Courses

RUSS 101(F)Elementary Russian I

An introduction to contemporary standard Russian, this course provides opportunities to acquire basic proficiency in all five language skills--listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing, and culture--through immersion, intensive use of authentic materials, and a strong emphasis on the spoken word in all class activities. Greater emphasis is placed on writing in the second semester. For students who already know some Russian, consultation with the department is required before registering for any Russian language course in the sequence 101 through 252. [ more ]

RUSS 102(S)Elementary Russian II

An introduction to contemporary standard Russian, this course provides opportunities to acquire basic proficiency in all five language skills-listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing, and culture-through immersion, intensive use of authentic materials, and a strong emphasis on the spoken word in all class activities. Greater emphasis is placed on writing in the second semester. For students who already know some Russian, consultation with the department is required before registering for any Russian language course in the sequence 101 through 252. [ more ]

Taught by: Jason Cieply

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RUSS 151(F)Continuing Russian I

This course develops all five skills--listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing, and culture--for students who have completed at least one year of college-level Russian. Coursework includes a systematic review of Russian grammar, as well as an examination of a variety of authentic materials from Russian and Soviet culture, current events, and daily life. Intermediate students will concentrate on expanding their vocabulary, while more advanced students will focus on reading and writing about unabridged texts in Russian. Students who complete the yearlong sequence of RUSS 151 and RUSS 152 should be well prepared to undertake study abroad in Russia and are encouraged to do so. Each year this course is custom-designed to meet the needs of those students who enroll, so that both intermediate and advanced students can benefit from taking RUSS 151 and/or RUSS 152 more than once, which may be done with the permission of the instructor. [ more ]

Taught by: Jason Cieply

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RUSS 152(S)Continuing Russian II

This course develops all five skills--listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing, and culture--for students who have completed at least one year of college-level Russian. Coursework includes a systematic review of Russian grammar, as well as an examination of a variety of authentic materials from Russian and Soviet culture, current events, and daily life. Intermediate students will concentrate on expanding their vocabulary, while more advanced students will focus on reading and writing about unabridged texts in Russian. Students who complete the yearlong sequence of RUSS 151 and RUSS 152 should be well prepared to undertake study abroad in Russia and are encouraged to do so. Each year this course is custom-designed to meet the needs of those students who enroll, so that both intermediate and advanced students can benefit from taking RUSS 151 and/or RUSS 152 more than once, which may be done with the permission of the instructor. [ more ]

RUSS 203Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature: Rebels and Rebellion

Last offered Fall 2017

"God save us from seeing a Russian revolt, senseless and merciless," famously proclaimed Alexander Pushkin. But is revolt always senseless? And if it's not, what is the meaning behind it? Throughout the nineteenth century, Russian literature gave different answers to these questions. In this course, students will familiarize themselves with the masterpieces of the Golden Age of Russian literature with a particular focus on rebellion understood in its broadest sense: philosophical, psychological, social, sexual, and aesthetic. We will examine the confrontation of the archetypal figure of Russian literature, the "superfluous man," with his milieu in Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev, and Goncharov. The social and psychological revolt of another key figure--the "little man"--will be addressed in the works of Pushkin and Gogol. We will then discuss woman's sexual rebellion in Nikolai Leskov and the forms of spiritual rebellion in Leo Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Finally, we will examine the aesthetic revolution of Chekhov's plays, which challenged the principles of the old theater and marked the turn to new modernist drama. All readings are in English. [ more ]

RUSS 204(S)Russia's Long Revolution: a Survey of Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Russian Culture

