History of the Russian Empire 1700-1917


            Are you curious about the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine? . . . or why Vladimir Putin meddled in last year's U.S. presidential election?  Many explanations of contemporary events lie in Russia's imperial past, when it ruled over not only Ukraine but also Poland, Finland, Georgia, Armenia, and Central Asia (a sixth of the earth's land area, all told), yet still harbored an enormous inferiority complex vis-à-vis the countries of Western Europe. 

            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 Vladimir I. Lenin.  (This year of course marks the centennial of Russia's 1917 revolutions.)

            About half the course is 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 serfdom), 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.

You will be expected to read between 100 and 200 pages per week.  The overview text is A History of Russia (vol. 1: to 1917) by Walter MossBeing at the introductory level, the course is intended to teach you to think as historians do, and to consider the various types of sources that can be brought to bear on historical analysis.  We'll be doing our own interpretation of a wide range of textual primary sources on tsarist Russia:  literary classics such as the theatrical farce The Government Inspector (Nikolai Gogol), the novels Fathers and Children (Ivan Turgenev) and Hadji Murad (Leo Tolstoy), as well as shorter selections such as government documents and memoir excerpts by revolutionary activists, factory workers, and peasants.  Graded work will include a map quiz, two take-home midterms, one 5-6 pp. paper, and a comprehensive final exam.

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
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