russian and eurasian studies The Program Faculty Courses Events Smolny College Internships/Jobs Photo Album


Body, Mind, and Spirit, in Dostoevsky
An exploration of three dimensions of Dostoevsky's world. Particular attention paid to the way Dostoevsky experiments with the themes of body and sexuality, intellectual pursuit and philosophy, spiritual quest and religion. Readings include three short stories and two major novels: "Bobok," "A Gentle Creature," "Notes from the Underground," Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. Analysis of ideas, devices and structures of these texts supplemented by reference to major critical and theoretical writings. The course is meant to provide both an approach to Dostoevsky and to contemporary views of his art and prose as such. All readings and discussions in English.
Continuing Russian II
This course is designed to continue refining and engaging students’ practice of speaking, reading, and writing Russian. Advanced grammar topics will be addressed through a wide variety of texts and contexts, with emphasis on literary analysis and Russian in the modern press. Students will expand their vocabulary and range of stylistic nuance by writing regular response papers and presenting oral reports. The course will be structured around a semester-long group project that will provide an opportunity to research aspects of modern Russian culture, be in video contact with Smolny students, and analyze/present findings in a collaborative creative effort such as a play, a “news broadcast,” or newspaper.
Europe from 1815 to Present
The course has two goals: to provide a general introduction to European History in the period from 1815 to 1990 and at the same time to examine a number of especially important developments in greater depth. The first half of the course will range in time from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The following issues will be emphasized: the rise of conservative, liberal and socialist thought; the establishment of parliamentary democracy in Great Britain; the revolutions of 1848; Bismarck and the Unification of Germany; European imperialism; and the origins of World War I. The second half of the course will stress the following problems: World War I; the Russian Revolution and the emergence of Soviet Russia; the Versailles Treaty; the Great Depression; the rise of fascism, especially Nazism; the Holocaust; the emergence of a new Europe with the "European Community"; the Cold War; the fall of communism in Eastern Europe; and the reunification of Germany.
Into the Whirlwind: Literary Greatness and Gambles under Soviet Rule
This course will examine the fate of the literary imagination in Russia from the time of the Revolution to the stagnation of the Brezhnev period. We will look at the majestic, triumphant imaginative liberation in writers such as Isaac Babel, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam and Mikhail Bulgakov; the struggle with ideology and the Terror of the 1930s in Yuri Olesha, Anna Akhmatova, Lidia Chukovskaya, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Varlam Shalamov, Boris Pilnyak and Yuri Tynyanov; the hesitant Thaw as reflected in Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago; and the course will conclude by reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Moscow to the End of the Line, by Venedikt Erofeev. Readings of literary works will be supplemented with political and historical documents to provide a sense of the larger political-social-historical context in which they were written. After the violent, imaginative ebullience of the Revolutionary period, how did literature stay alive during the darkest period of mass repression, censorship and terror when millions of Soviet citizens were either imprisoned or shot? What formal/aesthetic choices did these writers make in negotiating the demands of official ideology and Party discipline, on the one hand, and authentic literary expression, on the other? What image of history and of man did these “Engineers of human souls” produce? These are some of the questions we will ask and seek to answer. All readings will be in English.
