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Regular version of the site

Soviet History: Russia in the Age of Transformations

July 20 – 31, 2020

2 ECTS, 20 contact hours in total

Beginning in 1917 in Petrograd, this course will lead you to the modern St. Petersburg and Russia through decades of socio-political changes, shedding light on the planned economy, culture, ideology, science and to technology.

Course Description

This course examines the history of the 20th century Russia in the context of multiple transformations, ranging from global political events to internal cultural changes. 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. 

The course is taught by Elena Kochetkova, PhD, Senior Lecturer, History Department, and Researcher, Laboratory for Environmental and Technological History, HSE.

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?

Elena Kochetkova
Course Lecturer 


Class discussion: Introduction: Continuities and Disruptions 

Visit to the Museum of Political History: Revolutions of 1917

Class discussion: Was Russia competitive? Technological innovations and science

Class discussion: Choices of the planned economy

Class discussion: Soviet consumer: between material abundance and shortage

Class discussion: Ideologies: from the world revolution to perestroika

Class discussion: “We will bury you!”: East-West-South and the Cold War

Class discussion: Environmentalism: Was it there?

Field excursions in the city: Memory about the Soviet in the city

Exam and Summing-Up

Skills and Competence

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 presence, 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 and field trips. It includes a visit to the Museum of Political History, the most updated and richest museums in Russia with a specific focus on the February and October revolutions. In the end of the course, a unique excursion in the city will show main developments of the country “on site” on the example of Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad-St. Petersburg.

Final Grade Background

The final exam will be held at the last class of the course. At this day, the students must engage into a group discussion on preliminarily distributed tasks (will be distributed in the beginning of the course).

Reading List

Books and Articles

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. Natalya Chernyshova, Soviet Consumer Culture in the Brezhnev Era (Oxon, 2013).

4. Stephen F. Cohen, “Was the Soviet System Reformable?” Slavic Review 63: 3 (Autumn 2004): 459-88.

5. Michael David-Fox, Toward a Life Cycle Analysis of the Russian Revolution, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 18: 4 (2017): 741-783.


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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