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The Russian Revolution Revisited


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme PCNI. It is not accessible for BA students.
This course is also part of the MA Programme of Russian and Eurasian Studies.


The Russian Revolution of 1917 will have its centenary in the coming year. It remains to be seen what sort of celebration or commemoration this anniversary will become. During the past hundred years, the image of the revolution has gone through a full circle of both positive and negative evaluations. The historical events have been regarded as the beginning of a new life, but also as the continuation of old habits. The legacy of the revolution is complex, ambiguous and is still problematic for Russia and the world. Did it bring modernity or retardation?

In this master seminar we’ll have a fresh look at the Russian Revolution which started in 1917, was over in 1991, and still lingers on in the collective memory and conditioned behavior of Russia today. We’ll make an analysis of the successive efforts by historians to explain and (re)frame the revolution. Subsequently, we’ll conduct case-studies to compare these various images in historiography with the available primary sources on the impressions which the revolution has made on eyewitnesses at the time and on observers in later years. Nowadays that the Russian Revolution tends to get overshadowed in our consciousness by all the other enormous shocks that followed it during the last century, we will try to fathom the true meaning of this fundamental watershed in Russian history.

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 analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse 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 specialisation;
  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 specialisation

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: 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 specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: 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.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student acquires:

  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. 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;
  5. (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 responsability;
  6. (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 timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Lectures: 30 hours

  • Practical work: 10 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 100 hours

  • Assignments (i.e. test, papers, presentations and final report): 140 hours

Assessment method

The assessment will consist of:

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

  • Two oral presentations on a short reading paper (20%)

  • Participation in and contribution to group discussions (20%)

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

  • Resits for written work if necessary (up to 70%)

The following course objectives are assessed:

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8 and 11-15

  • Entry test
    Measured learning objectives: 4,11 and 13-14

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-10 and 13-16

  • Assignment 1 (reading paper)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-7 and 13-15

  • Assignment 2 (progress report)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-7 and 13-16

  • Assignment 3 (participation)
    Measured learning objectives: 8-10 and 16-18


Written end paper: 50 %
Entry test: 10%
Oral presentations (2): 10%
Assignment 1 (reading paper): 5%
Assignment 2 (progress report): 5%
Assignment 3 (participation): 20%

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.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper and/or the other written assignments (up to 70%) are to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Course program

  • Literature and sources

  • Student papers

  • Any additional information

Reading list

  • S.A. Smith, The Russian Revolution, a very short introduction (Oxford UP, 2002) – To be read for the entry test in week 2.

  • 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 uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr J.H.C. (Henk) Kern


This course wil be offered in the MA programs of PCNI and Russian and Eurasian Studies. Students of both fields of study will be combined in one group.

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