Nabokov: Puzzle, Pattern, Game
As poet, master fiction writer, translator, chess enthusiast, and lepidopterist, Vladimir Nabokov made it his life’s work to cultivate a creative understanding able to recognize hidden patterns and sleights-of-hand, and to play along in his own art. In this course, structured as a seminar, we will approach our selection of Nabokov’s works as “players” and treasure-seekers, training our senses to discern what has been so carefully and lovingly hidden. As we search, we will consider such major interpretive strategies as: life as design and variants on (auto)biography; memory and its role in art; varieties of translation; aesthetic and ethical implications of patterns and their manipulation; and the usefulness of categories such as modern and postmodern in reading Nabokov. Significant attention will be given to the Russian cultural and literary context that underlies Nabokov’s sense of design in both his life and art. Students will read, in addition to poems, short stories, and critical articles, The Defense, Invitation to a Beheading, The Gift, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Pnin, and Pale Fire, as well as Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory. Conducted in English. (Jennifer Day)
Russian Intellectual History
Russia’s modernization generated many dramatic conflicts in Russian society and culture. Few of them could rival those associated with the growing awareness of autonomy and agency. This awareness undermined the familiar notions of universal truth and challenged many traditional values. Russian 19th century secular thought became the scene of intense debates centered around this modern predicament, as well as tensions that it generated in the spheres of morality, social justice, aesthetics, to name just a few. Following a brief introduction dealing with the modernization of Russia, as well as the origins of Russian secular thought and intelligentsia’the social group which was the carrier of the secular intellectual tradition’the class will focus on major trends and personalities in 19th century Russian thought. Topics under consideration will include: continuity and change in Russian culture, debates between Westernizers and Slavophiles, the relationship between art and reality, revolutionary populism and socialism. Extensive readings will be the basis of weekly discussions and will include works by Chaadaev, Gogol, Herzen, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky, as well as contemporary studies on Russian intellectual history. The requirements include a research paper, a presentation, and participation in weekly discussions.
Russian Intensive
This intensive course is designed as a continuation for students who have completed Beginning Russian 101. Our focus on speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills continues through cultural context, video materials, songs, and literary analysis. This course culminates in a 4-week June program in St. Petersburg, where students will attend classes (earning an additional 4 credits) and participate in a cultural program while living in Russian families. Successful completion of the intensive sequence qualifies the student to pursue semester or yearlong study in St. Petersburg at Smolny College of the Liberal Arts, a joint educational venture of Bard and St. Petersburg University. 8 credits
Contact: Jennifer Day

back to top

Advanced Russian I
Increasing oral proficiency is a primary aim of this course as well as developing reading strategies appropriate to the widest variety of written texts. These texts will include artistic literature, poetry, and newspapers. We will proceed to expand vocabulary and study the syntax of the complex Russian sentence and grammatical nuances. Students will be asked to write short essays on a variety of topics. Audio‑visual work in the language laboratory will be an important part of our work. The class will be conducted only in Russian.
Advanced Russian II
Increasing oral proficiency is a primary aim of this course, as is developing reading strategies appropriate to the widest variety of written texts. These texts will include artistic literature, poetry, and newspapers. We will proceed to expand vocabulary and study the syntax of the complex Russian sentence and grammatical nuances. Students will be asked to write short essays on a variety of topics. Audiovisual work in the language laboratory will be an important part of our work. The class will be conducted only in Russian.
An Appointment with Dr. Chekhov
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov began writing simply to earn much needed money while studying to become a doctor at Moscow University. His connection to the medical profession, and the natural sciences, is not mere biographical fact. As Chekhov himself later admitted, "there is no doubt that my study of medicine strongly affected my work in literature." Moreover, he claimed that "the writer must be as objective as the chemist." This course will give students the opportunity to analyse how Dr. Chekhov's "general theory of objectivity" impacted his writing and how his "treatment" of human nature and social issues, of love and family, all the big and “little things in life,” has brought an entirely new dimension to Russian literature and culture. Readings include Chekhov's prose, plays, and letters. Also, attention will be given to contemporary interpretations of his work, new biographical research, and productions of his plays on stage and screen. Conducted in English. (Marina Kostalevsky)
Beginning Russian
A course for students with little or no previous knowledge of Russian that introduces the fundamentals of the spoken and written language as well as Russian culture. We will emphasize conversation, reading, and written proficiency and encourage creative expression in autobiographical and fictional compositions. Audio-visual materials will be an integral part of the learning process. In addition to regular class meetings, students are required to attend a one-hour-per-week tutorial. Beginning Russian will be followed by an intensive 8-credit course in the spring semester and a 4-credit summer language and culture program in St. Petersburg, Russia. For more information on this opportunity, see description of RUS 106 in the Spring 2008 section of the course list or see instructor.
