Want to understand the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and what lied behind Vladimir Putin's behavior? Many of the answers lie in Russia's imperial past, when it ruled over not only Ukraine but also Poland, Finland, Georgia, Armenia, Central Asia, etc. We will begin with the reign of Peter the Great, and cover two centuries in which the Romanov dynasty struggled to bring Russia into the ranks of European and world powers by pursuing its economic, social, and cultural transformation, and by conquering ever more territories and populations. At the same time the tsars insisted on preserving many of Russia's traditional and distinctive features, including autocratic rule itself. This precarious situation ultimately led to social and political revolution, but almost as soon as tsarist rule ended in 1917, Russia and much of the empire were taken over by a new dictatorship, that of the Bolsheviks (Communists) under V.I. Lenin.
About half the course will be devoted to the last sixty years of the imperial (tsarist) period, from defeat in the Crimean War and implementation of the so-called Great Reforms (beginning with the abolition of serfdon), concluding with close analysis of the revolutions of 1905, February 1917, and October 1917. Special attention will be paid to the tsarist social hierarchy and the governance of diverse ethno-national populations.
Students will read from 100 to 150 pages per week. The overview text will be A History of Russia (vol 1: to 1917) by Walter Moss. Primary source readings will include Russia literacy classics such as the theatrical farce The Government Inspector (Nikolai Gogol) and the novels Fathers and Children (Ivan Turgenev) and Hadji Murad (Lev Tolstoy), Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Vera Figner, and several peasant memoirs. Graded work will include a map quiz, a take home mid-term, one 5-6 pp. paper, and a comprehensive final exam