Marika Mägi, In Austrvegr: The Role of the Eastern Baltic in Viking Age Communication across the Baltic Sea. Brill 2018.
The prize committee writes: "The scope of this book is far broader than the title might suggest. It amounts to a substantial rethinking of the history of the eastern Baltic from the tenth to the thirteenth century, based on both archaelogical and written evidence. The author is by training an archaeologist, and she mounts a powerful criticism of historians who prioritise the written sources and then pick and choose from the archaeological evidence to suit their theories. This book foregrounds the archaeology, which is used to question and consider the written evidence. The author is also highly and rightly critical of the archaeological scholarship, for projecting back into the past the narrow concerns of the numerous nation states that now exist across the eastern and northern Baltic, or the Great Russian nationalist-materialist-imperialist interpretations of the Soviet period. The result is a detailed and fascinating account of the interactions of the worlds of Scandinavia and Rusʹ with the various peoples of the Baltic region, both Finno-Ugric and Baltic. The resulting picture of commercial, political, and cultural interaction across several cultures, and based on reading in a wide range of languages, is a tour-de-force."
Honorable Mention: Felicia Roşu, Elective Monarchy in Transylvania and Poland-Lithuania, 1569-1587. Oxford U. Press 2018.
The prize committee writes: "This is an excellent book. An extended version of an ambitious doctoral dissertation, it is a genuine exercise in comparative history that does far more than simply tell the story of the elections of Stefan Batory as prince of Transylvania and king of Poland-Lithuania. It utilises a wide range of sources in several languages, and the elections are used as the basis for a thoughtful, incisive, and at times daring consideration of the nature of republican monarchy in east-central Europe in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The study is based on deep and effective reading in a wide range of printed and archival sources. Many of them are well known, but the author has supplemented them with materials from the Vatican archives, and collections in Dresden, Venice, Paris, and Vienna that are less familiar. She demonstrates considerable expertise in early modern political thought, and a subtle understanding of the writings in particular of Jean Bodin—who did not approve of either political system—but also of Hobbes, Locke, and other, lesser known writers on the problems of monarchy and republicanism, against which she sets the ideas of contemporary Polish and Hungarian writers. The result is a challenging and original work which says a great deal that is new. The comparison between the two systems is highly instructive. While there were many similarities, there were also significant differences, not least in religious matters. In Poland—less so in Lithuania—the Catholic church remained strong and was undergoing a powerful revival by the 1570s. In Transylvania, though Bathóry himself was a Catholic, it was weak, and the system of religious toleration—‘intolerant toleration’ as the author usefully terms it—embedded more firmly than in Poland. The comparative approach enables her to mount fruitful challenges to a number of unexamined assumptions on the part of both Polish and Hungarian historians."
2019 Article Prize
Nick Mayhew, ‘Banning Spiritual Brotherhoods and Establishing Marital Chastity in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Muscovy and Ruthenia’, Palaeoslavica 25/2 (2017): 80–108.
The prize committee writes: "This is an excellent article that looks at Bratotvorenie, a liturgical rite that united two unrelated men as ‘brothers’. Bratotvorenie stemmed from a Byzantine prototype known as adelphopoiesis, which was banned in the twelfth century. The rite survived, however, in the East Slavonic tradition, where it was practised from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. The article mounts an extensive critical examination of John Boswell’s highly influential thesis, presented in his seminal 1994 study Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, in which it is argued that bratoverenie and similar rites were essentially a premodern form of same-sex marriage. The author has written a critical, thoughtful, provocative, and convincing analysis of the issues; what is most impressive is its careful engagement with the literature in the higly contentious field of sexuality and gender, and its presentation of bratoverenie in the terms used at the time, gently and effectively challenging the imposition of modern ideas of sexuality and gender on the past. The result is a subtle, source based analysis that reaches sensible conclusions after a close examination of a wide range of texts and challenging Boswell on a fundamental level, while accepting some of his conclusions; unlike Rapp, who has criticised Boswell’s account with regard to adelphopoiesis, and rejecting its association with marriage, the author argues that in Ruthenia and Muscovy it was associated with marriage, yet this does not of itself justify the interpretation placed upon it in Boswell’s work. The author takes the religious beliefs of the time seriously, which enables him to make subtle distinctions, and to reach persuasive conclusions regarding the reasons for banning bratotverenie in the seventeenth century by which time attitudes towards sexuality had shifted, and the rite had aroused suspicion among church authorities."