Paula Michaels wins book prize

michaels-lamaze-coverPaula Michaels’ book Lamaze: An International History (Oxford University Press) has won the 2015 Frances Richardson Keller-Sierra Prize, which is awarded by the Western Association of Women Historians.

The citation for this prize read:

In her innovative and engaging new book, Lamaze: An International History, Paula A. Michaels tells the unexpected story of how ‘natural childbirth’ came to be deeply embroiled in the politics of the Cold War. In 1951, Fernand Lamaze, a left-leaning French obstetrician, discovered a ‘psychoprophylactic’ method during a visit to a Soviet maternity clinic in Leningrad where breathing techniques were used in place of pharmacological anesthetics. Brought to the west, the relaxation methods he introduced not only challenged accepted wisdom about hospital childbirth in the United States and France; they also drew the Cold War into discussions about gender and post-war consumer culture. Michaels uses Russian, French, and U.S. sources to weave a complex history that pushes us to think transnationally about the forces that shape our everyday lives. Spanning individual biography, the history of childbirth, and international politics, Lamaze: An International History provides a model for understanding how ideas and practices take shape in the modern world. The Women’s Group of the Western Association is proud to recognize this pathbreaking scholarship with this year’s book award.

Paula Michaels’ book also received an honourable mention in the Association for Women in Slavic Studies’ 2015 Heldt Prize in the category of Best Book in Slavic/East European/Eurasian Women’s Studies.

This citation read:

Dr Paula Michaels’ Lamaze: An International History offers a fascinating recounting of the history of the well-known method of relaxation that so commonly accompanies natural childbirth today in United States. What is less known and offered in detail in this well-researched and beautifully written monograph is that the practice originated in the Soviet Union during the early years of the Cold War. With an innovative transnational approach, Michaels traces how French scientist, Ferdinand Lamaze visited the Soviet Union in 1951 and ‘discovered’ the method while witnessing its use in natural (drug-free) childbirth. This technique, psychoprophylaxis (conditioned response), grew largely out of the famous methods developed earlier by the famous Russian/Soviet scientist, Ivan Pavlov. Dr Lamaze popularized the method in France in the 1950s, and ‘Lamaze’ made its way to the US in the 1970s where it has retained its popularity. Michaels tells this complex story through her adroit reading of a wide variety of sources, in a history that addresses many of the concerns of social, political and intellectual history, as well as the history of science. Paula Michael’s monograph has received Honorable Mention for the Heldt Prize in the category of Best Book in Slavic/East European/Eurasian Women’s Studies.

Paula’s book was also shortlisted for the 2014 New South Wales Premier’s General History Prize.

This citation read:

This exceptionally fine book traces the emergence of psychoprophylactic approaches to childbirth in the Soviet Union and their translation to France under the sponsorship of the obstetrician Frederic Lamaze. Michaels then traces the ideological laundering of Soviet methods in the United States, where ‘Lamaze’ became a byword for progressive or ‘natural’ approaches to birth. Michaels tells this story within a richly woven context, which encompasses the Cold War, the 1950s culture of consensus, the 1960s culture of conflict, and changing role of women and the family in a post‐War world. This is a wonderful example of imaginative research, of a scholar noticing an historical problem, a post‐War contradiction, and producing a powerful piece of global history based on wide research in archives in Russia, the Ukraine, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. In producing a complex and persuasive argument that explains Lamaze’s international appeal Michaels has connected not only the histories of countries but of science, medicine, popular culture and political ideology.

For more information about Paula’s book, see the Oxford University Press website