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~:History of Russia - From Peter the Great to Gorbachev:~
by Mark Steinberg

It’s difficult to imagine a nation whose history is more compelling for Americans than that of Russia.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was the nation against which we measured our own nation’s values and power and with whom war, if it ever came, could spell unimaginable catastrophe for our planet.

Yet many Americans have never had the opportunity to study Russia in any kind of depth and to see how the forces of history came together so ironically to shape a future so very different from the dreams of most ordinary Russian people, eager to see their nation embrace Western values of progress, human rights, and justice.

Poets, Politicians, Workers, Thinkers: History through Biography

In this course with Professor Mark Steinberg you examine the last 300 years of Russian history through the eyes of its people.

You find historical themes made clear not by discussing treaties or war declarations or economic statistics but by examining the lives and ideas of the men and women who, in fact, were Russia.

Professor Steinberg is one of this country’s leading specialists on Russia and its culture. He is Director of the Russian and East European Center, designated as a national resource center by the Department of Education. He is a recent winner of an Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award from the University of Illinois. In these 36 lectures he brings alive the themes and ideas that have shaped Russia’s passionate and often tormented story and equips you to better interpret contemporary events.

"Russia’s history," says Professor Steinberg, "is a story of people’s efforts to discern life’s fundamental meaning, as well as a story of their uncertainty and confusion. It is a story of people’s efforts to create a society built on principles of right and justice, as well as a story of evil and injustice. It is a story about human imagination and creativity, as well as a story of great tragedy."

You meet tsars, emperors, Communist party leaders, writers, artists, peasants, and factory workers.

Art, passion, brilliant thinking, high society, and joy all thrived amidst political upheaval and years of uprisings, terror, and war. Professor Steinberg:

  • Analyzes ideas of power from the viewpoint of both rulers and the ruled
  • Brings alive the vibrant Russian imagination, one so willing to visualize a different kind of life for the country yet so burdened by its darker sides of doubt and pessimism that those visions were rejected
  • Discusses the theme of happiness and its pursuit that resonates throughout Russian history, along with ideas of morality and ethics as wielded by both the Russian State and its critics.

Professor Steinberg draws on his own years of experience as an author, a student in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and, more recently, as a world-class historian granted access to once-secret government archives.

Russia’s Rich History: "A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma"

Professor Steinberg quotes from stories written by newspaper reporters of the day, memoirs of young idealists striving to change their nation, verses of protest from poets, and descriptions of people flocking to rapidly changing public places as new styles of architecture begin to reflect a society’s evolving values.

The result is history as it happens to Russian serfs, close to starvation on their barely viable plots of land ... to newly urbanized factory workers, crowded with their families into pitifully small single rooms ... to desperate soldiers, battling house-to-house on the bloody streets of Stalingrad.

Events unfold as the consequences of powerful historical forces now understood from the perspective we have been granted by time.

The result is that you can set aside Churchill’s famous description of Russia as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" and replace it with an understanding of why Russia became what it did and what its future may hold.

The Flavor of Russia and What Lies Ahead

Professor Steinberg’s major themes include the role of religion in Russian life, the competing ideas of individual freedom versus the strength of the State, and the Russian image.

You learn about the Decembrist rebellion of 1825, the Revolution of 1905, and Russia’s brief and failed attempt at democratic government in the months before Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control.

How was it possible for the Soviet Union to recover from the disastrous beginning of World War II, when—only five months into the war—40 percent of the USSR was under German occupation and two million troops were already imprisoned?

To say that Russia used the idea of a "Great Patriotic War" to unite the nation as never before is one thing. To see why that was even possible, and what it would later mean to the idea of the Church in Russia, for example, or to the population’s post-war political and social expectations, is a different issue entirely.

You look at Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts to make Communism work though a policy of reform. The final lecture concludes by considering the situation left in the wake of the collapse of Communism.

- Text taken from

♦ All Chapters in one ZIP file ♦

Chapter One - Understanding Russia's Past

Chapter Two - The Russia of Peter the Great's Childhood

Chapter Three - Peter the Great's Revolution

Chapter Four - The Age of Empresses - Catherine the Great

Chapter Five - Social Rebellion - The Purgachev Uprising

Chapter Six - Moral Rebellion - Nikolai Novikov

Chapter Seven - Alexander I - Imagining Reform

Chapter Eight - The Decembrist Rebellion

Chapter Nine - Nicholas I - Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality

Chapter Ten - Alexander Pushkin, Russia's National Poet

Chapter Eleven - The Birth of the Intelligentsia

Chapter Twelve - Westernizers - Vissarion Belinskii

Chapter Thirteen - Alexander II and the Great Reforms

Chapter Fourteen - 'Nihilists'

Chapter Fifteen - Populists and Marxists

Chapter Sixteen - Paths to Revolution - Lenin and Martov

Chapter Seventeen - Lev Tolstoy

Chapter Eighteen - The Reign of Alexander III

Chapter Nineteen - Nicholas II, The Last Tsar

Chapter Twenty - The Revolution of 1905

Chapter Twenty-One - Peasant Life and Culture

Chapter Twenty-Two - The Modern City and Its Discontents

Chapter Twenty-Three - Fin-de-Siecle Culture - Decadence and Iconoclasm

Chapter Twenty-Four - Fin-de-Siecle Culture - The Religious Renaissance

Chapter Twenty-Five - War and Revolution

Chapter Twenty-Six - Democratic Russia - 1917

Chapter Twenty-Seven - Bolsheviks in Power

Chapter Twenty-Eight - Civil War

Chapter Twenty-Nine - Paths to Socialism - the 1920s

Chapter Thirty - Joseph Stalin

Chapter Thirty-One - Stalin's Revolution

Chapter Thirty-Two - Joy and Terror - Society and Culture in the 1930s

Chapter Thirty-Three - The 'Great Patriotic War'

Chapter Thirty-Four - The Soviet Union After Stalin

Chapter Thirty-Five - Private and Public Dissidence

Chapter Thirty-Six - Mikhail Gorbachev - Perestroika and Glasnost

♦ All Chapters in one ZIP file ♦