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Regional and Topical Surveys

HIST 048 Rise and Fall of the Russian Empire


Taught as schedule allows (consult the Course Directory)

In the mid-seventeenth century, Muscovite Russia was one of many mid-tier states in Europe struggling to survive, having just experienced political implosion and foreign occupation during the Time of Troubles (1604-1613). By the mid-eighteenth century, Russia had become a great empire and emerged as one of the great powers of Europe. Down to 1917, the Russian Empire continued to play a precocious role in Europe’s—and the world’s—military, political, and cultural developments. How and why did Russia become the center of the world’s largest land empire? What was the cost of the Russian empire’s “greatness,” both to its own population and to other peoples? Why did so many Russians have doubts about their country’s path and so obsess about their relationship to Europe? What constants determined this trajectory—and what has changed in Russian culture and society?

The only prerequisites for this course are a curiosity for Russian history and a willingness to explore its drama and complexity. No prior knowledge of the subject is assumed.

Russian history, like any history, is multifaceted and complex. No account can cover all its nuances and variety. This course will focus in particular on Russia’s growth as an empire, in political and diplomatic terms; on the consolidation of the autocracy that accompanied this growth; and, the responses of Russians to both these developments. In examining these responses, we will focus especially on aspects of Russian culture: literature, painting, and music.

Course Syllabus (PDF)