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Living through the Soviet past


Admission requirements


In his recent best-selling book The whisperers. Private life in Stalin’s Russia (2007) the British historian Orlando Figes has set a new standard for our understanding of the history of the Soviet Union as seen from the perspective of its own subjects. In the present course we will take this work as a starting point for a critical examination of its method and its outcomes. We will compare this method with other approaches within the historiography and we will test its outcomes by the results of our own research in the many primary sources (in translation) on the personal memory of Soviet history. By this means we hope to achieve a deeper understanding of how Soviet past was lived through, and what it means today.

Course objectives

Knowledge of political institutions, social change and cultural identities in the context of revolutionary Soviet history, insight into the historiographical innovations and controversies in the field of personal experience and remembrance of the Soviet past, understanding of the key-concepts in the study of history and memory, research abilities with (translated) primary and secondary sources, presentation and discussion skills in an expert peer group, writing an extensive scholarly research report.


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Research seminar

Assessment method

  • Essay questions

  • Oral presentations (2)

  • Short discussion papers (2)

  • Research report of circa 7500 words

  • Participation in discussions and final round table session



Reading list

  • Orlando Figes, The whisperers. Private life in Stalin’s Russia (Penguin; London 2007)


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information

With the docent, by e-mail: dr. J.H.C. Kern


This research seminar is a one term course which exists of twelve meetings of two hours. The seminar is divided into three parts: to begin with a general introduction in the recent historiography and working towards a set of central research questions, next come personal assignments of research in sources on specific case-studies, to end with a round table for reaching comparative conclusions on the basis of the individually written final reports.

Language of instruction: Dutch for natives and English for foreigners