Historiography II: Grand Debates in Russian and Eurasian History

Course Description: 

This Grand Debates course invites students to critically discuss major historiographical approaches to the history of Russia and Eurasia over the longue durée and to set a framework in which they can probe broader historiographical concepts and interrogate their own research interests.

Russian historiography has changed in exciting ways in recent years. Historiography shaped by Cold War rivalries, strict chronological divisions, and limited source access has given way to an archival revolution, novel methodologies, and the rediscovery of our region as a Eurasian polity with non-Russian subjects. Ironically, as topics and approaches to Russian history have expanded, the cooling of political tensions over the past two decades has reduced the piquancy of studying Russia and reduced the number of jobs and courses, requiring historians to integrate old and new debates and to disregard the field’s traditional chronological boundaries, especially the great divide of 1917. Yet Russian historiography is again in flux due to contemporary politics, with the resurgence of an independent and truculent Russia forcing us to address broader questions about path dependency, the explanatory power of culture, institutional change, and the nature of Russian modernity. Thus a perfect storm of factors compels us to embrace big questions and focus on the longue durée. Among the course’s recurring themes will be modernization and Russian modernity; Muscovite, imperial, and Soviet political culture; and Russia and the Soviet Union as empires. An overarching concern will be the role of politics in defining historical agendas. 

Learning Outcomes: 

•a critical understanding of the range of historiographical debates about Russian and Eurasian history, c. 1500-1991 •an understanding of the relative merits and demerits of a range of comparative interpretations of (early) modern dichotomies such as East/West, Russia and the West •an ability to read and prepare for discussion complex readings across disciplines and familiarize oneself with key approaches to politics and culture, religion, periodization, imperial expansion, the modernization paradigm, nationalities policies, Soviet subjectivity, models of totalitarianism, the nature of revolution etc.


Students are expected to complete the readings and be prepared to discuss them in class. Students will be assessed by means of a combination of class participation (20%), short reading presentations – depending on class size at least once per semester – of three distinct discussion questions to stimulate and sustain an intellectual conversation related to the weekly readings (20%), and three response papers (60%), one for each major period of the course. Up to two excused absences are allowed, if professor are notified before the class. Any further absences will result in an automatic decrease of the final grade by half a letter grade.