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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


The Rus’ legacy and pre-modern identities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus

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The three modern East Slavonic nations Russia, Ukraine and Belarus trace their origins to the medieval Rus’ polity centred in Kyiv, the capital of present-day Ukraine. Now, nearly eight hundred years after the fall of Kyiv to the Mongols, and after numerous political and cultural transformations the notion of a unifying Rus’ inheritance that binds the peoples inhabiting eastern Europe north of the Carpathians is still regularly reiterated in political analyses and news coverage. This module explores the commanding persistence of the Rus’ past in subsequent identity formulations and traces historiographical modulations and transformations of the Rus’ inheritance from the thirteenth century to the start of the eighteenth century, when, after the Battle of Poltava (1709), Russia became a major European power and embarked on a course of westward expansion. The focus is on social, political, religious and regional allegiances that reshaped notions of the Rus’ past and that coexisted, interacted, contributed to and even took precedence over Rus’, Muscovite, Ruthenian, Cossack, and Russian identities in East Slavonic lands. The module aims to highlight the important role that interpretation of the past plays in contemporary historiographical and political discourse.

The module will take a thematic approach and will focus on select topics and relevant written and visual texts. Possible seminar topics include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. The Rus’ past
  2. Territorial expansionism, regionalism and dynastic ties
  3. Political ideology and historiography
  4. Social strata, ethnic and religious identity
  5. Gender in society and church
  6. Ecclesiastical politics (hierarchs, cossacks, tsars and kings)
  7. Religious reforms and confessionalism
  8. Liturgical practices and church rituals
  9. Visual culture and the built environment
  10. Monasteries and lay confraternities
  11. Literacy and centres of learning (literature and language)
  12. Printing and the art of the book

Within these broad themes, students will be expected to prepare presentations based on the analysis of specific source material and drawing on a range of disciplines and approaches.

The module does not presuppose prior knowledge of the area or period.  It is open to students from other MPhils and other departments; however, a good reading knowledge of Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian is required. 

Study for the module will be self-contained in the Lent Term. Students will find it useful to read the preliminary text and to look at the background readings to gain a broad sense of the historical and cultural parameters of the module.

Preliminary reading:

  • Plokhy, Serhii.  The Origins of the Slavic Nations (Cambridge, 2006).

Ad  Additional background reading:

  • Bushkovich, Paul. Religion and Society in Russia. The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New York/Oxford, 1992).
  • Davies, Norman. God’s Playground. A History of Poland, vol. 1, The Origins to 1795 (Oxford, 2005).
  • Franklin, Simon and Jonathan Shepard. The Emergence of Rus 750-1200 (London/New York, 1996).
  • Frost, Robert. The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, vol. 1 (Oxford, 2015).
  • Gudziak, Borys. A. Crisis and Reform. The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest (Cambridge, MA, 2001)
  • Kollmann, Nancy Shields. Kinship and Politics. The Making of the Muscovite Political System, 1345-1547 (Stanford, 1987).
  • Perrie, Maureen, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia, vol. 1 (Cambridge, 2006).
  • Plokhy, Serhii. The Cossacks and Religion in Early Modern Ukraine (Oxford, 2001).
  • Plokhy, Serhii.  Ukraine & Russia. Representations of the Past (Toronto/Buffalo/London, 2008).



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