Scheda insegnamento

Anno Accademico 2021/2022

Conoscenze e abilità da conseguire

At the end of the course students will have acquired an understanding of the historical role played by Russia at a global level, especially as a key region located at the intersection of the European and Asian worlds. Students will be able to critically engage the study of Russian political, economic, social and cultural history, being capable to adopt sound theoretical frameworks and to read a wide set of different relevant sources. At the end of the course, students will also be able to deploy their analytical skills in professional activities linked with the popularization and public use of historical knowledge.


The course explores the specificities of both Russian/Soviet expansion and sociopolitical order, two phenomena that developed in parallel with mutual effects. It examines the continuities and changes in the dynamics characterizing the Russian expansion from the XVIth century, when “Russia ceased to be a relatively homogeneous ethnic polity and became a multinational one” (R. G. Suny) up to the end of the Soviet period.

The Russian/Soviet empire was a very specific case of empire – in both meanings of the word: a territorial organization and a form of government, and the fast-developing scholarship in the last 30 years debated the nature of this political entity. Starting in the late XVth century, after emancipating itself from the Mongol/Tatar overrule imposed in the XIIIth century, the Muscovite state began a continental expansion across the vast Eurasian space. The dilatation of the realm resulted in the constitution of an empire covering at its maximal extension highly diverse territories located between the Baltic and the Black sea, Poland and the Pacific ocean. The geographical specificities of the Russian empire accompanied and, according to some scholars, reinforced a political regime (autocratic tsarism) with no equivalent in contemporary Europe, despite the Western-style modernization initiated under Peter the Great (ruled 1682-1725). Across four centuries of expansion, Russian rule and Russian statehood redefined themselves according to the domestic challenges of integrating varied peoples and territories, keeping apace with military and economic modernization but also in relation to the outside world, first and foremost Europe, then Asia. By the end of the XVIIIth century, the Muscovite state had fully become the "Russian empire" (Peter the Great's denomination), a great power asserting its ambitions in world competition. The revolutionary break of 1917 redefined statehood as well as administrative and political rule over the former imperial territory – part of which was lost in the First World War. Yet the consolidating Soviet Union, in the form of stalinism, redeployed centralizing dynamics and imperialist tendencies while creating the first “Affirmative Action Empire” in world history (T. Martin).

Following a chronological line, the course will investigate major aspects of imperial rule in Russia: the sociopolitical order as it evolved under tsarism; the differentiated logics of incorporation or domination of conquered territories; the conceptions of empire, “Russian people”, social and national (ethnic) categories. The last part of the course will study the Soviet experiment under two main aspects: the conception of a fully original nationalities policy and its evolution from Lenin to Gorbachev, and the broader project of social revolution from its radical and violent forms under Stalin to more discrete social policing under late socialism. Eventually, it will question the role of the nationalities policy in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The issue of supranational identity (“rossiskii” - id est “Russian” in the political, not ethnic sense-, then Soviet) will also be examined all along through documents originating from state institutions, educated milieus (including scientists, writers, artists) and “ordinary” subjects and citizens.

Various approaches will be combined in order to fully grasp the Russian/Soviet empire’s singularity. Notably, the course uses the approaches of comparative and connected history and pays attention to phenomenons of circulation. The levels of analysis ranges from the local scale to the pan-Russian/Soviet level, ultimately questioning the projection of the Russian empire / Soviet state out of itself, in panslavism and worldwide communism. The main debates of the scholarship will be addressed throughout the 15 classes.


Overall studies of Russia as an empire constitute the background for more precise and recent studies (chapters and articles) that will be used and discussed during the classes.

Many chapters and articles are offered on the Virtuale of the course (in each class section).

It is strongly recommended both to attending and non-attending students to read before the beginning of the classes, and refer regularly during the course, to one these general overviews:

*Kappeler, Andreas. The Russian Empire: A Multi-Ethnic History. London; New York: Routeledge, 2001.

*Valerie A. Kivelson, et Ronald G. Suny. Russia’s Empires. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.


Attending students will read and comment with the instructor, during classes, sets of primary documents and a sample of chapters / articles that deepen crucial aspects of the topic and are based on recent or pivotal first-hand research in relevant archives. The list of these texts will be identified on Virtuale several weeks before the course. Specific monographs on a part of the Russian empire will be mentioned during the classes, or recommended to the students for the redaction of their final paper.


