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Russian History, Art, and Culture in the 20th Сentury

July 5 – 16, 2021

30 Contact hours

This course is an opportunity to explore diverse aspects of Russian and Soviet technological, economic, and cultural history in the 20th century.

Course Description

The course consists of two conceptual parts.

The first part begins in revolutionary Petrograd, a former capital of geographically extensive empire and leads you to the present-day Russia through decades of socio-political changes. It sheds light on the planned economy, ideology, science and to technology, and environment in the context of multiple transformations, ranging from global political events to internal cultural changes. This part of the course will discuss such questions as: the new Soviet man and its destiny; political regime and the borders of control; Soviet technological innovations, science and technology; nature and environment; economic choices and pitfalls; Soviet consumer; Soviet and post-Soviet regime and globalization of tastes and production; memories about the Soviet. 

At the same time, the course will focus particularly on the history of the USSR during the Cold War. How did cultural dimensions of the Cold War correlate with political agendas? Was culture during the Cold War entirely subordinated to dominant political discourses, or one can single its autonomy? During this course, students will study the complex cultural significance of the major global ideological conflict of the 20-th century. Exploring cultural dimensions of the Cold War, the course covers topics from spy movies and abstract art, to American-Soviet students exchange and media representations of the space race.

Overcoming dominant understanding of the Cold War as a political rivalry, students will explore the significance of cultural developments as can be seen in the history of exchange visits, international fairs and art exhibitions, etc. Such themes as modernity, economic competition, politicisation of art, and imagining the other will be covered.

The course is taught by Elena Kochetkova and Kirill Chunikhin.

We will go through key stages of Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian history from 1917 to 2000 by looking at the interplay between global and local developments. The main question of this course is how did the Soviet Union develop in this age of many rapid and deep transformations? What the Soviet culture, ideology, society, economy, technology, and environment were about? How did the Soviet system develop and why did it fail? What was Soviet failure and success to the nation and globe? How did the country survive post-socialist period? And, in general, how to interpret this age?

This course in an opportunity to explore unknown cultural dimensions of the major 20th-century political conflict at the time, when Cold War patterns seems to re-emerge in American-Russian relations 

Why Choose This Course?

Exploring basic aspects of Russian and Soviet technological, economic, and political-cultural history throughout the twentieth century, the course should be of particular interest for those who are interested in analysing historical sources, scientific texts, and reports and providing a scientific interpretation of historical events in their interrelation. 


Part 1: Soviet History in the Age of Transformations

  • Russian Revolution(s)
  • Was Russia competitive? Technological innovations and science
  • Choices of the planned economy: between material abundance and shortage
  • Ideologies: from the world revolution to perestroika
  • “We will bury you!”: East-West-South and the Cold War
  • Environmentalism: was it there?

Part 2: Cold War Cultures and Arts

  • Art of the Russian Revolution 
  • Cold War Basics: Who Started the Cold War?
  • Domestic Fronts of Cultural Cold War
  • Cold War Engagements: Transnational Contacts during the Thaw
  • Russian / Soviet Art and the Cold War (Visit to the State Russian Museum)
  • Poetics of Atom

Skills and Competences

Upon completion of this course, students will:

  • know key interpretations and approaches to Soviet and Russian history and the history of the 20th century
  • develop an understanding of Russian history as a complex phenomenon
  • gain skills of doing interdisciplinary research
  • learn about well known and new historical sources
  • learn to build connections between history and present, adequately seeing the legacies of historical past today

Teaching Methods

The course combines traditional lectures built around key historiographical discussion and plenty of historical materials.

Final Assessment

We will arrange the final thematic discussion covering the material from the course. Students will need to mobilise recently received knowledge to use it for commenting on cases from Russian history. 

Final Grade Background

Students will be assessed according to the following criteria:

  • In-class participation 50%
  • Final discussion 50%

Recommended Reading List

Please read the introduction for this work before the course begins: Michael David-Fox, Crossing Borders: Modernity, Ideology, and Culture in Russia and the Soviet Union (University of Pittsburg, 2015).

These readings are not obligatory but can be useful for completing the course: 

1. Archie Brown, Seven Years that Changed the World: Perestroika in Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

2. Kate Brown, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019).

3. Greenberg, C. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Partisan Review, 1937.

4. Farbøl, R. “Commemoration of a Cold War: the Politics of History and Heritage at Cold War Memory Sites in Denmark,” Cold War History, 2015.


This is the list of most relevant works for the course and definitely it is not full. If you would like to read more, please contact the course lecturer. 

Useful Online Resources

Inventing Europe: European Digital Museum for Science and Technology

Soviet Documentaries

Databases (Chernobyl, Soviet Economics and Literature, etc.):

Soviet Cold War Documents

Soviet Posters

More can be found here.

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