Continuing Russian
Increasing oral proficiency is a primary aim of this course as well as developing reading and viewing strategies appropriate to the widest variety of written texts and Russian television and film. We will proceed to expand vocabulary and study the syntax of the complex Russian sentence and grammatical nuances. Students will be expected to keep a weekly diary and to write short essays on a variety of topics. The class will be conducted only in Russian.
Czarist Russia
A semester-long survey will explore Russian history from Peter the Great to the 1917 revolution in a broad context of modernization and its impact on the country. Among the topics of special interest are: reforms of Peter the Great and their effects; the growth of Russian absolutism; the position of peasants and workers; the rift between the monarchy and educated society; the Russian revolutionary movement and Russian Marxism; the overthrow of the Russian autocracy. The readings will include contemporary studies on Russian history and works by nineteenth-century Russian writers.
Detskii mir / A Child's World
Reading, discussion, and lexical analysis of Russian literature for children and about children. Texts include folk fairy tales, works by Pushkin, Odoevskii, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Sologub, Maiakovskii, Chukovskii, Kharms, Marshak, and Zakhoder. Weekly compositions or translations, reviews of grammar and syntax. Videotapes and films will be used for developing skills in language comprehension. Conducted in Russian.
Dostoevsky and Tolstoy
This course will examine contrasts and parallels between two great authors of Russia: Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. The works will include Notes from Underground, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, and War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy. Close readings and discussion of literary texts will go along with exploration of historical, religious, political and cultural context. Conducted in English.
Dramatic Difference: Russia and its Theater
This course will examine the evolution of Russian dramaturgy in connection with parallel developments in both literature and theater. It will offer the students an opportunity to explore various aspects of Russian culture by discussing the specifics of Russian drama. Special attention with be given to issues of genre and style, tradition and innovation, dramatic criticism and theory. Readings include Fonvizin, Griboedov, Gogol, Pushkin, Ostrovsky, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Mayakovsky, Erdman, Petrushevskaia and others playwrights, as well as theoretical texts by Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, and Mikhail Chekhov. Also, the students will have a chance to attend a performance of a Russian play in New York. No knowledge of Russian is required. Conducted in English.
Economic History of Central Asia
Central Asia has made headlines due to its vast reserves of oil and natural gas and the geographic proximity to Russia, China and Afghanistan. Yet, little is known about the region, which includes Mongolia and five countries of the former Soviet Union (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). This course will explore the economic history of Central Asia from early times until today. Several major themes will be explored. The economic development of Central Asia was closely linked to the fortunes of the Silk Road, which passed through the region. We will study the impact that being the main segment of the Silk Road had on the lifestyle and economic wellbeing of the Central Asian population. We will also analyze the lasting influence that the rise of Genghis Khan in 13th century had on the region. As the heart of his empire, Central Asia experienced dramatic changes as free trade and commerce prospered, a common paper currency system was introduced, and physical infrastructure developed. We will then evaluate the impact that the discovery of oil and natural gas in 19th century has had on the region, as it became the battle zone between Russia and the Great Britain in 19th century and Russia and the United States today. Finally, we will look at the challenges that Central Asia faces today as it attempts to leave behind the Soviet legacy and move forward.
