History | Heroes and Villains in Russian History
D303 | 11826 | Eklof


This course examines major themes in Russian history through the
lives of colorful, controversial, mainly famous, but also obscure,
individuals.  We examine biography and memoirs as historical
sources, and focus upon the connection between the private and
public, the individual and society.  We look at the myth-making
process surrounding their lives to learn what such myths, as much as
the truth of their lives, tells us about Russian identity and its
search for a “usable past” (a term to be discussed in).  We watch
and analyze popular films and “documentaries”, again, to address how
myths are constructed.

This year the focus will be upon the reign of Nicholas II (1894-
1917), including World War I, the Revolutions of 1917 and the Civil
War (1918-1921).  Among the people whose lives we will examine are
Nicholas and his family as well as the notorious Rasputin;
Russia’s “last hope” Prime Minister Peter Stolypin (1906-1911) and
economic wizard Sergei Witte; revolutionary leaders such as Lenin,
Trotsky, Kerensky and (feminist, Bolshevik and proponent of free
love) Alexandra Kollontai).  Other less notable, but equally
colorful personalities include a peasant, a radical worker, a
general, a non-commissioned officer, all of whom left behind memoirs
of their experiences.  We will use these individual biographies, and
their treatment by historians, to understand both the dynamics of
late Imperial Russia and the meaning subsequent generations have
given to the period as a whole  (“ill-fated”; “dynamic and
exuberant”; conflicted; “lost opportunity” and “path not taken”) and
to the fate of Empire in the modern world.
  
Requirements:  There will be three exams (a combination of in-class,
short essay, and take home essay).  The exams will be equally
weighted, and will not be cumulative.  I reserve the right to give
in class quizzes to assure that students are doing the reading on
time; without this, it is impossible to have informed discussions in
class.  The format will be a combination of informal lecture and
discussion and for that reason it is important that you regularly
come prepared.
 
Readings: 
Orlando Figes,  "A People’s Tragedy"
John Hutchinson, "Late Imperial Russia"
Dominic Lieven    "Nicholas II: Twilight of Empire"
A biography of Lenin:   to be selected
Other short readings on E-Reserve

Background Text:  There are no pre requisites for this course, but
the student will be asked to read as background several chapters
from a text  "Russia; Past and Present" by Edward Acton (available
on E-RES: consult me for password).  Should the student choose, a
more recent textbook is available in paperback by Roger Bartlett
(check Amazon for full title).  You will not be tested on this
background, but it will be difficult for you to understand late
Imperial Russia without some grasp of the following:  autocracy and
society; frontiers and empire; serfdom,  Orthodoxy (Eastern
Christianity); Westernization, and the rise of the Russian
intelligentsia