With the one-hundredth anniversary of Russia's October Revolution just behind us and the uncertain future of post-Soviet Russia unfolding before us, we can now take stock of the long century of revolutions in art, politics, and society that has brought Russia to Putin. This course takes a comprehensive look at twentieth- and twenty-first-century Russian culture, focusing on the literature, film, theater, and visual art that defined this transformative period in Russia's modern history. Students will explore the radical aesthetic and political ideas that motivated this change, especially the utopian visions of the Russian avant-garde and early-Soviet Marxists, as well as key works that examine the tragic consequences of the failures of these revolutionary experiments for those who, willing or not, became their active participants. As we move on to the late-Soviet years, we will consider the emergence of a new, "conceptualist" avant-garde, which attempted to dismantle Soviet ideology and the totalitarian logic they attributed to the historical avant-garde using postmodern aesthetics. We will conclude the course by surveying literature, film, and performance that capture the traumatic experience of Russia's transition to market capitalism in the 1990s and its slide into authoritarian "stability" under Putin. Readings include works by Babel, Bulgakov, Platonov, Pasternak, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, Prigov, Pelevin, Sorokin, and recent Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich. Films screenings include the cinema of avant-garde masters Eisenstein and Vertov. All readings are in English. [ more ]

Taught by: Jason Cieply

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RUSS 210 TTolstoy: The Major Novels

Last offered Spring 2012

This tutorial will focus on Lev Tolstoy's four novelistic masterpieces--War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Resurrection, and Hadji Murat--placing them in their appropriate historical, social, and philosophical context. For each week of class, students will read a significant portion of a novel by Tolstoy, as well as a selection of secondary literature taken from those works that inspired the author, reactions that arose at the time of the novel's publication, and scholarship that seeks to explain the power and enduring significance of these novels. Students will meet with the professor in pairs, with one student writing a five-page paper for each class session and the other student providing a critique of the paper. For those students without Russian language skills, all works will be read in English translation. Those students who have completed at least three years of college-level Russian may take the course in Russian. [ more ]

RUSS 213(F)From Putin to Pussy Riot: Discourses of Post-Soviet Gender

Before 1991, Russians typically appeared in the Western media as macho villains in the nuclear arms race or a James Bond film. Today, however, news from the Former Soviet Union often sounds like a bizarrely gendered media stunt. Russian president Vladimir Putin has been photographed topless while fishing on vacation in Siberia, while the feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot protested Putin's regime by performing in day-glo balaclavas in Russia's largest cathedral. This course examines related post-Soviet media spectacles in the attempt to understand the Western press's fascination with Russia, as well as key social trends defining the post-Soviet era. We will focus on the ways in which gender and sexuality have come to mark post-Soviet culture and discourse as different from those in the West. In addition to Vladimir Putin and Pussy Riot, we will consider the so-called crisis of masculinity in post-Soviet Russia, the trafficking of women from the Former Soviet Union, the Ukrainian feminist collective Femen, the Eurovision Song Contest, and the 2013 legislation in the Russian Federation banning homosexual propaganda among minors. We will try to understand how concepts, such as feminism, tolerance of sexual minorities, and performed gender, have been deemed dangerous in the post-Soviet East at the very time they have attained normative status in the West. All readings will be in English, and all films with have English subtitles. [ more ]

RUSS 214Contemporary Russian Culture and Politics

Last offered Spring 2016

This course explores select aspects of contemporary Russian society and politics through literary works and films of post Soviet Russia. We will study the social and political settings of particular plots and opportunities not only in fiction and film but as they emerge in the lived reality of Russians since 1991. In addition to novels and short stories by some of the best contemporary Russian authors, we will read scholarly materials explaining the social and political trends characteristic of Russia's post-socialist transformation under Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin's leadership. Analysis of the political and social processes will be framed in a comparative approach, drawing on parallels and differences with countries of Eastern Europe. All course readings will be in English. Knowledge of Russian is not required. [ more ]

RUSS 220World War II in Russian Culture

Last offered Spring 2017

This course traces the development of state-sponsored collective memory of the Great Patriotic War, as the Eastern front of World War II is called in Russia, and its counter-narratives. The veritable cult of the war, as it was shaped by the late Soviet period, took decades to coalesce and went through multiple stages. The relative disregard in the immediate post-war years under Stalin was followed by the striking re-enactments in literature and film of the period of Khruschev's Thaw. The memory of the war for new generations was further defined in state-sponsored memorials, museums and public events under Brezhnev. While Soviet ideology was discredited in the wake of the USSR's collapse, ordinary Russians and politicians alike continue to this day to see Russia's victory over Nazi Germany with pride and as part of their national identity. This course explores the contradictory elements that make up the images and narratives of the war -- in novels, short stories, feature films, and oral histories -- which bring together state violence and individual freedom, patriotism and oppression, remembrance and forgetting. After an initial acquaintance with the colossal human cost of the war, we will examine the artistic, cultural and political traditions of addressing the national trauma that have evolved in the official and unofficial discourses of the war. The search for a "usable past" of the war continues in contemporary Russia, breaching previously suppressed topics yet also obfuscating public attempts to critically examine people's experiences of the war beyond the inherited Soviet myths. [ more ]

