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SL15: Topics in Slavonic Studies: Cultural Histories of the Present

This paper is available for the academic year 2022-23.

The course is designed to provide you with a thorough grounding in and advanced understanding of the cultural history of Russia, Poland, and/or Ukraine after 1989-1991. In the 2021-22 academic year, the paper centres on the case of post-Soviet Russia, examining the various ways in which Russian history and memory intersect with and contribute to the study of Russian culture.

Russian history today is a highly complex and contested ideological battleground. Works of literature and film wander this terrain, navigating competing legacies of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union to help shape contemporary national identity. In 2021-22, you will explore this dynamic exchange by focussing on pivotal events of the past three decades – the fall of the Soviet Union, the war in Chechnya, the rise of Vladimir Putin, the annexation of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Analyse them through a variety of primary and secondary texts to ponder ever-evolving questions of Russia’s democratization, national security, civil society, and foreign policy.

To download the course handbook please click here.

  • The Collapse of the USSR
  • Transition to Democracy and Capitalism
  • Chechnya and National Security
  • Cultural Memory on the 1990s
  • Autocracy and Putin
  • Civil Society and Opposition
  • Nationalism and Ethnic Minorities
  • Foreign Policy and Crimea Annexation
  • Gender and Sexuality

Primary Sources:

  1. Aleksievich, Svetlana, Second-Hand Time (2013)
  2. Putin, Vladimir, “75th Anniversary of the Great Victory: Shared Responsibility to History and our Future”
  3. Yavlinsky, Grigoriy, ‘Russia Today: The History of How and Why It Came to Be’ from The Putin System: An Opposing View (2019)
  4. Yeltsyn, Boris, I made a decision. I am leaving. Speech on 31st December 1999
Preparatory reading: 

You should familiarize yourself thoroughly with the course handbook.

Read one of more on the general progression of Russian history since 1991 from the following:

  1. Belton, Catherine. Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Took on the West (2020)
  2. Chebankova, Elena. Political Ideologies in Contemporary Russia (2020)
  3. Dawisha, Karen. Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia (2014)
  4. Gel’man, Vladimir. Authoritarian Russia: Analyzing Post-Soviet Regime Changes (2015)
  5. Gessen, Masha. Future is History (2018)
  6. Lovell, Stephen. Destination in Doubt: Russia Since 1989 (2006)
  7. Ostrovsky, Arkady. The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War (2015)

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

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.

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

Course Contacts: 
Slavonic Studies