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Russian History

image1 Every disciplinary concentration in the Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies M.A. program includes three components: coursework within the discipline, a comprehensive written exam, and a thesis. Naturally, this is in addition to electives in other fields and language study. Graduate students choosing to concentrate in history have a number of options for coursework, including research seminars and advanced topical courses. Research seminars usually also provide methodological and historiographical training, so students are strongly advised to take a couple of them.

Recent seminar topics and 400-500 level courses have included:

  • The Russian Revolution (Hessler)
  • Stalinism (Hessler)
  • 20th Century Eastern Europe (Hessler)
  • Postwar Soviet Union (Hessler)
  • Soviet Popular Culture (Hessler)
  • USSR and World War II (Hessler)
  • Soviet Culture: Ideas, Intellectuals, and the Arts from Stalin to Gorbachev (Hessler)
  • Imperial Russia (Jones)
  • Russia and 1905 (Kimball)
  • Russian Political Culture (Kimball)
  • Social Opposition in Imperial Russia (Kimball)

Where possible, graduate students will meet separately from undergraduates at least some of the time. Students may also arrange with professors to do one-on-one reading and conference courses. In particular, this is the primary way for students to cover Early Russia and Imperial Russia in their coursework.

Students should try to plan their course of study in such a way as to take a reduced course load in winter and spring of the second year, so as to concentrate on exam preparation and the thesis respectively (this can be done by signing up for credits in REES 605 Reading and REES 503 Thesis). The comprehensive exam in Russian history consists of two unequal parts. In the first part, students will be asked to identify a number of keywords in modern Russian history, such as might appear in an exam for an undergraduate survey course. Thus, they will have to show their general mastery of the main events in Russian history from Peter the Great to the present. In the second, more substantial part, students select four broad topic areas, in conjunction with their primary adviser. Two of these topics must be conceived for the entire period of modern Russian history (Peter the Great to the present), while two of them may have a narrower chronological frame. As an example, a recent exam included sections on Russian women’s history and women’s political movements; Russian military history; the Russian Revolution; and the Soviet state and the arts. For each of the four topic areas, students will be expected to read 5-8 books plus a few articles, selected in consultation with the adviser, and develop a short bibliography of additional books and articles for future reference. They will need to turn in that list along with the written exam, which will include questions worked out in advance between the student and the adviser on two of the four subjects. The exam is planned to take roughly eight hours.

The thesis should be a major piece of historical research, 45-100 pages long, based on primary sources as well as the relevant secondary literature. Research in Russian or another Eastern European language is mandatory. Ideally, students should develop a thesis topic at the end of the first year of coursework so as to begin researching it over the summer.


Julie Hessler, Associate Professor of History. Ph.D. University of Chicago, 1996. Author of A Social History of Soviet Trade: Trade Policy, Retail Practices, and Consumption, 1917-1953 (Princeton University Press, 2004) and related articles in Slavic Review, Europe-Asia Studies, and the collection of essays Stalinism: New Directions. Co-author, with Robert O. Paxton of Europe in the Twentieth Century (fifth edition, Cengage, 2010). Her current research is focused on a book-length study on Soviet culture and the opening to the Third World in the post-Stalin period. Her article “Death of an African Student in Moscow: Race, Politics, and the Cold War” (Cahiers du monde russe) discusses the challenges of multiculturalism and interracial relations in the USSR in the 1960s. Articles in progress center on the role of internationalism in the activities of the Komsomol during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and on Soviet public responses to the Vietnam War. Teaching areas: all aspects of Soviet history (social, political, economic, cultural, intellectual); 20th-century Eastern Europe; postwar Europe; historical methods.

Ryan Jones, Associate Professor of History and Ann Swindells Chair. Ph.D. Columbia University, 2008. Current research focuses on the Pacific, Russia, and the global environment, specializing in human interactions with the ocean. His book, Empire of Extinction: Russians and the Strange Beasts of the Sea (Oxford University Press, 2014), described how Russian naturalists in the eighteenth century overturned European ideas about the impossibility of species going extinct and heralded the onset of the Sixth Great Extinction, which is now in full swing. He has also published on the environmental history of Alaska, Australia, and New Zealand, and is currently working on a book on the history of Soviet whaling.

Alan Kimball, Associate Professor of History. Ph.D. University of Washington, 1967. Research interests center on the structures of Russian politics in pre-Soviet Russia, the rise and fall of a civil society, and the domestic social origins of revolutionary opposition. Characteristic publications include “Derevenskii kabak kak vyrazhenie russkoi grazhdanskoi obshchestvennosti, 1855-1905 gg.” [The Village Tavern as an Expression of Russian Civil Society, 1855-1905], in Obshchestvennye nauki i sovremennosti (fall, 2004); “Russkoe grazhdanskoe obshchestvo i politicheskii krizis v epokhu Velikikh Reform, 1856-1874” (Moscow, 1992); “Alexander Herzen and the Native Lineage of the Russian Revolution,” in Religious and Secular Forces in Late Tsarist Russia (Seattle, 1992), and “Weber and Russia,” Telos (summer, 1991).