Economic Transition from Socialism to a Market-Based System: Past Present, and Future Challenges
This course explores one of the major events in the economic history of the 20th century: the collapse of the socialist system in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and Central and Eastern Europe, and their transition to market – based economies. We will start the course by investigating the causes of the collapse of the socialist system. We will then identify similarities and differences in the economic environments of the countries in this seemingly homogenous group. Important objectives of this course are to analyze economic challenges associated with the transition process and to investigate policy tools that these countries have used in at attempt to address these challenges. To achieve these objectives, we will study a range of topics, which include privatization, price liberalization, inflation, unemployment, changes in the composition of output, foreign direct investment (FDI), national debt and budget deficits, informal economy, and the fight against corruption, among other topics. An important emphasis will be placed on the impact of the economic transformation on social indicators such as income distribution, poverty, education, and health. We will conclude the class by identifying the future challenges that the transition countries face. (Tamar Khitarishvili)
Fantastic Journeys and the Modern World
The modern world has been characterized in many ways, as a time of unimaginable freedom, as well as existential angst, exile, loss of the idea of home, loss of the idea of positive heroes; a triumphant embracing of the “new” and the future, as well as the troubling encounter with machines and the menace of totalitarianism. It was a time when barriers of all sorts began to crumble—barriers between past and present, foreground and background, high and low culture, beauty and ugliness, good and evil. Artists and writers responded in many different ways across the world. The writers we will read in this class represent the fulcrum of creativity in America, Central or Eastern Europe and Russia. Each lived at a different axis of modernity—where East met West, where the Russian Revolution provided a vibrant but terrifying image of liberation, where modern technological innovation produced endless possibilities of satirization of both the old world and the new, where ethnic and genocidal violence was developing under the surface of this innovation into the foreseeable European Holocaust. These writers have something powerful and unique to say about the advent of the modern period in the fantastic parallel worlds they created where machines take on lives of their own, grotesque transformations violate the laws of science, and inversions of normality become the norm. Through their fantastic conceptions a vision of modernity emerges which questions the most basic presumptions of western civilization—in art, morality, politics, the psyche and social life—a vision for which the West still has no satisfying response. All readings are in English. We will read The Marvelous Land of Oz (L. Frank Baum), The Metamorphosis (Kafka), RUR (Capek), War with the Newts (Capek), Street of Crocodiles (Schulz), Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hour Glass (Schulz), Envy (Olesha) The Bedbug (Mayakovsky). There will be 4 short papers for the course & one final paper.
Fictional Writers and the Russian Metatext
Fiction in which the main character is a writer, or in which the narrator refers explicitly to the process of writing, often takes on a self-referential function. What does it mean to write about writing? What can a fictional text whose subject is fictional texts tell us about the potential of language as a self-shaping tool, or about the role of art in a given cultural context? In this course we will employ such metatextual questions as a way to guide our study of fiction by major Russian authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In reading Russian novels and stories that admit and examine the very process of their own creation, we will be in a unique position to explore notions of selfhood and to trace ways in which Russians have understood themselves best precisely through reading and writing. We will use literary theories on genre, irony, aesthetics and the reader-writer-character triangle in our linkage of construction of self to construction of text, particularly in fiction that experiments with forms such as the fictional diary or the complex frame narrative. Authors to be read include Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Zamyatin, Bulgakov, and Nabokov,. Conducted in English
From Shtetl to Socialism: East European Jewry in the Modern Era
Eastern Europe was the largest and most vibrant center of Jewish life for three hundred years prior to the Holocaust. In that period East European Jewry underwent a wrenching process of modernization, creating radically new forms of community, culture, and political organization that still shape Jewish life today in the United States and Israel. Yet this rich history is often obscured by nostalgic stereotypes of the shtetl in popular culture. We will begin by dissecting such stereotypes and comparing them to the realities of traditional Jewish society. We will then consider topics including the rise of Chasidism and Haskalah (Enlightenment), modern Jewish political movements including Zionism, and pogroms and Russian government policy towards the Jews. Course materials will include both primary and secondary historical sources, as well as literature and film of the period under study.
Generation "P" is a term coined by Viktor Pelevin, one of the most provocative Russian writers today. Does "P" stand for postmodern, post-Soviet, Pelevin, Putin, or just for pun? We are going to examine all kind of "p"ossibilities and "p"aradoxes in the works of Pelevin and other authors, including Venedikt Erofeev, Viktor Erofeev, Evgenii Kharitonov, Valeriia Narbikova, Dmitrii Prigov, Vladimir Sorokin, Tatiana Tolstaia, and critical theorists Boris Groys and Mikhail Epstein. Significant attention will be paid to the debate on the "postmodern condition" in Russian culture. Along with literary texts we shall examine some films and music by Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina. Conducted in English.
