BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
From Imperial Encounters to Soviet Frontiers: Migration, Displacement and Diaspora in the Caucasus

Unit code HIST31922
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course examines mobility and migration in the Ottoman and Russian imperial worlds and in the states which were established in the aftermath of their collapse. It focuses particularly on the South Caucasus, a region frequently stereotyped as either a ‘crossroads of civilization’ and site of encounter and exchange or a ‘shatterzone’ prone to violence, conflict and displacement. The first part of this course challenges these stereotypes; drawing on new research to examine the changing patterns of movement and interaction between the two empires, from religious connections and networks to the forced resettlement of ‘border’ populations. The second part of the course turns to the First World War, the Armenian Genocide and their aftermaths, considering the connections between displacement, refugee resettlement and the emergence of new states. Finally, the course examines experiences of migrants and diaspora communities in the Soviet Union and post-Ottoman states.


HIST31922 is restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes, and Euro Studies (please check your programme regulations for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas.; and CLAH-owned programmes. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


  • To move beyond dominant ‘area studies’ paradigms and examine the variety of interactions between the (post-) Ottoman and Russian imperial world
  • To connect the history of a region often framed as ‘peripheral’ to broad themes in modern global and transnational history – migration, war imperial collapse, state formation.
  • To examine the impact of the First World War and the collapse of Empires on the Ottoman/Russian borderlands and consider how displacement and resettlement shaped the states and societies which emerged in their aftermath.
  • To explain how contemporary displacements and how histories of migration continue to shape the region into the present day


Indicative topics:

  1. Introduction: Shatterzone or Contact Zone?
  2. Displacement and resettlement in an imperial borderland
  3. Regimes: Building borders and managing migration
  4. Encounters: Lives and peoples on the edge of empire
  5. Islam across empires: communities, connections and pilgrimage
  6. Experiencing displacement in wartime: Refugees and POWs
  7.  Refugees, relief and resettlement after the Armenian Genocide
  8. Defining nations: Exchange, transfer and separation
  9. Diasporas in the post-Ottoman and Soviet worlds
  10. Settled States: Managing mobilities in the post-war period
  11. Legacies: Coming home in the post-Soviet world

Teaching and learning methods

  • 1 x 3-hour seminar per week incorporating mini-lectures, whole class discussion and structured small group tasks. This will include analysis of primary sources (text, film, visual sources) and discussion of articles read in advance by students.
  • Course Unit Office Hours equivalent to 1-hour per week where students can discuss individual progress
  • Seminar reading lists will be made available on Blackboard, as will links to digitised material and other online source/databases
  • All Coursework will be submitted and returned via Turnitin

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the changing relationship between the late-imperial Ottoman & Russian worlds and the states established in their aftermath.
  • Chart the emergence of new imperial/state practices of displacement, resettlement and border-management in the advent and aftermath of imperial collapse
  • Understand the multiple ways that mobility and migration shaped experiences and identities across this region; from lives lived and communities connected across borders to experiences of forced displacement.
  • Understand the aftermaths of migration/displacement and its consequences for memories, identities and social relations in the modern world.

Intellectual skills

  • Understand how recent historiography has challenged dominant frameworks for understanding interactions between the Ottoman/Russian imperial worlds and the Soviet Union/Middle East
  • Apply conceptual and theoretical perspectives from other disciplines (anthropologies of displacement, refugee studies) to this region and period.
  • Engage with the question of understanding the experiences of or ‘hearing’ the voices of refugees, migrants and populations ‘on the margins’ in the historical record.

Practical skills

  • Plan and carry out research using online and library based resources
  • Critical analysis of primary and secondary source material
  • Construct and resent arguments effectively
  • Contribute to group discussions in an effective and constructive manner.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Developing fluent written communication skills
  • Developing confidence in oral communication skills
  • Working independently, managing time and meeting deadlines.
  • Engaging with questions of migration in contemporary society in a nuanced, sophisticated manner.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analysis of complex and contested arguments and evidence
Group/team working
Collaboration/group working
Problem solving
Drawing on historical evidence to reflect on contemporary policy questions around migration and displacement.
Written communication
Articulating a clear, fluent argument in written or oral form

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Ongoing oral feedback in response to class discussion and small group tasks during seminars: formative

Written feedback (‘feed-forward’ comments on how to develop future assessments) on coursework submissions, provided via turnitin: summative

Additional one-to-one feedback on assessments or general progress in office hours: formative



Recommended reading

Dawn Chatty, Displacement & Dispossession in the Modern Middle East (Oxford, 2010)

Peter Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking (Bloomington, 1999)

Sossie Kasbarian & Anthony Gorman, Diasporas in the Modern Middle East (Edinburgh, 2015)

James Meyer, Turks Across Empires (Oxford, 2014)

Ronald Grigor Suny, They Can Live in the Desert and Nowhere Else: A History of the Armenian Genocide (Oxford, 2015)

Lewis Sigelbaum & Krista Goff, eds., Empire & Belonging in Eurasia (Cornell, 2019)

Lewis Sigelbaum & Leslie Moch, Broad is my Native Land: Repertoires and Regimes of Migration in Russia’s Twentieth Century (Cornell, 2014)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Joanne Laycock Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Book Review, Summative, 1500 words, 20%

Essay, Summative, 2500 words, 40%

Policy Brief, Summative, 2000 words, 40%

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