Barnes Honored with Baxter Adams Prize

Barnes Honored with Baxter Adams Prize

Steven A. Barnes, faculty member, Department of History and Art History and director of the Center for Eurasian Studies, has been selected as the winner of the 2013 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize for his book Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society (Princeton Univ. Press, 2011). The Adams Prize is awarded annually by the American Historical Association (AHA) to honor an American or Canadian author in the field of European history. Books on European history from 1815 through the 20th century were eligible for the 2013 competition. The prize will be awarded during a ceremony at the association’s annual meeting in January.

Death and Redemption examines and reinterprets the role of the Gulag, the Soviet system of forced labor camps that were active from 1917 through the end of the Stalin era in the early 1950s. Barnes looks at the Gulag system as an institution that played a fundamental role in the Soviet ideology that prisoners were not to be simply eliminated, but afforded a possibility of social transformation or “re-education.” The prize review committee noted Barnes’s fresh interpretation. 

“Steven Barnes offers a provocative reconceptualization of the Soviet Gulag,” noted Martin Francis, the 2013 Adams Prize Committee Chair and Henry Winkler Professor of Modern History at the University of Cincinnati. “[Death and Redemption] demonstrates convincingly that [the gulag] needs to be understood as a transformative space, where both individual and society were refashioned in the name of creating a socialist utopia. 

Brian Platt, chair, Department of History and Art History, put the award in perspective: "Many of our faculty members have received book prizes, but the Adams prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the entire discipline.  The prestige stems partly from the fact that the award is given by the pre-eminent scholarly association for our discipline (the AHA), but also because it considers works from such a broad range of fields.  Among the hundreds of scholarly books published in the field of modern European history in the last two years, Steve's was judged to be the best and the most important."

The Adams prize was established in 1905 in memory of the first secretary of the association, Herbert Adams of Johns Hopkins University, who was also one of the association’s founders. The Adams Prize and the Leo Gershoy Award (also bestowed by the AHA) are widely considered to be the most prestigious prizes in the field of European history. The Adams Prize was initially offered on a biennial basis, but in 1930 it was discontinued due to the stock market crash. The AHA revived the prize in 1938, again as a biennial offering, and it became an annual award in 1971.

Platt added, "When we first hired Steve we knew that his research would make a big splash in Soviet history, because it involved a basic rethinking of a major institution that is well known to both scholars and the general public. The award confirms that the book is not only ambitious and provocative, but that the research behind it is of the highest quality."