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SL3: The Making of Ukraine: History and Culture of Early Modernity

This paper is available for academic year 2023-24.

Considering current events and the Russian-waged war on Ukraine, this paper redresses an existing gap in the coverage of the history and culture of Eastern Europe; it introduces students to premodern developments on the lands that are today Ukraine. Through the study of primary literary and visual sources, the paper leads students in an investigation of historical memory, identity construction, and statehood formation in the lands that have come to form modern Ukraine. Examining evidence of cultural resonances and experiences in texts and images, the paper explores how life was understood and visualised on the territory of Ukraine in different temporal and spatial contexts. Always with an eye on the present, the paper assesses the impact of the cultural inheritance of Kyivan Rus’, of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia, of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and of the Cossack Hetmanate on the changing formulations of nationhood and identity in Ukraine. 

Aside from acquiring knowledge of major historical periods and cultural trends that have engendered existing ethnic and political boundaries of Ukraine, students will learn about the multiple peoples, transcultural networks, and political alliances that have contributed to the contemporary formulation of Ukraine’s civic identity. Primary sources ranging from TV serials, videos, poems, polemical texts, epistolary writings, sermons, chronicles, constitutions, architecture, painting, and prints will allow students not only to analyse varied forms of written and visual expression, but to grasp the complex use of multiple languages, of diglossia, and of paronyms in different social domains as markers of both identity and its liminality. The exploration of the ever-changing concept of ‘nation’ will connect the individual lectures to each other and speak to the role of the past in the production of contemporaneity. All required readings will be available in English. All primary sources will be available in the original language/s as well as in English, Ukrainian, Russian, and, when available, Polish translation. 


The paper examines nine topics that proceed chronologically but are explored thematically. Each topic focuses on one written and one visual primary source. Two lectures and one supervision are dedicated to each topic. The lectures outline the historical-cultural context in which the primary sources were produced, while the supervisions focus on the analysis of the sources themselves.

1.    BACK TO THE FUTURE (Ukraine today; reading of primary source)
2.    WHAT WAS AND WHO ‘OWNS’ KYIVAN RUS’ (medieval inheritance)
3.    CULTURAL CARTOGRAPHY OF UKRAINIAN LANDS (political realities in the late Middle Ages and Early Modernity)
4.    THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER (social and cultural landscapes of the late Middle Ages)
5.    CONCEPTUALISING THE RUS’IAN NATION (myths and memory in the late Middle Ages and Early Modernity)
6.    RUS’ AT THE CROSSROADS (concepts of nationhood in Early Modernity)
7.    GRANDEUR AND SPECTACLE (discourse of monarchy and autonomy)
8.    IDENTITY IN THE HETMANATE (social and cultural landscape of Early Modernity)
9.    UKRAINE AND LITTLE RUSSIA (ideology and discourse in Early Modernity)

As with the SL2: Early Rus’ Paper, this paper does not have a specific language requirement for enrolment for Part IB students. Part II student must have reading knowledge of Ukrainian, Russian or Polish. All students are encouraged to study the original texts and note their use of language/s. Students with working knowledge of Old Church Slavonic, Old East Slavic, Middle Ukrainian (Chancery Rus’ian, Prosta mova, etc.), Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Latin, English, French, and German are encouraged to read primary sources in the language/s accessible to them. All primary sources will be available in the original language/s as well as in English, Ukrainian, Russian, and, when available, Polish translation. All required secondary readings will be in English. 
As in the SL2: Early Rus’ exam, Part IB students are not required to read primary sources texts in the original language/s. Part II students are required to read primary sources in Middle Ukrainian and/or 18th-early 19th century Russian; both languages though challenging in places, are reasonably accessible with practice for students with knowledge of modern Slavonic languages, such as Ukrainian, Russian, or Polish.

Preparatory reading: 

Before the course starts students are required to read the following materials: 
1.    The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy (London: Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books, 2015) – available online through the UL
2.    From Kievan Rus’ to Modern Ukraine: Formation of the Ukrainian Nation (Cambridge MA: Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 1984). This book-pamphlet contains two essays: M. Hrushevsky’s ‘The Traditional Scheme of ‘Russian’ History and the Problem of a Rational Organisation of the History of Eastern Slavs’ (1904), and O. Pritsak’s and J.S. Reshetar’s ‘Ukraine and the Dialectics of Nation-Building’ (1963). Please read both essays. 
3.    DNA of Ukraine: A Historical performance to mark the 30th Anniversary of Ukraine -

Students are advised, but not required, to familiarise themselves with
4.    A History of Ukrainian Literature: From the 11th to the end of the 19th century by Dmytro Čyževs’kyi, trans. by Dolly Ferguson, Doreen Gorsline, and Ulana Petyk (New York: Ukrainian Academic Press, 1997), chapters 1-10 – available in the UL and the MMLL Library

Teaching and learning: 

Course structure
•    Lectures
•    Revision seminar
•    Supervisions
•    Writing assignments
•    Analytical reading and viewing

There are 18 lectures (8 lectures in Michaelmas, 8 lectures in Lent and 2 lectures in Easter) and a revision seminar in week three of Easter. Students should attend all lectures, as they provide the essential historical, cultural, and conceptual contexts for the primary sources to be discussed in supervisions and examinations. 

Please note that the lectures will not be recorded in 2023-24.

Students will have a total of eight supervisions three in Michaelmas, four in Lent, and one supervision in Easter. In weeks 2-4 of Easter, students will have two revision supervisions.

Writing assignments
Students will submit an essay on an assigned topic every two weeks for a total of eight essays—three in Michaelmas, four in Lent, and one in Easter. Essay work must be submitted in advance of supervisions as per the instruction of the group supervisor. Essays should be approximately 1000 words in length; that is four double-spaced pages. Writing assignments for the two revision supervisions in Easter will be set by agreement between individual supervisors and their supervisees.


Candidates for Part IB:

Answer three questions, at least one from section A and one from section B. For each answer write no more than 1,300 words.


Candidates for Part II:

Lent Coursework essay

Answer a coursework essay that will be released at the end of Lent term.

For the coursework essay, you will be given three passages from primary sources in their original language. Write a commentary on the content and style of one of these passages.

Easter Exam

Answer two questions. One from section A and one from section B. For each answer write no more than 1,500 words.


Write a 3,000-word long essay on one of the starred questions from either section A or section B.


Candidates for this paper may not draw substantially on material from their dissertations or material which they have used or intend to use in another scheduled paper. Candidates may not draw substantially on the same material in more than one question on the same paper.

Course Contacts: 
Olenka Pevny
Andrii Bovgyriia
Igor Teslenko

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