skip to content

SLA3: Introduction to Russian Culture

This paper offers an interdisciplinary overview of key issues in Russian history, literature and the visual arts from earliest times to the present. The paper is designed to introduce students to the analysis of a wide range of cultural artifacts and practices: its primary sources and prescribed texts include not only literary and historical documents, but also icons, buildings, paintings, posters, films, monuments, maps and ritual dress. The primary sources, topics and methodologies explored in this paper are intended to provide both ab initio and post-A-level students of Russian with a solid foundation for more specialized study in Part IB and Part II.

The paper consists of five topics and one set text, Mikhail Lermontov's Geroi nashego vremeni [A Hero of Our Time]. The topics examine historical, literary and visual materials produced between the 11th century and 1940. They are presented in rough chronological order, but are organized thematically. Lectures will address both the immediate historical contexts and cultural impact of prescribed topics and texts, as well as their continuing resonance within contemporary Russian cultural debates.

Paper SLA3 (required of all students in Part IA, Option A) and Paper SL1 (required of all students in Part IA, Option B) follow the same course of lectures, but supervision arrangements, reading lists and examinations for the two papers have been designed to accommodate the differing language skills of students in Options A and B.

A mandatory organizational meeting for all students taking SLA3 and SL1 is ordinarily held on the Wednesday preceding the start of Michaelmas term (usually) at 2:45 pm.  Details of time and location are available from Directors of Studies or the Department of Slavonic Studies a few days before the meeting.


1. Before Nations

2. Empire and Monuments: The Eighteenth Century and its Legacies

3. Mythologizing the National Space: The Russian Countryside

4. The City: Modernity and Tradition

5. Revolution: Ideology and Discourse

Click here for the updated course handbook.

Preparatory reading: 
  1. An overview of Russian history from the 9th to at least the 19th centuries (and preferably into the 20th century)
    • Two good, basic (short) introductions are:
    • Geoffrey Hosking, Russian History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2012)
    • Stephen Lovell, The Soviet Union: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2008)
  2. Some background on Russian literature:
    • Caryl Emerson, The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature (Cambridge, 2008): this book may be overwhelming as a whole before you have begun the course, but you would do well to look at Chapters 3 and 4 before you arrive, as these will provide useful background for the material we will be covering in the first term.
  3. ALL of Mikhail Lermontov, Geroi nashego vremeni [A Hero of Our Time] IN ENGLISH.
  4. As many as possible of the following (in English):
    • Alexander Pushkin, ‘Медный всадник’ [The Bronze Horseman]
    • Ivan Turgenev, ‘Свидание’ [The Encounter] and ‘Касьян с красивой мечи’ [Kas’ian from the Beautiful Lands] from A Huntsman's Sketches
    • Nikolai Gogol, ‘Шинель’ [The Overcoat]
    • Anna Akhmatova, ‘Rekviem’
Teaching and learning: 

Lectures will be held weekly in Michaelmas and twice weekly in Lent. No formal lectures will be offered in Easter.  Students are urged to attend all lectures, as they provide the essential historical, cultural, and conceptual contexts for the work to be discussed in supervisions and examinations.

Students in SLA3 will have two supervisions in Michaelmas term and weekly supervisions in Lent and Easter. Lent and Easter supervisions will integrate language study and analysis of literary and visual texts. All supervisions will be organized centrally through the Department of Slavonic Studies.

Students enrolled in SLA3 will receive access to the Moodle site for this course after they receive their Raven ID.  The Moodle site contains links to course materials, handouts, essay titles, supervision tasks, past examination papers and many other learning resources.


The examination consists of three sections.

Section A:  A commentary on an extract drawn from Lermontov's  ‘Bela’ in Hero of Our Time.

Section B: Three short responses, each of which will analyze either a brief extract from one of the primary texts assigned for the paper OR an image selected to complement the visual works studied in the paper. Of the three short responses at least one must analyze a written text and at least one most analyze an image.

Section C: Each candidate will write one essay question, selected from a list of five pairs of questions (one pair for each topic).

Students with Raven passwords may download copies of recent examination papers from the Faculty CamTools site.

N.B. This paper was redesigned in 2010-2011; readings for the paper vary slightly each year.  In preparing for the examination students should rely only on the 2015/2016 reading list and on examination papers set on or after Tripos 2011.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Olenka Pevny

Keep in touch


Slavonic News

Cambridge Slavonic Studies presents: A lecture from Catriona Kelly: 'Future-Proofing History: Films about the Past in the Brezhnev Era'

14 October 2021

Cambridge Slavonic Studies presents: A lecture from Catriona Kelly: 'Future-Proofing History: Films about the Past in the Brezhnev Era' On: 04th November 2021 at 17:15(GMT) in William Mong Hall , Sidney Sussex

'Inventing an Aesthetics of Anti-Racism: African Americans in Early Soviet Visual Culture' A lecture by Christina Kiaer (Northwestern University)

11 October 2021

Organised by the Departments of Slavonic Studies and History of Art, with the collaboration of the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies, The Centre for Visual Culture and the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre: A lecture by Christina Kiaer (Northwestern University) Inventing an Aesthetics of Anti-...