Studies in Russian and Soviet History: Peoples, Cultures, Histories

History 233

Spring 2005

Tuesday/Thursday 9:40-11am

Sam Mather 202



Professor: Eliza Ablovatski

Office: Seitz 5

PBX 5892


Office Hours:  Tuesday/Wednesday 2-4:30pm and by appointment



Course Description:  This is a mid-level survey of the history of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century.  Its objectives are to introduce students to the region, to familiarize them with the major periods of modern Russian history, and to help them to understand some of the important historical issues and debates.  Students should develop an appreciation for the ethnic, social, and cultural diversity of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as well as for the ways in which political events shaped the personal lives of the country’s population.

            Though focusing on twentieth-century history, this course will begin with an introduction to the social structures, ethnic composition and political problems of the late Russian Empire.  We will cover the Russian Revolution and early Soviet History continuing this focus on social structures and diversity.  We will then turn our attention to Stalinism, Collectivization, Terror and the Second World War.  In the post-WWII era we will examine the failure of the Khrushchev reforms and the period of “stagnation” under Brezhnev, before turning to Gorbachev and the reforms of Perestroika.  At the end of the semester we will approach the end of the Soviet Union and its legacy for the many successor states (not only Russia).  Although organized along the lines of political periodization, the class will emphasize the perspectives of social and ethnic diversity, culture and gender.


Assignments: In addition to a midterm and final exam, there are 3 short essays due throughout the semester (see schedule for due dates), and 2 presentations in class.  For these, each student will sign up to represent a “nationality” of the Russian Empire/USSR and will present twice, once on the general background history of their nationality, and then the final class will be a mock conference of the Soviet successor states, for which each will prepare an issue sheet with information and resolutions on behalf of their republic or nationality group.


Grading:          Professionalism:            15%

                        Essays (3):                    30%

                        Presentations (2):          20%    

                        Midterm:                      15%

                        Final:                            20%    


Professionalism:  Class Participation and attendance are mandatory; we are covering a wide amount of material and will be moving quickly.  In addition, students should arrive in class on time and prepared to discuss the themes and issues raised in the readings.  Students are expected to learn and follow the norms of historical scholarship, as well as the Kenyon Honor Code. They should show respect to classmates and the professor, turn in all work on time, address problems as they arise, locate the readings ahead of class or alert the library staff or professor if they have trouble finding them, and attend any out of class film screenings that we schedule.  Students should bring all assigned reading (print out a copy of online sources) with them to class to aid in discussion.


Honor Code and Lateness Policy: Please read the Kenyon College policy “Academic Honesty and Questions of Plagiarism” in the Course of Study carefully.  It is expected that all work that you turn in for this course is your own and that you will follow the general guidelines of academic honesty, as well as the norms of the historical profession for citation, when writing for this class.  Any questionable work or cases of possible infractions of the Honor Code will be turned over to the Academic Infractions Board.  You will receive a “zero” for any plagiarized work.  In order to be fair to all students, late work will be marked down for each day that it is late and will not be accepted after one week.  The midterm and final may not be postponed or rescheduled.


Note on Disabilities: If you have a disability and therefore may need some sort of accommodation(s) in order to fully participate in this class, please let me know.  In addition, you will need to contact Erin Salva, Coordinator of Disability Services (x5145).  Ms. Salva has the authority and expertise to decide what accommodations are appropriate and necessary for you. 



Required Texts:   


  • John M. Thompson, A Vision Unfulfilled: Russia and the Soviet Union in the Twentieth Century
  • Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia and David Ransel (ed.), Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia
  • James Von Geldern and Richard Stites, Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917-1953
  • Veronique Garros,, Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s
  • Venedikt Erofeev, Moscow to the End of the Line


Other readings will be available (as noted in the syllabus): online, on reserve at Olin Library and in Seitz House, or will be handed out in class.


Syllabus online: The syllabus will be available online through Professor Ablovatski’s website on the History Department page. 




Schedule of Classes and Assignments:



Tuesday, January 18 – Introduction and course information.

Thursday, January 20Russia under the Old Regime


Tuesday, January 25 – Village Life in Tsarist Russia, Ethnography

  • Semyonova, Introduction and  Chapters 1-7


Thursday, January 27 – The Russian Empire – Reform or Revolution?


Tuesday, February 1 – 1905 Revolution

  • Thompson, Chapter 2
  • In class film, “Battleship Potemkin,” (Eisenstein, 1925)
  • Essay 1 Due: Could the Russian Empire have survived through reform?


Thursday, February 3 – The World War and Revolution

  • Thompson, Chapter 3
  • Sign up for chosen nationality


Tuesday, February 8 – The Meaning of October

  • Ronald Suny, “Toward a Social History of the October Revolution,” The American Historical Review, 88/1 (Feb.1983), 31-52, available on JSTOR.
  • Martin Malia, “The Hunt for the True October,” Commentary 92/4 (Oct. 1991), 29-35, available online through CONSORT.


Thursday, February 10 – The Civil War

  • Thompson, Chapter 4
  • In class film “Storm over Asia” (Pudovkin, 1928) or “Arsenal”(Dovzhenko, 1928)
  • Mass Culture: “Letters from the Eastern Front” (17-21), “Chapaev” (56-68)  and Red Army poems and songs, various (3-16) (bring book to class)


Tuesday, February 15 – Nationalities in Revolution and Civil War

  • Presentation: Nationalities
  • Yuri Slezkine, “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism,” Slavic Review 53/2. (Summer 1994), 414-452, available on JSTOR.


