Outstanding Achievement Award

The Outstanding Achievement Award recognizes the accomplishments of established leaders in the field of Slavic, East European and Eurasian women’s and gender studies. Their contributions have broken new ground in the discipline and laid the groundwork for others.

2019 Award

Over more than three decades, Irina Reyfman has been a role model as a dedicated scholar-teacher. After receiving her PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Stanford University, Professor Reyfman joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1986. She has also held visiting appointments at the University of California at Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. A specialist in eighteenth-century Russian literature, Reyfman has published four single-authored monographs, two co-edited volumes of essays and, most recently, co-authored a comprehensive history of Russian literature. This body of work, along with an outpouring of support for her nomination from students past and present, speaks to the synergy between her research agenda and her work in the classroom.

If there is one word that comes through loud and clear among those who know her it is care—care for the work, and care for those around her. I hesitate to call them “students”, as she is quick to treat them as something more than that. They are colleagues, fellow travelers into the joys of Russian literature. Her former and current students alike praise her for her genuine interest in their insights and her ability to spread an infectious passion for Gogol, Radishchev, and Trediakovsky. Eschewing shame or competition as motivational tools, Reyfman leans instead on the intrinsic delights of literary discovery to inspire curiosity. As one student wrote, “whenever she asked whether we had read some lesser-known literary work and we said no, she would let out a sigh of happiness, smile, and say, ‘u vas vse vperedi!’ [you have everything ahead of you!].”

Reyfman’s passion is paired with rigor. Apparently, she is known as a “velvet fist in an iron glove,” a description that captures with affection and humor the fact that she is a demanding, but fair advisor. She is “direct and assertive, but never harsh.” She turns around drafts with a speed that makes one’s head spin—sometimes within a mere day—and does so while providing detailed feedback on the ideas and the writing. Reyfman has supervised fifteen dissertation and been a second reader on many more; the research of these students span the eighteenth through twenty-first centuries. Budding scholars seek out her service on their committee because they know she brings an encyclopedic knowledge of Russian literature and a keen eye from which their work will benefit.

Her generosity toward students extends well beyond the classroom. Reyfman was an early and important supporter of the relaunch of the Columbia graduate student journal, Ulbandus: The Slavic Review of Columbia University. She led a semester-long exploration of Radishchev’s Journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg with students who met weekly, voluntarily, just out of sheer love for and curiosity about the text. On another occasion, unfinished business from a Russian stylistics class one semester continued informally the following semester with a discussion in Reyfman’s home about Pelevin’s “Nika.” A monthly kruzhok in her home brought together students of Slavic literature, history, and comparative literature to present work-in-progress. Those events were marked by their egalitarian ethos, which erased any hierarchy between students and teachers for the sake of a rigorous and stimulating exchange of ideas. These efforts, taken together, show Reyfman to be an unsung architect of intellectual community, above and beyond the call of duty.

When praised for her tireless efforts, with characteristic modesty Reyfman is quick to dismiss this work as “just doing her job.” But anyone would recognize this level of effort and devotion as beyond the bounds of what is typical and thus worthy of recognition. As one of her supporters wrote, Reyfman “sees her work with her students, above all, as her ‘imperishable’ contribution to the field.” For more than thirty years, she has worked toward this distinguished legacy.

Reyfman is, of course, not just an effective, respected, exceptional teacher and mentor. She is also a distinguished literary scholar. Her scholarship across all her publications builds on the tradition of Tartu cultural semiotics so as to preserve that theory’s search for invariants. She balances that structuralist impulse with careful attention to literary history, an awareness of the nuances of individual texts and authorial careers, and a profound study of literary institutions. To touch on just a few highlights of her writings, her first book, Vasilii Trediakovsky: The Fool of the “New” Russian Literature (1991) earned accolades as “inspired,” “pioneering,” and “ambitious,” with significant methodological implications for the study of eighteenth-century literature broadly. Her 2012 Rank and Style: Russians in State Service, Life, and Literature enjoyed similar praise for its blend of historical and literary studies, and heralded by one reviewer as “an impressive testimony to [Reyfman’s] range and conviction that a sympathetic understanding of the social framework underpinning Russian noble culture enriches our appreciation of Russian literature”—a description that could apply equally to her teaching philosophy. Further elaborating on her explorations of literature, literary culture, and professionalization, How Russia Learned to Write: Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks (2016) received praise for its elegant writing, persuasive argumentation, and nuanced reading of canonical eighteenth and nineteenth century writers. It is no coincidence that a scholar of this profound erudition has co-authored Oxford University Press’s History of Russian Literature (2018), a work that is destined to become a classic in the field, turned to by students and scholars for many years to come.

For these many achievements and more as a teacher, mentor, and scholar, AWSS is pleased to bestow its 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award on Irina Reyfman.

2018 Award

The Association for Women in Slavic Studies is extremely pleased to announce that Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild is the winner of the 2018 Outstanding Achievement Award. One of the founders of our organization and first president, Rochelle has been a critical leader throughout its 30-year history. She is an exemplary scholar, a champion of women’s studies and women’s achievements, as well as a mentor to colleagues and students in the US and abroad. Moreover, her activism in the Boston feminist community and support for feminists around the world has made a significant impact. The selection committee makes this decision based not only on Dr. Ruthchild’s long-standing service and scholarship but on the testimonials of multiple other senior colleagues, who often stated their astonishment that Rochelle had not received this honor already. In this 30th anniversary year of AWSS, we are therefore correcting this oversight and acknowledging the numerous contributions Dr. Ruthchild has made to our field, to our profession, and to feminist communities all over the world.