History of East Central Europe since WWII
East Central Europe is in many respects one of the most intriguing parts of the world. Culturally and geographically positioned between the West and Russia, this ethnically diverse region has experienced in the course of the twentieth century a very dramatic and paradoxical evolution. After a brief summary of the history of the region prior and during WWII, we will concentrate on its history since the war and particularly on those events and developments which reflects its paradoxical evolution. Using a comparative approach, we will examine a variety of specific topics including political systems, economic organization, ethnic conflicts, and gender relations. The course will use original sources, films, works of fiction, as well as scholarly studies. No Prerequisites.
This is the advanced Russian language class for students who wish to increase their language proficiency by watching, discussing, and analyzing in writing Russian/Soviet films of various periods and genres. Discussions will be based on the narrative, historical, and aesthetic elements of the films. The focus of weekly writing assignments will be on formal clarity, syntactic structures, and development of personal style. Films will be placed on the Web and available for individual viewing and study. Conducted in Russian.
Land of the Golden Cockerel: Introduction to Russian Civilization
This course examines the origins and evolution of Russian civilization from the founding of the first Eastern Slavic state through the eighteenth century, when Russia began to modernize by borrowing from Western culture. Among the topics to be considered are the ethnogeny of early Russians, the development of state and legal institutions, the relationship between kinship and politics, the role of religion in public and private spheres, economic organization, social institutions, family, gender relations, sexuality, popular culture, and the impact of the outside world (both Orient and Occident) upon Russian society. The sources include a variety of Russian cultural expressions (folk tales, literature, art, film, music), original documents, and scholarly texts.
Love Stories in Prose and Poetry
Close reading of selected short stories and poems of Russian writers from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. Examination of artistic meditations on paradoxes of love, on erotic behavior, on psychological and cultural conflicts of the period. Special emphasis on the role of language and literary form, as the erotic themes are developed in texts by Karamzin, Pushkin, Lermontov, Tyutchev, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Gippius, Kuzmin, Blok, Nabokov, Tolstaya, and Petrushevskaya. Conducted in Russian.
Myth and Variation in Russian Modernism
From fin-de-siècle Decadence to “writing for the desk drawer” under Stalin, Russian literature and arts of the first decades of the twentieth century are marked by a preoccupation with the relationship between art and life. For Russian writers and artists of this period, looking to the future, to another reality, or to a higher state of being—often against the background of catastrophic sociohistorical contexts—implied a creative process that may be best characterized as mythology in the making. This course will trace the interrelationship between various Russian art forms of the Modernist period, including literature, theater and film, visual arts, and architecture, from the turn of the twentieth century to 1940. We will also treat the links between art, gender, and politics as pre-Revolutionary mythologies of “life into art” evolve into their post-Revolutionary versions. Students will read works by Sologub, Bely, Blok, Mandelshtam, Mayakovsky, Zamiatin, Babel, Olesha, Platonov, and Bulgakov as well as Modernist group manifestos and recent critical analysis. Conducted in English.
Politics of Russia and the Soviet Successor States: 1985-Present
This course examines the monumental political, social and economic changes that have swept Russia since 1985. We will ask a number of inter-related questions: Why did Communism collapse? What political, economic, social and historical factors explain the relative difficulties of Russia’s post-Communist transition? Where is Putin’s Russia heading? What role did the United States play in the collapse of Communism and the apparent failure of Russia’s transition? In answering these questions we will examine political, social and economic structures, the mass media, legal systems, and societal attitudes. We explore the transformation of Russia not only through academic books and articles, but also through literature, film, and the speeches and writings of political figures. The course attempts to put the Russian transformation in perspective through a selective examination of changes in neighboring countries, including Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and the Baltic States. (Jonathan Becker)
Rise of the Russian Novel
The novel, itself still a fairly “new” literary form in Europe, was imported into Russia in the nineteenth century, where it happened to coincide with the beginnings of a national literature that in many ways modeled itself on the West but also constantly questioned that modeling. The novel’s generic associations with identity and individuality thus undergo a double twist in the Russian version. But is the Russian novel all suffering and tortured thoughts? What constitutes a specifically “Russian novel”? In this course we will trace its development in nineteenth-century Russian literature with a view toward understanding both its formal features as well as the cultural significance of its appearance in Russia. Using theories of the novel as elaborated by Watt, Bakhtin, Lukacs, and others, we will study its rise from historical, structural, and cultural points of view. Authors to be read include Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Leskov, and Tolstoy. Conducted in English.
