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New this Fall!

Buy 2 or more classes at the same time and save 25% off the total.

Russian History: From Tsars to the Present

Save 25% when purchasing this with other classes from this Fall's semester.


Instructor: Bertram Gordon
Wednesdays, September 20 – October 25, 3:00 – 5:00 PM, Berger Center
6-week session, Cost: $95
Note: Instructor will be on Zoom

Course Description:
An incredibly timely class that will explore the similarities and differences in the relations between Russia and the West throughout the history of Russia. This course is a journey from the Tsars of the Russian Empire through the 1917 revolution, Lenin, Stalin, WWII, the Cold War, the 1990s dissolution of the Soviet Union and finally to the rise of Vladimir Putin who some believe is trying to restore the Tsarist Empire.

Course Details:
Does Russia represent a return to Cold War days when the world sometimes seemed on the brink of nuclear destruction? To gain a long-term perspective on Russian history, we begin with a look at the vast geographical expanse that is Russia, then survey the development of Russia through Peter the Great, the victory over Napoleon, and the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 (at almost the same time as the end of slavery in the United States). We then focus on the culture and society of late Tsarist Russia, the world of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, before turning to the First World War, the revolutions of 1917 and the rise of Lenin, Stalin, and the gulags of the 1930s.

This is followed by the Second World War victory that led to the emergence of the Soviet Union as one of the world’s two nuclear superpowers, and then the Cold War that defined much of world history during the second half of the 20th century. We will turn next to the reforms of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the emergence of Vladimir Putin with renewed challenges to the West in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Putin’s recent actions in Chechnya and Ukraine suggest that he may be trying to restore the Tsarist empire and that his regime is a 21st century reincarnation of tsarist Russia. Throughout we will discuss the relations of Russia and the West: similarities and differences.

Instructor Biography:
Bert Gordon is Professor Emeritus of History, Mills College. He has taught courses on Russian history, Medieval to the present, and the history of Marxism, the latter on both graduate and undergraduate levels. Additional lectures on Russian history have focused on Russia’s historical development and Its divergences from the West. His books include Collaborationism in France during the Second World War (1980), The Historical Dictionary of World War II France: The Occupation, Vichy and the Resistance, 1938-1946 (1998), and War Tourism: Second World War France from Defeat and Occupation to the Creation of Heritage (2018).

Most recently he has focused on the historical linkages of war and tourism, publishing “Toward a Deeper Understanding of History: War, Tourism, and their Links – The Case of the First World War,” in Via, online (2020), with his chapter “Monuments and Memorialization,” scheduled for publication in Routledge’s Handbook on Heritage and Tourism in 2023. In September 2021, he presented “With Camera and Guidebook: Tourism and War,” for the Moscow State Linguistic University, online. He has taught courses for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Santa Clara University; the University of California, Berkeley; and California State University East Bay. He currently serves as Co-Editor of the Journal of Tourism History.

Course Detail:
Week 1: Russia from the Beginnings to the 1917 Revolutions – an Overview

1A: The Emergence and Development of Russia and How Russia differed from the West – From the Beginnings to the Emancipation of the Serfs (1861)

1B: The Impact of the Emancipation of the Serfs and the Unsuccessful Quest for a New Viable Social and Political Structure – From Emancipation to Revolution: 1861-1917

Week 2: The 1917 Revolutions and the Establishment of the Soviet Union – To the Death of Lenin (1924)

2A: War, Collapse, and Revolutions – Russia’s Involvement in the First World War leads to defeat and the collapse of Tsarism. The Two Revolutions of 1917 (February/March and October/November)

2B: The Bolsheviks (Communists) in Power – Lenin and Leninism. How a relatively small prewar faction was able to crush counter-revolution and solidify its power

Week 3: The Rise of Stalin, forced Industrialization, the Purges of the 1930s, and the Gulags – Through the Second World War

3A: Stalin in Power – “We Have Ten Years to Modernize or They Destroy Us,” – Forced Industrialization, Purges, and the Gulags

3B: Russia and the victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War: A total victory at a heavy price. How the war is remembered and its repercussions to the present

Week 4: The Cold War and Russia as a Great Power through the Brezhnev and immediate post-Brezhnev Years: 1945-1985

4A: The division of Europe and the onset of the Cold War, Russia as a nuclear power, the Last Years of Stalin and renewed purges – Russia from 1945 through 1953

4B: Through the Khrushchev years, “Peaceful Co-Existence,” “we will bury you,” and Sputnik, followed by the Brezhnev Years of “Stagnation”

Week 5: The Dissolution of the Soviet Union and Its Consequences: 1991-Present

5A: The Turbulent Years – Gorbachev: His Goals and Reforms; the 1991 Coup Attempt and Boris Yeltsin – the Legacy of the Soviet Union and Economic Dislocation

5B: The Putin Years – A New Tsar? The 21st century, the restoration of stability, the oligarchs, and popular support for Vladimir Putin

Week 6: The war in Ukraine and Conclusion

6A: Ukraine – A brief look from independence to the present: independence in 1991, the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005, renewed war with Russia in the southeast in 2014, and full-scale invasion in 2022.

6B: Conclusions: What future for Russia? What future for Ukraine? Will Russia be able to defeat Ukraine and, if so, what will that mean for Ukraine and a renewed imperial Russia?

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