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Russia Revisited in War and Revolution (1914-1921)


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme of PCNI and of the MA Programme of Russian and Eurasian Studies. Students from within the two specializations the course belongs to, have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


The Russian Revolution of 1917 was for long time considered to be the definitive watershed moment in the more than thousand years of Russian history. It seemed the dividing line between the old autocratic and backward Russia under the tsars and the new totalitarian and modernizing Russia under the communist leadership.

But after the end of communism and the dissolution of the USSR the realization grew that there was a deeper continuity discernable between the Russia’s under the old regime, under the communist regime and in its post-communist present-day form of a presidential republic. Basic tensions between the state and society and an eternal fear for the outside world have been and still are fundamental characteristics of the uneven historical development of Russia.

Moreover, the ongoing war in Ukraine, grimly highlights how strongly internal tensions and foreign conflict are connected in Russia. Desperate wars and radical changes have more than once defined the fate of Russia. What the future holds, we cannot know. But for historians there is now good reason to go back to the existential crisis of Russia a good century ago, when the First World War determined the coming of the Russian Revolution and the outcome of the Revolution was determined by the exigencies of the Civil War.

Understanding the interaction between war and revolution in the daily life experiences of the people who lived this through, can maybe help us explaining this problematic aspect of Russia’s self-image and its place in the world.

Therefore, in this master seminar we’ll have a fresh look at the Russian Revolution of 1917 in its larger context of War which started in 1914 and was more or less ended in 1921. We’ll make an analysis of the successive efforts by historians to explain and (re)frame this war-revolutionary era. Subsequently, we’ll conduct case-studies to compare these various images in historiography with the available primary sources on the impression that the war and revolution have made on participants and eyewitnesses at the time and on observers in later years.

In the present course, we’ll revisit the wars and revolution of a hundred years ago, which has got overshadowed in the general historical awareness by all the other enormous shocks which followed it during the past century, and we will try with fresh eyes, an open mind and attentive senses to fathom the authentic experiences and truly felt meanings of this fateful epoch in both Russian and general history.

Note: the entry test will be in week two on the little but very informative introductory book by Steve Smith, The Russian Revolution, a Very Short Introduction (Oxford UP, 2002) 168 pp.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  3. The ability to analyze and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  4. The ability to analyze and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialization;

  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  10. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialization

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialization as well as of the historiography of the specialization Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present, focusing particularly on: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialization Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge of the history of the Russian Revolution, its main events, its historical backgrounds and causes, its main actors and moving forces, its political consequences and cultural legacy, and of its lasting impact on Russia and the world.

  2. Insight in and understanding of the various approaches and interpretations of the Russian Revolution, both in academic history writing as in primary sources for the personal reflections of eyewitnesses and later observers, insight in the contrast and interactions between history and memory of the Russian Revolution, understanding of the complex and multilayered character of the historical experience in general.

  3. Research abilities in mastering general historical overviews and academic expert literature, in finding and processing (translated) primary sources for a case-study on a specific topic of choice, in delimitating keys issues and raising innovative research questions, in giving adequate reports group both in oral and written form, and in participating in peer group discussions on outcomes and implications.

  4. Showing an academic attitude in the exploration of the topic, approaching it with an open mind and curiosity, taking a critical stand towards the authoritative sources and the established ideas, being creative and innovative in the design of a case-study, engaging in self-reflection and reflection on the work of others, contributing with an individual effort to a collective research project.

  • 17 (ResMA only) The ability to take the initiative and the lead in coaching and coordinating group activities and assignments, the ability to carry a social responsibility.

  • 18 (ResMA only) The ability to take some critical distance and have a overview on the content and process of the course as a whole beyond the individual assignments, and to come up with suggestions for improvement.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend are required to notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


All learning objectives are tested integrated and in various degrees and compositions in the following assessment methods:

  • Written entry test with essay-questions in week 2 (10%)

  • Weekly contributions to the Discussion Forum on Brightspace (10%)

  • Two oral presentations and short reading papers (2x10%)

  • General participation in group discussions (10%)

  • Final research paper on an individual case-study (50%)


Written endpaper: 50%

Assignment 1: Entry test: 10%

Assignment 2: Oral presentation of reading paper: 10%

Assignment 3: Oral presentation of research report: 10%

Assignment 4: Weekly contributions on Brightspace: 10%

General participation: 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organized. 

Reading list

  • S.A. Smith, The Russian Revolution, a Very Short Introduction (Oxford UP, 2002)

  • M.K. Stockdale (ed.), Readings on the Russian Revolution. Debates, Aspirations, Outcomes (London etc., 2020) available as e-book in the Leiden University Library

  • M.D. Steinberg, Voices of the Revolution, 1917 (Yale UP, 2003)

  • J. Daly and L. Trofimov eds., Russia in War and Revolution, 1914-1922: a documentary history (Indianapolis 2009)


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


The entry test will be in week two on the brief but very informative introductory book by Steve Smith, The Russian Revolution, a Very Short Introduction (Oxford UP, 2002) 168 pp.