Russian and East European Politics and Society
This course examines the monumental political, social and economic changes that have swept Russia and Eastern Europe since 1985. We will ask a number of inter-related questions: Why did Communism collapse? Why did some countries experience peaceful political transitions and others violence? How have countries attempted to reconcile themselves with the crimes of the past (Lustration)? What political, economic, social and historical factors explain the relative success of some countries in the post-Communist transition and the failure of others? What role have international organizations, like the OSCE, the European Union and NATO played in the transitions? What role did the United States play in the collapse of Communism and the apparent failure of Russia’s transition? In answering these questions we will examine political, social and economic structures, the mass media, legal systems, and societal attitudes. We explore the transformation of the region not only through academic books and articles, but also through literature, film, and the speeches and writings of political figures ranging from Vaclav Havel to Vladimir Putin. Countries examined will include Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
Russian Laughter
A study of humor in Russian literary tradition. Issues to be discussed relate to such concepts and genres as romantic irony, social and political satire, literary parody, carnival, and the absurd. We will examine how authors as distinct as Dostoevsky and Zoshchenko create comic effects and utilize laughter for various artistic purposes. As a result, our analysis of Russian literature will be substantially different from the traditional survey. Required readings (in translation) include the works of major Russian writers starting with the late-eighteenth-century satirical play by Denis Fonvisin and ending with Benedict Erofeev's underground cult masterpiece: a contemplation on the life of a perpetually drunk philosopher in the former Soviet Union.
Russian on the Opera Stage
Modern Russian culture, although it represents an inseparable part of European culture, has a distinctly original character, initially shaped by the Orthodox Christian tradition passed on from Byzantium. This tradition eventually came into contact and conflict with the flow of West European ideas. The monumental achievements of European civilization were absorbed and confronted, transformed and blended with the unique Russian experience. The history of Russian music predictably echoed that path. The early development of Russian music benefited from appropriation of the Byzantine unaccompanied choral singing and at the same time suffered from the absence of instrumental music. By comparison, the Western European music combined the use of vocal and instrumental faculties and resulted in the creation of numerous forms of musical art, including the most elaborate one: opera. The flourishing of this genre in Europe consequently had direct impact on the progress of musical life in Russia; during the nineteenth century, opera became the main agent for (using Richard Taruskin's apt words ) "defining Russia musically." The course will offer the students an opportunity to explore Russian culture through the medium of Russian opera. The material will include selected literary texts, musical recordings, and opera performances on video. This course is one of the first being offered under the auspices of the Bard-Smolny Virtual Campus Project. Students will participate in experimenting with using innovative technologies, including live videoconferencing, to establish direct exchange between students at Bard and students taking the same course in parallel at Smolny College in St. Petersburg, Russia. Conducted in Russian.
Russian Poetry
This course covers a historical study of Russian versification, a study of the technical aspects of poetry, structural analysis of poetic texts and translation of selected poems. Poets include Pushkin, Lermontov, Baratynsky, Tiutchev, Fet, Blok, Balmont, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, Mayakovsky, Tarkovsky, Brodsky, Rein, Schwarts and others. Conducted in Russian.
