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The Russian Revolution Revisited


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


The Russian Revolution of 1917 has recently had its centenary. It remains to be seen what sort of celebration or commemoration this anniversary really was. 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 progress or retardation? Was it a liberation or a catastrophe? There is no consensus, no master narrative, no single judgement which can grasp the whole event.

Therefore, in this master seminar we’ll have a fresh look at the Russian Revolution which started in 1917, was only defenitly over in 1991, but 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 impression that the revolution has made on participants and eyewitnesses at the time and on observers in later years. Nowadays, after the revolution has got overshadowed in our consciousness by all the other enormous shocks which followed it during the past century, we will try with an open mind to fathom the true meaning of this fundamental watershed 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 analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical pr)blem;

  • 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

The student has acquired:

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtrack as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation 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.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) 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.

  • 14) 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.

  • 15) 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.

  • 16) 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.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher 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 teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written entry test with essay-questions in week 2

  • Two short reading papers

  • Two oral presentations and participation in group discussions (10%)

  • Final research paper on an individual case-study (70%)


  • Final paper: (70) %

  • Oral presentations and participation: 10%

  • Two short reading papers: 10%

  • Entry test: 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 organised.

Reading list

  • S.A. Smith, The Russian Revolution, a very short introduction (Oxford UP, 2002)

  • 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 on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher: Dr. J.H.C. Kern
Coordinator of Studies: E.C.Munter
Administrations Office: van Wijkplaats