RUSS 222(S)Russian Literature and European Existentialism

Existentialism was a highly influential movement in twentieth-century European literature and thought. Nowadays the terms existentialism and existentialist are broadly used to describe the worldview and literary style of writers and thinkers as different as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leonid Andreyev, Martin Heidegger, Franz Kafka, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Reflecting the shift to irrationalism in early twentieth-century philosophy and psychology, as well as the global cataclysms of the twentieth century, existentialism focuses on the problem of human alienation in the modern world, suggesting ways of overcoming it. In this course addressing the key concepts of existentialist philosophy (angst, borderline situation, the absurd, freedom), we will examine the origins of the existentialist worldview in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Russian literature (Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Leonid Andreyev); read and discuss existentialist texts by Kafka, Albert Camus, and Sartre; and look at the existentialist legacy in contemporary Russian and Western culture, including rock music. All readings are in English. [ more ]

RUSS 233Time, Memory, and Narrative: Twentieth-Century Literature and Film

Last offered Spring 2018

Time and space belong to the most fundamental categories that define our conceptualization of the world we live in. Overcoming the restrictions that these dimensions impose on our existence has always been humanity's major preoccupation. Is there a way to break with time's linearity and irreversibility? One magic tool of overcoming time that we all possess is our memory. Another is art; specifically, such spatial-temporal forms of art as literature and film. Memory, literature, and film are similar in their use of narrative. In order to recast the past we pull out memories and "narrate" them to ourselves or others. A literary character's recollections and reminiscences often constitute the plot of a literary work or film. The sequence of cinematic images in film creates the visual narrative, while one of its main techniques "montage" replicates the seemingly random association of memories in our mind. Apart from its structural significance, time constitutes an important subject of artists' philosophical reflection in both literature and film. In this course, we will explore the themes of time and memory in their relation to different narrative strategies by way of a few masterpieces of 20th-century Russian/Soviet literature and film. How can trains on the Railroad around Moscow annihilate time? What happens if Tsar Ivan the Terrible finds himself in Soviet Moscow? Where does the Russian Ark float and whom does it carry? To answer these and other questions we will read the novels of Vladimir Nabokov and his most congenial successor Sasha Sokolov; a play by Mikhail Bulgakov, and a novella by Vladimir Makanin, among others. We will also watch and discuss the famous films by Leonid Gaidai, Andrey Tarkovsky, and Aleksander Sokurov. In addition, we will read a few scholarly essays on time, memory, and narrative, relating them to our primary material. Readings, films, and discussions are in English. [ more ]

RUSS 248 T(F)Altering States: Post-Soviet Paradoxes of Identity and Difference

Critics and apologists of Soviet-style socialism alike agree that the Soviet ideology was deeply egalitarian. Putting aside for a moment the very reasonable doubts about how justified this perception actually was, it is still worth asking, how did people who lived in the world in which differences in rank, class, gender or ethnicity were not supposed to matter, make sense of their postsocialist condition, one in which new forms of difference emerged, and old ones assumed greater prominence? And how do these encounters with difference impact current events, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict or the persistent tensions between East and West Germans? This tutorial will examine new dilemmas through ethnographic studies and documentary films that aim to capture in real time the process of articulating and grappling with newly discovered divides. We will focus especially closely on Russia, but will also read studies on East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland and Ukraine. This course fulfills the DPE requirement by exploring comparatively the ways in which people in different countries made sense of the social, cultural and political heterogeneity of the postsocialist condition. [ more ]

RUSS 251(F)Continuing Russian I

The same course as RUSS 151 but for students at the advanced level. See RUSS 151/152 for full course description. [ more ]

Taught by: Jason Cieply

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RUSS 252(S)Continuing Russian II