Russian Your Way: Advanced Speaking and Writing
The focus of this course is on the refinement of skills in written and spoken Russian on an advanced level. We will base our study of conversational Russian on examples from contemporary fiction and non-fiction as well as the most recent film materials available from Russia. Students will actively increase their vocabulary through participation in discussions on a range of topics and in role-playing situations based on “real life.” Our study of written skills will be based on analytical reading of contemporary Russian texts of various styles and genres. We will develop skills applicable to both individual written analysis and spoken analysis in group discussions in studying Russian syntax and its nuances. These approaches will enable students to develop their own writing style in Russian as well as improve fluency in expressing themselves. Students will be expected to write 1-2 essays per week on relevant topics. Conducted only in Russian.
St. Petersburg: City as Text
The magical and terrible spaces of St. Petersburg have inspired Russian writers and artists as well as confounded the Russian quest for an integral national identity ever since Peter the Great founded the city in 1703. This course examines the "myth" of St. Petersburg in Russian literature and culture with consideration not only of how the city has Been constructed as a literary, artistic, and folkloric text, but of how the city itself has determined the course of Russian culture and Russian selfhood. Special critical attention is given to the nature of the city as a "sign," with appropriate strategies for "reading" the city in a variety of artistic and philosophical mediums. Readings range from the classic Petersburg texts of Pushkin, Gogol, and Dostoevsky to twentieth-century interpretations in prose, poetry, memoirs, film, and carnival performance associated with the city's 300th-year anniversary celebrations. Conducted in English.
The 1917 Revolution in Russia
The subject of the seminar will be the 1917 revolution in Russia. The topics under consideration will include: the economic and social developments which preceded the revolution, intellectual and cultural background of the revolutionary movement, ideology and practice of major political parties which participated in the revolutionary events, the role of women in the revolutionary movement, the political dynamics of the revolution and the reasons for the Bolshevik victory, as well as the effects of the revolution on Russian society. Readings will include original works and scholarly studies.
The Aesthetics of Dissidence
Russian Nobel-prize winning poet Joseph Brodsky had "esthetical differences" with Communist rule, for which he was imprisoned, exiled and denied citizenship. He believed that ethics and esthetics are the same, that "esthetics are ethics." This course will examine the philosophical implications of this statement. We will read Brodsky's two English-language collection of essays, some of which deal with his biography and the meaning of being a poet and being a Jew in a totalitarian state. Others examine the work of poets such as Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetayeva, Auden, Cavafy, Dostoyevsky and Walcott. Another focus of the class will be exile and the classical tradition. Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Brodsky all had their own intense relation to the classical world, and Mandelstam even entitled one book "Tristia," alluding to Ovid's post-exile poem, "Tristia ex Ponto." Certainly once one-man rule was reestablished in Rome with Augustus, and especially under Nero, Roman poets had to deal with the relation of ethics to esthetics in an increasingly oppressive context. Former Soviet dissident Vasily Rudich's studies of literary dissidence under Nero will help us to see parallels between the world of antiquity and the modern world. Discussion will include "A Fraternity of Losers," in which the characters try to surpass ethics by estheticising the world. Students will write essays or stories reflecting their perception of ethics equaling esthetics resolution.
The Cold War: Constructing the Enemy in the Age of Globalism
Like two scorpions the Soviet Union and the United States warily circled each other in a deadly dance that lasted over half a century. In a nuclear age, any misstep threatened to be fatal not only to the antagonists but possibly also to the entire human community. What caused this hostile confrontation to emerge from the World War II alliance? How did Soviet-American rivalry affect the international community? And why after more than fifty years did the dance end in peace rather than war? Traditionally historians have approached those questions from a national point of view. Their answers had political as well as academic implications. To blame the Soviet Union was to condemn Communism; to charge the United States was to find capitalism as the root cause of international tensions. In this course we try to reconsider the Cold War by simultaneously weighing both the American and Soviet perspective on events as they unfolded. We will look at Stalinism, McCarthyism, the nuclear arms race, the space race, the extension of the Cold War into the third world, the rise of American hegemony, Vietnam and Afghanistan, Star Wars, and the effort to reach strategic arms limitation agreements. Finally, we will challenge the claims of American conservative ideologues that the Reagan arms buildup "won the cold war." Students will examine key documents of the Cold War era and prepare several papers on world areas or events that they chose to explore.
