SHCY Dissertation Prize for 2020
Mehmet Volkan Kaşıkçı
“Growing Up Soviet in the Periphery: Imagining, Experiencing and Remembering Childhood in Kazakhstan, 1928-1953” (PhD. Diss., Arizona State University, 2020).
“Growing Up Soviet in the Periphery: Imagining, Experiencing and Remembering Childhood in Kazakhstan, 1928-1953,” is the first substantial study of Soviet childhood in a non-Russian republic. In addition to recovering children’s lived experiences during and after the famine of the early 1930s and the Second World War, the author reveals how central childhood was to the Soviet regime’s modernizing ambitions and its efforts to promote Sovietization (including linguistic Russification) in Central Asia.
As important in method as in substance, this dissertation not only represents a highly significant contribution to the history of the Soviet Union and its nationality policies, shifting the focus of Sovietization from the cultural and intellectual elite to ordinary people, but it is also a landmark study in the development of the history of children and youth. The author’s language skills, impressive and innovative research, deep engagement with existing scholarship, and bottom-up approach have resulted in a manuscript that sheds stunning insights into the dynamics of the Soviet regime and into the ultimate failure to permanently alter the identity of the people of Kazakhstan. Composed with remarkable clarity, the study yields a number of portable research findings and approaches for other historical settings. This is an elegantly conceived and beautifully written work that deserves a very wide readership.
Jason Chernesky’s “‘The Littlest Victims’: Pediatric AIDS and the Urban Ecology of Health in the Late-Twentieth-Century United States” is an outstanding and groundbreaking study. Based on forensic interrogation of a wide range of sources including oral histories, the author offers a compelling understanding of the disease and its effects. An array of fully drawn historical actors populate the discussion, including children, healthcare professionals (with nurses accorded due prominence for the first time), family members, friends, and journalists. Place and race also command central roles, Chernesky generating significant findings on urban inequality, racialized health disparities and the mapping of disease onto already disadvantaged, segregated groups. The public policy implications of such arguments are manifest (and only heightened by the unfolding coronavirus pandemic).
Captivating case studies of people and neighbourhoods lay at the heart of this study, superbly contextualized with regard to wider social forces and medical data. Assessments are drawn throughout with compassion, empathy and insight, and altogether the study offers a model for how to write medical history steeped in social and historical contexts. Because of the holistic approach showcased so effectively in the study, the author is able to disentangle the apparent slow success of a “techno-scientific fix” from the historical (and ongoing) structural factors that jeopardized young Americans in the face of HIV-AIDS, and to tell the story of how the disease was both lived and also understood as a popular concern.
Nicola Sugden’s “Winnicott’s Worlds: A History of Psychoanalysis and Childhood in Britain c.1920-c.1975” is a strikingly original contribution to our understanding of the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, who played a key role in the wartime evacuation of children from their homes, and whose ideas about “good-enough” mothering, the importance of attachment, childhood play, and object relations in childhood development, and antisocial behavior as a cry for help, continue to exert a powerful influence on contemporary parenting and child therapy.
Unlike previous studies that focused largely on Winnicott’s life and ideas, this manuscript looks in depth into Winnicott’s actual practice of pediatric medicine and psychoanalysis. But the dissertation is much more than a biography. It represents a significant contribution to the histories of medicine, professionalization, and psychoanalysis, and to pediatricians, social workers, and psychotherapists’ evolving views of children and their proper treatment. This manuscript helps readers understand how professionals came to think of children as active agents rather than as static creatures, and to regard children’s inner life as a subject worthy of serious attention.
Naama Maor’s “Delinquent Parents: Punitive Welfare and the Creation of Juvenile Justice, 1899-1927” is a masterful study of the juvenile court system that emerged in the Progressive Era United States. Eloquently written and brilliantly conceived, this dissertation delves deeply into previously unexplored court archives, institutional records, and family correspondence. Case studies drawn from across the United States—Denver, Chicago, and Memphis—highlight intersections of race, class, and gender among citizens and recent immigrants. Even as this study explains national shifts in public welfare, it never fails to highlight regional differences and the complex ways in which parents and youth negotiated with social reformers and court officials beyond state lines.
Maor reveals how the new juvenile court system, using the rhetoric of child protection, established a “punitive-welfare regime” that sought to intervene not only in the lives of children, but also in the lives of their parents through both penal discipline and public assistance. A stellar legal and institutional history, “Delinquent Parents” also centers the experiences of youth and their families, who are shown to be important actors and state-builders even as they increasingly came under the power of juvenile court systems.