The same course as RUSS 152 but for students at the advanced level. See RUSS 151/152 for full course description. [ more ]

RUSS 275(S)Russian and Soviet Cinema

In this course, we will survey over a hundred years of Russian and Soviet film to explore how cinema has reflected and, at times, created the country's most important historical events and cultural myths. We will pay close attention to Russian filmmakers' varied reactions to Hollywood cinema, as well as to the lively body of cinema theory that these reactions generated. Our survey will begin in the pre-Revolutionary era and include representative films from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalinism and World War II, the Thaw and Stagnation, Glasnost, and the Putin era. In addition to studying films by auteur filmmakers, such as Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Aleksandr Sokurov, we will watch movies made for the masses, which have helped to form Russians' understanding of their country and themselves. All readings will be in English and all films will be viewed with English subtitles [ more ]

RUSS 277(F)The Self Under Stalin: a Genealogy of Soviet Subjectivity

In this course, students will explore a variety of cultural artifacts (literature, film, song, visual art, and architecture), personal documents (diaries and letters), and secondary literature, which speaks to the real, subjective experience of life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Throughout his reign, Stalin spurned basic human values like freedom and democracy in favor of class hatred, discipline, and conformity. He unleashed unthinkable violence on the Soviet population, provoking mass famine and instigating campaigns of political terror, all in the name of transforming impoverished, agricultural Russia into the world's first industrially advanced, socialist society. The underlying logic of this social experiment has been diagnosed as totalitarian, a distinction designating systems of governance in which the state uses a combination of coercion and propaganda to achieve total control over the thoughts and actions of its subjects. The opening of borders and archives since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, has shown the image of the passive, brainwashed automaton to be inadequate in relation to the everyday cares, aspirations, fears, joys and sorrows, ethical dilemmas, personal narratives, and forms of covert resistance that shaped the identities of ordinary Soviet people. Scholars of Soviet subjectivity have worked to bring these stories to light in an attempt to achieve a more nuanced understanding of the Soviet experience. Students will apply insight from this field to their own investigations of Soviet selfhood in discussions, short response papers, and a final research paper. All readings are in English. [ more ]

Taught by: Jason Cieply

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RUSS 286(F)Russian Politics under Vladimir Putin

In 1939, Winston Churchill has famously characterized Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. In the 75 years that followed, Russian politics has continued to defy expectations and conventional explanations. The collapse of the Soviet Communist dictatorship in 1991 has caught most observers by surprise, and has led Russia on a path of political and economic liberalization of an unprecedented scope. But despite the initial optimism, these processes produced an economic system characterized by crony capitalism and an electoral authoritarian regime--a political system that formally espouses institutions like multipartyism, parliaments and elections, but violates democratic norms in practice. Why did Russia follow this particular trajectory? Why did Russia's political and economic transition fail to produce the intended results? What are the factors that gave rise to and sustain Vladimir Putin's system? And as Russia faces extraordinary challenges again--marked by the protest wave in 2011-12, the country's economic crisis, the wars in Ukraine and Syria, and the renewed confrontation with the West--what lessons can we draw for the future? This course will explore the key perspectives on these issues. The first part of the course will provide a concise overview of Russia's historical background, the roots of the communist collapse, and the country's subsequent trajectory. It will place particular emphasis on the events, processes and legacies that shaped Russia's transition, and its cataclysms and distortions. The second part of the course will look into the rise of the Putin regime, its key pillars, and its contradictions. The third part of the course will survey the impact of Putin's regime on Russia's economy, governance, identity politics and foreign relations. In this segment, we will also examine how protests and civil society activism shaped post-Communist Russian politics, and conclude with a discussion of the scenarios for the future trajectory of Russia. The course will approach many of these topics from a comparative perspective, contrasting how political, economic and social processes in Russia diverged from other countries in post-Communist East Europe and the Former Soviet Union. The course will also take an interdisciplinary approach, integrating perspectives from political science, economics, history, anthropology, social psychology and other disciplines, as it attempts to address the key puzzles of contemporary Russian politics. To provide a more intimate understanding of the social changes and political processes affecting Russia, we will also survey key films, documentaries and other relevant sources and materials in the media and popular culture. [ more ]

