Russia to Peter the Great


History 3604: Fall 2016

Professor Tom Ewing

Office hours: Monday 10-12 am,

Tuesday 1-3 pm, Thursday 1-3 pm

Additional hours by appointment

260 Wallace, 231-3212



This course examines the period from the formation of the Russian state in the ninth century through the establishment of the Imperial system by Peter the Great at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Tracing the historical development of Russian politics, society, and culture through the Kievan, Appanage, Mongol, and Muscovite periods, this course devotes particular attention to the process of nation-building in the Eurasian steppes, the relationship between Russia and its bordering states, the role of the Orthodox Church in shaping ideology and culture, the formation of distinct social classes, the role of prominent personalities, comparisons of women in elite, urban, and peasant communities, the establishment of serfdom, the emergence of an autocratic political system, the repeated threats of war and foreign occupation, and attempts to modernize Russia in response to the dominant powers of Europe. Assigned readings include primary documents and literary works as well as secondary studies that approach Russian history from a variety of perspectives. Assignments will promote student engagement with complex processes requiring critical interpretation, analysis, and assessment.


This course is designed to encourage students to pursue three objectives:

1) To become familiar with the most important events, people, and processes of Russian history in its first millennium.

2) To understand how these historical events, people, and processes have shaped the evolution of Russia and the contemporary world.

3) To develop analytical skills necessary to think and write effectively about processes of change in terms of both the experiences of individuals and the development of broader communities.


Requirements: Date: Percent of Grade:
Exam September 22 20%
Exam October 20 20%
Exam November 15 20%
Writing assignments Throughout semester 10%
Historical interpretation exercises Throughout semester 10%
Final essay Due December 1 20%


This course is designed to encourage active learning, in which a student’s engagement with the material, with the instructor, and with other students is essential to the process of learning. Most of the course will be taught in a lecture format, but with ample time for questions and occasional periods of discussion. In order to understand the lectures, ask questions, and participate in the discussions, students should do the reading ahead of time, following the assignment schedule. Attendance in all classes is very important. Excessive absences will result in missed assignments and incomplete understanding of materials. Students are encouraged to ask questions during class, either to clarify lectures and readings or to explore connections between class materials and contemporary events. Students are also welcome to ask questions and pursue further discussion with the instructor during office hours. Extra credit will be made available to the class for interrogating the potential significance of historical examples. Writing assignments may be announced ahead of time and due in a designated class session, or may be conducted during the class. Writing assignments will not be given an individual letter grade, but some take-home assignments may be graded on a point scale. Make up writing assignments must be turned in by the next class meeting. A cumulative grade for writing assignments will be used to calculate the final grade. Graded work will be returned in class.


Questions on the exams will be taken from readings, lectures (including examples, illustrations, and topics not necessarily included in the assigned readings), discussions, and writing assignments. The assignment for the final essay will be distributed on the first day of class, and will draw upon readings, lectures, and writing assignments. Students may consult outside sources, but no additional research is required or expected. Students are strongly encouraged to reflect on the final essay throughout the semester. The History 3604 page on Canvas will include the following materials: syllabus, final essay assignment, class materials (including writing assignments), and supplemental texts. Class materials will be made available on the website following each class. The canvas site will also link to shared google documents used for the historical interpretation exercises. Whenever possible, changes in schedules and assignments will be made first in class, and then an announcement will be posted online. If time does not permit an in-class announcements, updates will be sent by email through the Canvas site. The Undergraduate Honor Code pledge that each member of the university community agrees to abide by states: “As a Hokie, I will conduct myself with honor and integrity at all times. I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor will I accept the actions of those who do.” Students enrolled in this course are responsible for abiding by the Honor Code. A student who has doubts about how the Honor Code applies to any assignment is responsible for obtaining specific guidance from the course instructor before submitting the assignment for evaluation. Ignorance of the rules does not exclude any member of the University community from the requirements and expectations of the Honor Code. Any student with special needs or circumstances should contact the instruction.


Assigned books:

Gregory Freeze, ed., Russia: A History (3rd edition, Oxford University Press)

Serge Zenkovsky, Medieval Russia’s Epics, Chronicles and Tales (Meridian)

Isabel de Madariaga, Ivan the Terrible (Yale University Press)


The weekly assignment of readings are available on the canvas site. Readings identified as (Canvas) are available in the Resources folder of the Canvas site for this course. Readings identified as (Library) are available through databases from