The History of Communism in the Soviet Union from the Revolution to Stalin's Death
The purpose of the course is to introduce students to the ideological, historical, and political development of communism in the Soviet Union from its inception in 1917/1918 to Stalin's death in 1953. We will read background texts including works by Marx, Lenin, Gorky, Stalin, and Trotsky and a variety of secondary texts by Richard Pipes, Robert Tucker, and Robert Conquest. (Jonathan Brent)
The Nineteenth-Century Continental Novel
The aim of this course is to acquaint students with representative examples of novels by distinguished French, Russian, German and Central European authors. Their works are analyzed for style, themes, ideological commitment, and social and political setting. Taken together they should provide an accurate account of the major artistic, philosophical and intellectual trends and developments on the Continent during the 19th century. Readings include Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Balzac’s Cousine Bette, Hamsun’s Hunger, T. Mann’s Buddenbrooks.
Translation: Russian to English
A practical and theoretical course consisting of regular weekly reading and translation of a variety of literary texts. Students will also work on an independent project throughout the semester. Texts include short stories and poems by Bunun, Chekhov, Babel, Tolstaya, Dovlatov, Akhmatova, Pasternak, and others.
Twentieth-Century Russia: From Communism to Nationalism
There has hardly been a period in Russian history which would be more abundant in upheavals and paradoxes than the country's evolution in the 20th century. In its search for an elusive balance between modernity and tradition, Russian society has experienced many radical transformations that will be the subject of this introductory survey. In addition to the discussion and analysis of the main internal and external political developments in the region, the course will also include extensive examination of different aspects of the rapidly modernizing society, such as the Soviet command economy; the construction of national identity, ethnic relations and nationalism; family, gender relations, and sexuality; the arts, etc. Course materials will include scholarly texts, original documents, works of fiction and films.
Word and Nationality: Tolerance in Post-Soviet Literature
After the USSR was dissolved, it became clear that Russians still had many features of the “homo soveticus” that had been formed through the 1930s -70s. Among other things, despite the official ideology of internationalism and propaganda of “friendship among peoples,” the Soviet and post-Soviet Russian still exhibited xenophobia, antisemitism, and aggressive fear of the “other.” He seeks isolation from the world and sees himself as both underdog and superman at the same time. On the other hand, after the fall of communist ideology, Russians became better acquainted with religion, the philosophy of humanism, and the history of their own country. In the present situation in Russia, “others” are often seen not as neighbors, but as enemies in the ethnic, sexual, and even aesthetic sense. These feelings have been intensified by the war in Chechnya and the presence of many refugees and migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. On the other hand, many Russians have themselves had the experience of being foreign workers in or immigrants to other countries, giving rise to a new sense of the humanitarian aspects and the overall complexity of the problem. A growing interest in their own land and a new exploration of Russia by Russians has fueled new explorations of the concept of Russia as a multi-ethnic country. In this seminar, we plan to analyze several approaches to the topic of “self” and “other” in contemporary Russian literature: human (Fasil Iskander, Svetlana Alexievich), dehumanization (Vladimir Sorokin), suspension of judgement (Vladimir Makanin, Asar Eppel), grotesque (Viacheslav Pietsukh, Yuri Bujda), adaptation (Anastasia Gosteva), understanding (Marina Paley), contrast (Liudmila Petrushevskaya), self-sacrifice (Nina Gorlanova), stress (Anatoly Gavrilov); and, on the other hand, the Russian himself as “other” in another country (Maria Rybakova). Students will have the opportunity to present and discuss examples of their own creative writing. Conducted in English. (A section in Russian will be offered to fluent speakers.)
back to top

Other Courses


Bard College
PO Box 5000
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504
Phone: 845-758-7391