Many, many senior scholars and AWSS past presidents wrote in support of Rochelle’s nomination, speaking to her integral role in AWSS, her record of excellent scholarship, and her mentoring of students and colleagues, among other achievements. For one thing, without Rochelle, AWSS simply might not exist, at least not in its current incarnation. As one nominator wrote, “we think of AWSS as an organization that still functions because of the combined work of many people. While that is true, I also know as a member and past-president of AWSS that the very existence of AWSS from a logistical, financial perspective, is entirely due to the diligence of Rochelle Ruthchild since the founding of AWSS in 1988.” Especially in her long-term role as Clerk (and now Investment Officer), she has spent countless hours working on behalf of the organization, especially in such unglamorous but critical aspects as maintaining its 501-c-3 status. Rochelle’s deep knowledge of AWSS history, finances, and governance has made it possible for AWSS to not only survive but thrive over the years. Another past president writes: “For Rochelle, the purpose was not merely to keep AWSS viable, but most important of all, to support and strengthen research and scholarship in women’s and gender studies.” Thus there was always a larger purpose to the sometimes tedious work of filling out the paperwork and monitoring the budget.

Equally important is Rochelle’s role in the founding of AWSS. As one supporter wrote: “Having defended a dissertation on “The Russian Women’s Movement, 1859-1917” in 1976 at a time when few in the Slavic field were engaged in research, writing, and teaching on Slavic women’s history and literature, Rochelle was instrumental in creating the first network of scholars pursuing an interest in Russian women’s history. A roundtable on “Retrieving Russian Women” at the 1986 AAASS convention in which Rochelle participated attracted an audience of at least 30 people. When many of those in attendance expressed a desire to keep in touch and exchange ideas, it was decided to form a Women’s Studies Caucus that would meet at the annual AAASS convention. People wishing to join the group were asked to contact Rochelle. This initiative was followed by the founding of AWSS at the AAASS convention in Boston in 1987; Rochelle, as a founding member, was its president from 1988 to 1990, and has been a member and clerk of the AWSS Board of Directors from 1990 to the present [currently under the honorary title of Investment Officer]. At one time or another, she has participated in just about all AWSS’s programs and committees and has been a longtime staunch advocate for advancing the status of women in the Slavic profession, especially encouraging and mentoring younger scholars.”

Rochelle has produced some of the most important work on Russian feminists, has influenced scholars and students around the world, and is widely considered to be the world’s leading authority on the topic. That work first appeared in countless seminal articles and book chapters. Her award-winning book, Equality and Revolution: Women’s Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905-1917 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), is a landmark in women’s studies, challenging Soviet (and other left-wing) dismissals of feminism as inherently bourgeois with her close analysis of a successful class-diverse women’s movement emerging in early twentieth-century Russia. (If only Aleksandra Kollontai could have read Rochelle’s monograph....) Rochelle has continued her trenchant revision of implicitly misogynist Soviet “women’s history” with her individual and comparative studies of such political figures as Anna Filosofova, Nadezhda Stasova, and Maria Trubnikova; her survey of feminist publications and publishers in prerevolutionary Saint Petersburg; and her analysis of feminist dissidents’ activism in the late Brezhnev period. Dr. Ruthchild’s scholarly corpus is extraordinary in its intelligent revisionist zeal. Her productivity is also remarkable in light of the fact that she never benefited from the perks of a tenure-track position, with regular sabbaticals and financial support for field research and conference attendance.

Rochelle has also been the major book reviewer in Russian women’s and gender studies in the prestigious Women’s Review of Books and is an editor of Aspasia, the first journal dedicated to Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian women’s and gender studies. In 2008 Rochelle was the plenary speaker at the conference in St. Petersburg celebrating the centenary of the First All-Women’s conference and since that time has served in that function many a time, including at the AWSS Conference in Alexandria in 2017.

Given her positions at Norwich University and Union Institute and University, where she spent most of her career between 1981 and 2007, she did not train her own graduate students in the field of Russian women’s history. Rather, she mentored generations of scholars in the U.S. and Russia with generosity and patience, without collecting much (or any) institutional visibility.  Because Rochelle is someone interested in results and not titles.  She simply wants to share her passion and her insights with anyone and everyone who will have them. One recommender was at the 2008 St. Petersburg conference and “witnessed firsthand the adoration and respect that our Russian colleagues have for Rochelle. It is clear that she had reached out to all of them as a mentor, giving them advice about how to navigate the challenges of introducing their work to academics in the West and encouraging them to present their work at AAASS, now ASEEES. In addition, Rochelle spearheaded a campaign within AWSS to raise money to help some of our Russian and Ukrainian colleagues to come to ASEEES and to travel within Russia itself to attend scholarly conferences.” Such commitment to the education and professional development of scholars, combined with her patience and generosity, is a rare find in our professional world.

More recently, Rochelle’s service has extended into new areas. She co-coordinates a working group on gender, socialism and post-socialism at Harvard’s Davis Center and continues to work in various capacities (grantwriter, fundraiser, producer) on the 888 Women’s History Project, which financed the excellent documentary, Left on Pearl: Women Take Over 888 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, and publicizes the history of feminist activists in 1970s Cambridge.

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