Introductory Seminar in Post-1700 European History

Russian History through Film

In this introductory seminar, first and second-year students will become familiar with some of the major events and eras in history of Russia and its empire through detailed analysis of some of the most important films produced in and about Russia in the past century.  Besides being an introduction to Russian history and culture, the seminar aims to get students thinking about fundamental problems historians grapple with as they reconstruct and represent the past.  

We will be asking two kinds of questions about the interaction between history and film in Russia.  1) How have films acted as secondary historical sources, i.e. to portray historical reality and disseminate it to a broad public (not only within Russia but internationally)?  What are the principal challenges of making and interpreting films about past eras and major historical events?  Is there a discernible line between educational and propagandistic uses of historical films?  2) Second, how can films (not only "historical" films but more broadly) be used as primary sources for understanding Russia's 20th and 21st century history?  What exactly can they tell us about Russian/Soviet society that other sources cannot, or not as effectively?

Students will view films outside of class.  In some weeks the assignment will be two standard-length films; in others it will be one longer or multi-part film.

The films we focus most closely on will include several of the following, many of which are considered masterpieces of world cinema.  Andrei Rubley (Andrei Tarkovski, 1966); Ivan the Terrible (Sergei Eisenstein, 1944-1945); War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1967); The Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1975); The Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929); 

Agony/Rasputin (Aleksey Petrenko, 1975); Circus (Grigorii Aleksandrov, 1936); The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kolotozov, 1957); Burnt by the Sun (Nikita Mikhalkov, 1994); Siberiade (Andrei Konchalovskii, 1979); Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Vladimir Menshov, 1979); Repentance (Tengiz Abuladze, 1987); Little Vera (Vasilii Pichul, 1988); Brother (Aleksei Balabanov, 1997); and The Return (Andrei Zviagintsev, 2003).  Alongside we will read other sources such as critics' reviews, directors' commentaries, and accounts of the film-making process.  For historical context, we will be using Gregory L. Freeze, ed., Russia: A History, and essays on specialized topics. 

Students will write graded essays both on assigned films and on films of their own choice, and will be expected to engage in seminar discussion.  They will occasionally be asked to write and present short, ungraded commentaries.  No exams will be given.  No previous knowledge of Russian history, culture, or language is required. 


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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