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SL11: Russia in Revolution 1861-1917

**This paper is suspended until further notice.**

In the fifty-six years between the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and the collapse of the autocracy in 1917, Russia underwent a series of far-reaching changes that have often been called ‘revolutionary’. However problematic, this concept will be used to give some shape to the lectures that inform the course.

Throughout the year we will examine the major economic, social and political dilemmas of change in late Imperial Russia, and we will explore why this process absorbed so much of the state’s attention. No tsar or government minister could escape the challenges of reform. The whole period might be described as one characterized by a series of central initiatives that surpassed anything attempted elsewhere in Europe and rivalled the activities of later authoritarian systems, fascist and socialist alike. In this light, the late Romanov autocracy was far from being the moribund absurdity portrayed in the pages of so many textbooks. But we will also have to investigate why fundamental reform turned out to be so difficult (and perhaps even futile) and why an increasing proportion of the ‘political nation’ came to regard the country’s social, economic and political systems precisely as moribund and absurd, and was prepared to contemplate violence and revolution to change things.

Additionally, we must bear in mind that, ‘revolution’ notwithstanding, traditional, quasi-feudal mentalities and structures remained characteristic of Russian society right up to the end of the century. As a consequence the vast majority of the population has left few traces in the historical record. The lives and aspirations of the peasantry, and of the small but growing number of factory operatives, are no less valid than those of the elite, and require our attention, but they are extraordinarily difficult to reconstruct.

  • The end of serfdom
  • Controlling society
  • Industrialization
  • Aleksandr III and Nikolai II
  • крестьянство and дворянство
  • Workers
  • The bourgeoisie
  • народничество and terror
  • Marxism and socialism
  • Economic and political crisis 1905-6
  • 1907-14: Stolypin’s gamble
  • Russia and world war: 1914-16
  • On the eve of Revolution?: 1914-16
  • February 1917
  • Primary sources:
  1. Выставка русской промышленности 1896 г. and С. Ю. Витте, О положении русской промышленности.
  2. Программа исполнительного комитета партии «Народной воли» and Письмо исполнительного комитета партии «Народной воли» к Александру III.
  3. Манифест об усовершенствовании государственного порядка (Манифест 17 Октября 1905 г.) and С. Ю. Витте, Письмо о Манифесте 17 Октября 1905 г.
  4. Доклад начальника Петербургского охранного отделения Министру Внутренних Дел о ходе массовой забастовки в Петербурге в июле 1914 г.

See course handbook for full details.

Preparatory reading: 

1       You should familiarize yourself thoroughly with the course handbook.

2       Familiarise yourself also with the general progression of Late Imperial Russian history by reading through one or more of the following (focus on 1861-1917 for texts that span a greater period):

  • Hobsbawm, E. J., The Age of Empire 1875-1914 (1988)
  • Moss, Walter, A History of Russia Vol 1 or 2 (both cover 1855-1917) (2003)
  • Waldron, Peter, The End of Imperial Russia, 1855-1917 (1997)
  • Weeks, Theodore, Across the Revolutionary Divide: Russia and the USSR, 1861-1945 (2011)
  • Westwood, J., Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-1992 (4th ed., 1993)

3       There will be a briefing meeting at the beginning of Michaelmas term that everyone doing the course must attend.

4       Visit the SL11 Moodle page for links to readings and other resources.

Teaching and learning: 

The course comprises four elements: lectures, seminars, supervisions and reading.

Lectures: there are sixteen lectures, eight in Michaelmas and eight in Lent.

Seminars: there are four seminars in Easter term.

Supervisions: there are ten supervisions: four in Michaelmas, four in Lent and two in Easter.

See course handbook for full details.

For the SL.11 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.


Three-hour unseen paper divided into three sections. All candidates answer three questions: two on historical topics, one on a primary source.

See course handbook for full details.

Course Contacts: 
Paper Suspended

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