University of Iowa News Release
Dec. 8, 2003
UI History Professor Wins Award For Book On Medicine, Politics Under Stalin
Paula Michaels, associate professor of history, has won one of the top prizes in her field for her book "Curative Powers: Medicine And Empire In Stalin's Central Asia" (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). The Heldt Prize is awarded by the Association of Women in Slavic Studies to the best book in the field written by a woman.
The book on the history of biomedicine in Kazakhstan traces the relationship between politics, medicine, and local culture. The citation awarding the prize to Michaels reads: "Curative Powers carves out important new territory in the study of the emergence of a pan-Soviet identity."
The review committee commended Michaels for combining "detailed historical research with ethnographic methods and the judicious use of colonial and post-colonial theory to argue that medical initiatives played an important role alongside other discourses in spreading Soviet power."
The book covers the Stalin era, roughly 1928 to 1953, and details the ways in which the Soviet government attempted to win the support of Kazakhs by sending medical professionals out to the rural areas to lecture on medical topics and provide necessary treatment. The state hoped that the people would be so grateful for the medical care that they would develop favorable views of the government.
Though the transformative impact of biomedicine never lived up to the expectations of the authorities, Kazakhs did adopt biomedicine alongside their traditional ethnomedical practices, Michaels said. Thus medicine became one means through which the government and the people could establish a relationship.
Michaels' research was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the UI Arts and Humanities Initiative, a Social Science Research Council award and an Old Gold Fellowship.
An expert on the history of the Soviet Union and Central Asia, Michaels earned a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina in Russian and Soviet history.
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