BA History and French

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Between East and West: Culture, Empire and Nation in Russia

Course unit fact file
Unit code RUSS20842
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module focuses on the intersection of culture and national identity in Russian and Soviet history. You will examine Russia’s relationship with its ‘others’ – East and West – and their role in the construction of Russia’s discourses around culture and nationhood. You will also explore the role of empire in Russian and Soviet history, analysing how Russian writers, artists and intellectuals have questioned, endorsed or contested it. Through the analysis of literary and visual primary sources, the module will provide you with a better understanding of Russia’s conflicted identity and its consequences for the present day. 


This course aims to: 

  • Investigate Russia’s recurrent issues and debates about national identity, as well as their significance in its history and culture from the 19th century to the present day; 
  • Analyse how Empire is represented in Russian culture; 
  • Study the role of the West and the East in Russian culture and nation-building; 
  • Examine colonialism in Imperial, Soviet and post-communist Russia. 


The syllabus will include the following topics:

  • Russia’s Europeanisation and identity crisis;
  • Russia’s colonial expansion in the Caucasus and Central Asia;
  • Russian populism and the radical intelligentsia;
  • The nationality question in the Soviet Union;
  • Russia’s post-Soviet ressentiment towards the West and nationalism;
  • Russia’s renewed imperialism and its consequences for Ukraine. 

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures will be teacher-centred and delivered by the module leader.

The seminars will focus on learner-centred activities (e.g. discussions, presentations) around specific topics and materials, stemming from the lecture. The seminar leader will set the material and moderate the discussion.

Attendance to both lectures and seminars is compulsory.

Knowledge and understanding

Students will develop: 

  • Knowledge of imperialism and colonialism in Russia and the Soviet Union; 
  • Knowledge of the multiple and complex relationships between culture and power in Russia; 
  • An understanding of the historical development of key ideas and issues in Russian culture and nationhood; 
  • An understanding of how these ideas and issues play out in the present moment. 

Intellectual skills

Students will develop: 

  • The ability to connect important concepts with each other; 
  • The ability to connect culture to politics and vice-versa;  
  • The tools to understand and situate Russian culture and thought in historical context. 

Practical skills

Students will develop: 

  • The ability to present written and oral work in a coherent, well-structured and well-articulated form; 
  • The tools to work effectively as a team; 
  • The ability to select and use primary and secondary sources successfully. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Students will develop: 

  • Expertise in problems affecting Eastern Europe at present; 
  • The ability to form and sustain robust arguments; 
  • An interdisciplinary approach to work and problem-solving. 

Employability skills

The course will help students develop those skills which are a requirement in today’s marketplace, including: critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, collaboration, oral and written communication.

Assessment methods

Assessment tastSummative or FormativeWeighing within unit
Essay 1 (due week 7) Summative40%
Essay (end of module, exam period)Summative60%

Resit Assessment:



Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Individual feedback on essay 1 


Individual feedback on essay 2


Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)


Recommended reading

  • Byford, Andy, Doak, Connor, Hutchings, Stephen (eds.) Transnational Russian Studies. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. 2020 (Introduction and Chapters 1-5). 
  • Greenfeld, Liah. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1992 (Chapter 3).  
  • Hosking, Geoffrey. A History of the Soviet Union 1917-1991 (Final Edition). London: Fontana. 1992 (particularly Chapters 9 and 14). 
  • Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917. London: Fontana. 1998. 
  • Kolstø, Pål, Blakkisrud, Helge (eds.) The New Russian Nationalism: Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism 2000–15. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2016. 
  • Leyton, Susan. Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994. 
  • Morozov, Viatcheslav. Russia’s Postcolonial Identity: A Subaltern Empire in a Eurocentric World. London: Palgrave. 2015. 
  • Tolz, Vera. Russia: Inventing the Nation. London: Arnold. 2001. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Marco Biasioli Unit coordinator

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