Thursday, February 17 – NEP and 1920s

  • Thompson, Chapter 5
  • Mass Culture: “Bublichki” (70-1), “Songs of the Underworld” (72-3), “Blue Blouse Skit” (85-86), “Anecdotes” (118-20), and “Leninist Fairy Tales”(123-7).


Tuesday, February 22 –Revolution in Daily Life

  • Alexandra Kollontai, “Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle”

  • Alexandra Kollontai, “Sisters”

  • Kollontai, “The Loves of Three Generations”

  • In class film: “Bed and Sofa” (Abram Room, 1927)


Thursday, February 24 – The Stalin “Revolution”


Tuesday, March 1 – The Cultural Revolution

  • Yuri Slezkine, “From Savages to Citizens: The Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Far North, 1928-1938,” Slavic Review 53/2 (Summer, 1994), 414-452, available on JSTOR.
  • Mass Culture: “How the Steel was Tempered” (163-71), “Stalin’s White Sea-Baltic Canal” (190-200), “In Praise of Modesty” (274-6), “Chronicle of Komsomolsk-on-the-Amur” (243-56), and “Anecdotes,” (212-3 and 284-5)
  • Hand out Midterm questions


Thursday, March 3MIDTERM



SPRING BREAK – no classes (read Garros,, Intimacy and Terror)




Tuesday, March 22 – Collectivization and Five Year Plan

  • Sheila Fitzpatrick, “How the Mice Buried the Cat: Scenes from the Great Purges of 1937 in the Russian Provinces.” Russian Review 52/3 (July 1993), available on JSTOR.
  • Mass Culture: “Swell the Harvest,” “Rammed it Through,” “Bread,” and “Pavlik Morozov” (142-56)
  • In class film: excerpts from “Earth” (Dovzhenko, 1930) and “Famine 33” (Yanchuk, 1991)


Thursday, March 24 – Terror and Stalinism

  • Thompson, Chapter 7
  • Mass Culture: “Two Purge Poems” (301-3), “History of the CPSU (Short Course)” (321-5), and “Anecdotes,” (328-30).


Tuesday, March 29 – Intimacy and Terror

  • Jan Gross, “A Note on the Nature of Soviet Totalitarianism” Soviet Studies 34/3 (July 1982), 367-376, available on JSTOR.
  • Garros,, Intimacy and Terror, introduction and first half.


Thursday, March 31 – Intimacy and Terror

  • Essay 2 Due: Purges and Terror in USSR
  • Garros,, finish reading.


Tuesday, April 5 – the Great Patriotic War

  • Thompson, Chapter 7
  • Mass Culture: “Smolensk Roads” (336-7), “Tanya” (341-4), and war songs: “My Beloved,” “The Blue Kerchief,” “Wait for Me,” and “Holy War” (333-5, 340)
  • Film, “Come and See” (Klimov, 1985) or “Cranes are Flying” (Kalatazov, 1958)


Thursday, April 7 – WWII and Holocaust

  • Lisa Kirschenbaum, “Gender, Memory, and National Myths: Ol'ga Berggol'ts and the Siege of Leningrad.” Nationalities Papers 28/3 (Sept. 2000), available online through Consort.
  • Mass Culture: “Conversation with a Neighbor” (378-80), “Good is Stronger than Evil” (380-86), “The Justification of Hate” (401-5), “Soviet State Anthem” (406-7), and “Anecdotes” (407).


Tuesday, April 12 – Stalin’s Death, the new Empire, Khrushchev and the Thaw

  • Thompson, Chapter 9
  • Mass Culture: “To Stalin from the Peoples of the World” (455-9), and “Anecdotes” (486-9).


Thursday, April 14 – Stagnation under Brezhnev

  • Thompson, Chapter 10
  • Natalia Baranskaya, “A Week Like any Other,” on reserve.
  • Film, “Moscow Doesn’t believe in Tears,” (Menshov, 1979)


Tuesday, April 19 – Dissent and Popular Culture

  • Erofeev, Moscow to the End of the Line
  • In class, the music of Vladimir Vysotskii (visit the Vysotskii website:


Thursday, April 21 – Gorbachev and Perestroika

  • Essay 3 Due: on State of the USSR in 1985
  • Thompson, Chapter 11
  • In class film, ““Homecoming” (Interviews with soldiers from Afghanistan)


Tuesday, April 26Chernobyl and Glasnost

  • In class film, “Chernobyl: Chronicle of Difficult Weeks (Shevchenko, 1986)
  • Film, “Little Vera,” (Pichul, 1988)


Thursday, April 28 – End of USSR

  • Thompson, Chapter 12 and Epilogue, “What went Wrong?”


Tuesday, May 3 – National Revival and the Successor States

  • Constitution of the Russian Federation, available online at:
  • In Class film: “Brother” (Balabanov, 1997) or “Prisoner of the Mountain” (Bodrov, 1996)


Thursday, May 5 – The Post-Soviet States

  • Mock Conference of CIS States




FINAL EXAM: during Exam Period