Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

As Russian President Vladimir Putin once said, “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.” But what was the Soviet Union? How did it develop out of Imperial Russia? What happened in the Russian Revolution? What were the various efforts at reform, sometimes moderate (the New Economic Policy), sometimes violent (the purges of the 1930s)? How did the country deal with WWI and WWII? How did it deal with nationalities? What led to the rapid transformation under Gorbachev and the breakup of the USSR in 1991? How has the country continued to evolve under Yeltsin and Putin?

This course is a CI-H class (category S). Accordingly, students will write three papers over the course of the semester: 1st paper (4–5 pages) due during Session 6; rewrite due during Session 10; 2nd paper (3–5 pages), due during Session 16; and 3rd paper (15 pages), due during Session 21. You will also have a short written outline due on the Putin and symbolic politics due during Session 25 (2 pages).

The class will be broken into roughly six subgroups (three persons each). In your subgroups you will be responsible for one area of Soviet (and later post-Soviet life) and will regularly post interesting articles you find relating to your area to the class website. These articles may also form the basis of your final paper.

Grading Policy

Attendance, participation, and postings to the class website 15%
Debate and oral reports on your research 5%
Paper 1 20%
Paper 2 20%
Paper 3 30%
Two-page outline on Putin’s symbolic politics 10%

For more information on the class activities, see the Assignments section.

Policy on Academic Integrity

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses and will be dealt with according to MIT policy and procedures. All students are expected to be familiar with MIT’s policies and guidelines on academic integrity as outlined in Academic Integrity at MIT: A Handbook for Students. Please review all the guidelines in the handbook, including the information on responsible paraphrasing.

Required Text

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199237678. [Preview with Google Books]

Jenks, Andrew L. The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling: The Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin. Northern Illinois University Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780875806990.

Ledeneva, Alena V. How Russia Really Works: The Informal Purchases That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business. Cornell University Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780801473524. [Preview with Google Books]

Sakwa, Richard, ed. The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917–1991 (Routledge Sources in History). Routledge, 1999. ISBN: 9780415122900.

Weinberg, Robert, and Laurie Bernstein. Revolutionary Russia: A History in Documents (Pages from History). Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780195337945.

Wood, Elizabeth A., William E. Pomeranz, et al. Roots of Russia’s War in Ukraine. Woodrow Wilson Center Press / Columbia University Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780231704533. [Preview with Google Books]

For details on the course readings, see the table in the Readings section.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Written Assignments