Since medieval times, Europeans have brought back tales of exoticism and barbarism from Russia to their homelands, but few have taken the time to understand the nature of Russian society and culture. This course attempts to examine early Russian society in its own terms, while also studying the highly charged political issues at stake in studying the field. The course spans the history of Russia from the ninth century, when written records begin, to Peter the Great at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Topics include the formation of the Russian state, the Vikings in Russia, the invasion of the Mongol Horde, and the bloody reign of Ivan the Terrible.
Early Russian history poses particular intellectual challenges. The history of this period is not only completely unfamiliar to most people today, but is also complicated by the unreliability of the source record. Imagine trying to make sense of American history if the authenticity of the Constitution were uncertain and scholars were divided about whether or not the Civil War actually took place. This is the degree of uncertainty that plagues the history of early Russia and makes its study exceptionally exciting and interesting. Each student has the opportunity to contribute original insights and to participate in clarifying the opaque record by filling in some of the blanks. This course allows students to experience the joys of original interpretation and research in a field where the answers are still unknown.
This academic term the course will be integrated with one-time-only opportunities to attend a concert and play by visiting Russian performers.
1) De Madariaga, Isabel, Ivan the Terrible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
2) Dmytryshyn, Basil, Medieval Russia: A Source Book, 850-1700
(Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International, 2000).
3) Halperin, Charles J., Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol
Impact on Medieval Russian History (Bloomington: University of Indiana
4) Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice Under the Tsars, ed. Valerie Kivelson
and Robert H. Greene, (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University,
5) Platonov, S. F., Time of Troubles: A Historical Study of the Internal Crisis & Social Struggles in Sixteenth & Seventeenth-Century Muscovy, John T. Alexander, trans. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas,1971).
RECOMMENDED TEXTBOOK: Riasanovsky, Nicholas V., and Mark D. Steinberg, The History of Russia to 1917: To 1855, 7th edition (Oxford University Press, 2005).
- 4 short response papers (2 pages) responding to questions from the readings.
- Informal in-class presentations
- Midterm: take-home exam
- 7-10 page paper on a primary source
- Attendance and active participation at all lectures and discussions.
- Attendance and 1 to 2 page response to one of the Russian performances.