Age of Reform and Revolution in Russia, 1855-1917


This course explores political, social, and economic upheaval in Russia from the end of the Crimean War to World War I and the revolutions of 1917.  Special focus will be on the "Great Reforms" beginning with the emancipation of the serfs; industrialization, urbanization, and labor; the fate of the agricultural economy and peasantry; the question of social identities, bourgeois culture, and Russia’s "missing middle class"; revolutionary terrorism; the impact of ethnic diversity and empire on opposition to the tsarist government; and the 1905 revolution and the experiment in liberal politics.  Throughout, we will engage the issue of Russia's increasing surface resemblance to Western, industrialized societies during the late 19th century, and ask at what points it became unlikely and then impossible for it to evolve into a liberal democracy. 


The first half of the course, after presenting the era of Great Reforms in a more or less narrative format, will take different social groups in turn, investigating the experiences and attitudes of each in the aftermath of the reforms and leading up to the revolutionary upheaval of 1905.  Beginning with 1905, we will turn to a more chronological approach, using Orlando Figes's A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (excluding the last third of the book), to explore the complex chain of events leading to the breakdown of the tsarist system in February 1917 and the takeover by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party in October 1917.


The syllabus will include a number of primary sources (memoirs, ethnographies, letters, literary works), secondary scholarly literature, and films set during the era.  Classes will be a combination of lecture and discussion of readings.  Graded work will include a take-home midterm, two short papers, and a comprehensive final exam.  There is no prerequisite for the course, though a basic knowledge of European and/or Russian history is helpful.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts