Archangel Michael was established by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938) in 1927, and took power in a coup together with General Antonescu in 1940, ruling for five months before the regime disintegrated in an open legionary rebellion. Song lyrics articulated legionary ideology, but the music also communicated messages about unity, virulence, and ethnic specificity. It expressed the legionaries’ love affair with the peasantry, their romanticization of the natural world, their obsession with death, and the religious symbolism that characterized every aspect of legionary public life. Legionaries sang about highly emotional themes, and made frequent use of the imperative tense in their songs. Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison argue that in many social movements, “collective structures of feeling are actually made and reorganized … through song.” By claiming that their music expressed the Romanian soul, legionaries hoped to transform spectators into sympathizers and incorporate them into an imagined national community that Legionaries claimed to be appealing to a peasant base, and yet even though early legionary songs celebrated peasant life, they rarely reproduced peasant musical forms. Music, more than many forms of culture, often reflects class distinctions very clearly through both song structure and lyrical content, so how did legionaries use music to attract peasants? Songs expressed the Legion’s mythology, they created its style, and they provided the basis for its convivial sociability. In this paper, I situate legionary songs within the group’s wider semiotic web, suggest why certain musical styles were preferred over others, and show how legionaries used song to form solidarities with diverse sections of the population. Roland Clark is a a doctoral student in History at the University of Pittsburgh.