Further readings:

Burbank, Jane, Mark von Hagen, and Anatolyi Remnev, eds. Russian Empire: Space, People, Power, 1700-1930. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Lieven, Dominic. Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals. London: John Murray, 2000.

Lieven, Dominic, ed. Imperial Russia, 1689–1917. Vol. II. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Miller, Alexei, and Alfred J. Rieber, eds. Imperial Rule. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004.

Miller, Aleksei. The Romanov Empire and Nationalism. Essays in the Methodology of Historical Research. Budapest/New York: CEU Press, 2008.

Berger, Stefan, and Alexei Miller, eds. Nationalizing Empires. Budapest; New York: Central European University Press, 2015.

Suny, Ronald G., ed. The Twentieth Century. Vol. III. The Cambridge History of Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Suny, Ronald G., and Terry Martin, eds. A State of Nations. Empire and Nation-Making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Metodi didattici


(accessible on Virtuale)

Classes begin on Monday 8 November, 11.00-13.00, and are held each Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 11.00-13.00 in Aula Specola.

The first three classes will be devoted to the presentation of the main academic questions that will be addressed during the course, and the methods of analysis of primary sources and of critical analysis of specialized literature.

Then teaching will be organized in frontal lectures systematically alternating brief student’s presentations of a primary source or of an academic article, instructor's feedbacks and synthesis, and collective discussions of the academic articles scheduled for reading for a particular class. The students will therefore actively participate in class, improving their methodological skills in historical interpretation of sources and critical appraisal of scholarship, and acquiring essential knowledge on modern and contemporary Russia.

Primary sources or article/chapter scheduled for analysis must be read by all the attending students, not only by the one scheduled to present them. Therefore, the materials will be uploaded on the Virtuale of the course (if not available directly through AlmaRe).

Modalità di verifica e valutazione dell'apprendimento


The mark of attending students will be composed of two parts:

1°/ The first part will be given on the basis of an oral presentation, during class, of circa 25 min. It can be a commentary of primary sources,  or an analysis of (an) academic article(s) chosen with the instructor. Or, it can be a synthetic presentation on a specific topic.

The grade assigned to the presentation will be based on both the methodology followed (depth of analysis – paraphrase is forbidden), the intelligibility of the presentation (structure and language skills) and the research made by the student to interpret the documents / article in their context / the topic synthetically presented (the bibliography s.he used)

2°/ The second corresponds to a written paper (4000 words max) on a topic of the course, agreed with the instructor and based both on the references listed in the reading list and evoked during classes and on further specific bibliography selected by the student. The paper will be delivered on a date agreed with the instructor soon after the ending of the course.

The grade assigned to the paper will be based on:

- the selection of the topic and its relevance to the course content

- the clarity in structure and aims

- the ability to identify relevant bibliography

- the critical skills displayed in the presentation of the topic and the handling of the scholarship

- language proficiency


 Students who attend at least 75% of the lessons are considered to be attending.



Students that do not attend classwork will have to pass an oral exam, with questions aimed to verify the student's knowledge of the literature available for non-attending on the Virtuale of the course (section "Resources"). It is recommended to non attending students to also read the primary sources and articles studied during classes, and available in each class section of the course Virtuale. If any question or doubt persists about the content of this oral exam, the students are strongly invited to contact the instructor during its reception hours, or by email.

The questions will be aimed at testing the student's ability in exposing with an appropriate language:

  • the main topics tackled by the books and articles,

  • the methodological or conceptual choices made by the authors,

  • the sources exploited,

  • as well as his/her skills in making connections between different texts in order to build an argument.

Proper language and the ability to critically speak about the literature's content will lead to a good/excellent final grade

Acceptable language and the ability to summarize the literature's content will lead to a sufficient/fair grade.

Insufficient linguistic proficiency and fragmentary knowledge or understanding of the literature's content will lead to a failure in the exam.

Strumenti a supporto della didattica

Besides the articles or chapters discussed during classes or selected for the exam of non-attending students and the primary sources chosen for students’ presentations, the Virtuale of the course will provide a set of maps, and the instructor's powerpoint presentations for each class.

Attending students are invited to check the Virtuale before each class, as some assignments will be posted there.

Orario di ricevimento

Consulta il sito web di Vanessa Voisin