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Nationality in Imperial and Soviet Russia


Admission requirements



A state of nations is what the Russian Empire as well as the Soviet Union really amounted to. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 this fact has become more widely acknowledged among historians and other scholars. As a result, a new focus for research has been developed, the so called ‘imperial turn’. After decades of Russocentric exclusion, historians have ventured into the non-Russian peripheries or examined metropolitan policies towards the separate nationalities in distant regions. By way of comparative analysis, it is the interplay between state politics, social-cultural developments and national awareness in the multinational empire of Russia and the Soviet Union, which forms the core topic of this research seminar. This is referred to as the ‘nationality question’. How did the composite Russian/Soviet state and its many subject peoples/nations interact? And what were the results and consequences?

Course objectives

Course specific goals:

  • knowledge of political institutions, social change and national-cultural identities in modern Russian and Soviet history, insight into the historiographical innovations and controversies in this field, understanding of the key-concepts of state, nation and multi-nationality in an international perspective, research abilities with (translated) primary and secondary sources, abilities of presentation and discussion of results in an expert peer group, writing an extensive scholarly research report.

General goals:

  • The ability to independently identify and select sources

  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question

  • The ability to analyze and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument

  • The ability to interpret a corpus of sources

  • Knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations and its historiography specifically in the Political Culture and National Identities specialisation: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  • Knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation, more specifically in the Political Culture and National Identities specialisation: 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;

Extra course objectives for Res Master Students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources

  • The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates

  • Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialisation


View Timetable History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

The seminar is a one term course which consists 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 individual case-studies for research in (primary) sources on specific issues of the nationality question, to end with a round table for collective discussion and comparative conclusions on the basis of the individually written and presented final reports.

Course Load

Total: 280 hours

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars 30 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature 70 hours

  • Time for completing assignments in preparation at the college 30 hours

  • Time to write a paper (including reading / research) 100 hours

Assessment method

  • Entrance test consisting of essay questions for 10%

  • Two oral presentations for 20%

  • Two short discussion papers for 20%

  • Final research report of 7000 words max. for 50%

  • A paper demonstrating the following skills:

    • The ability to independently identify and select literature
    • The ability to give a clear written report on the research results in English or Dutch
    • The ability to engage with constructive academic feedback
  • presentation and participiation in class discussions, demonstrating the following skills:

    • The ability to give a clear oral report on the research results in English or Dutch
    • The ability to provide constructive academic feedback

‘Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the teacher.’


Blackboard is used for this course:

  • Announcements

  • Sharing data

Reading list

  • Ronald G. Suny and Terry Martin eds., State of Nations. Empire and Nation-making in the Age of Lenin and Stalin (Paperback Oxford UP; Oxford and New York 2001) ISBN 095144236.


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dhr. J.H.C. Kern