RUSS 305(F)Dostoevsky: Navigating Through the Underground

In this course, students will acquaint themselves with Dostoevsky's oeuvre--from his early masterpieces to his artistic testament, The Brothers Karamazov. The key concept through which we will approach Dostoevsky's various writings will be the underground--a powerful metaphor of spiritual decay, angst, resentment, and rebellion against the whole of creation shared by many Dostoevsky characters, from the anonymous protagonist of Notes from Underground, to Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), to all the brothers Karamazov. Inheriting Dostoevsky's own existential doubts, his major characters strive to find an exit from their various "undergrounds," some with and some without success. What are the philosophical, psychological, and artistic foundations of the underground? How does one end up there in Dostoevsky's view? And what is the way out? These are just a few of the questions to be answered as we explore the primary genius of Russian literature. All readings are in English. [ more ]

RUSS 306Rise and Shine with Tolstoy

Last offered Spring 2018

Prepare to alternately fall in love and lock horns with this illustrious nineteenth-century Russian author. He is worth it! This course will examine the life and major works of Leo Tolstoy in the context of Western intellectual history. Readings will include his two great novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as well as a number of shorter works, such as The Cossacks and Hadji Murad. We will also consider some of Tolstoy's aesthetic and didactic works as we examine his broad, rich, and sometimes unexpected development as an artist and thinker. [ more ]

RUSS 331 T(S)The Brothers Karamazov

Widely hailed as one of the greatest novels ever written, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov contains a series of enigmas, not the least of which is precisely who murdered the Karamazov father. In addition to exploring the shared guilt of all four of the brothers Karamazov in the crime of patricide, Dostoevsky poses the most probing questions of his day: Are families tied together merely by blood or by deeper spiritual bonds? Is religious faith possible in an age of reason, science, and technology? Can man's earthly laws ever carry out divine justice? Is humanity prepared to bear the burden of responsibility that comes with freedom? This tutorial will spend an entire semester exploring Dostoevsky's masterwork, and we will read a variety of secondary sources alongside The Brothers Karamazov, including history, philosophy, and literary theory. Our goal will be to understand Dostoevsky's answers to these so-called "accursed questions" through the unique artistic form of The Brothers Karamazov. [ more ]

RUSS 343Spectacles on His Nose and Autumn on his Heart: The Oeuvre of Isaac Babel

Last offered Fall 2013

Known alternately as "master of the short story" and "Russian Maupassant," Isaac Babel was not only one of the most celebrated and intriguing authors of early Soviet Russia, but also a cultural figure of profound national and international significance. For a number of reasons (political, aesthetic, professional, ethical) Babel was not prolific and this will allow us to read almost all of his creative output, something we rarely get to do in the course of a single semester. Babel's writing is extremely varied--it includes sketches, journalistic prose, short stories, plays, movie scripts, one unfinished novel--and richly intertextual. This will afford us the opportunity to read the work of some of his contemporaries and predecessors, from both Russia and abroad, with whom he fashioned brilliant literary conversations, among them Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, Sholem Aleichem, and Ivan Turgenev. All course readings will be in translation, but students are highly encouraged to read in the original (Russian, French, Yiddish) whenever possible. [ more ]

RUSS 401(F)Senior Seminar: The Myth of Lenin

Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live Forever! So proclaimed the Soviet slogan, pointing out the mythological status of the Communist leader. This course, conducted in Russian, aims to demonstrate that the Lenin myth was so powerful that it survived the collapse of the state and ideology he created. We will explore the development of the myth and cult of Lenin by way of a variety of texts and media, from classical poems by Mayakovsky, to children's stories, folklore, conceptualist art, and Soviet and post-Soviet film. [ more ]

RUSS 402Senior Seminar: Russia under Putin

Last offered Spring 2018

This course is conducted in Russian and explores cultural and political trends of Russian society since 2000. We will work with authentic print and audiovisual media reports, feature and documentary films, analytical and research materials to develop a wide-ranging understanding of ordinary Russians' lives, their outlook and political views. In 2018, the course includes a trip to Russia, paid for by the College, during which students will interact with Russians, visit key sites of interest, and conduct a study project within the parameters of the course. [ more ]