This concentration invites students to explore the history, culture, and political and economic significance of Russian civilization. Its focus on an area of the world where the boundaries between “East” and “West” have been most permeable encourages a critical re-thinking about these categories as ways to organize knowledge.
Located at the juncture of Europe and Asia, Russia for more than a thousand years has been a site for the intermingling of East and West. The early Russian state in Kiev was the work of settled Slavic populations, nomadic steppe peoples, and Scandinavian adventurers. It participated in the cultural sphere of Byzantium before succumbing to Mongol overlords in the 13th century. The Muscovite tsardom that succeeded the Mongols developed a rich religious culture and an autocratic political system wherein everyone, from noble to enserfed peasant, served the supreme ruler. Muscovy became the center of a multiethnic empire, which turned into a major European power under Peter the Great. In the 19th century, a westernized, Russian secular culture could boast dazzling accomplishments in literature, art, and music by such renowned figures as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Repin. A lively intellectual life coexisted with political repression, and reform came too late to satisfy a recently emancipated peasantry or the westernized elite.
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 made Russia the first country in the world to attempt to realize Marx’s vision of socialism. This bold but risky experiment failed to achieve humanitarian goals and led instead to dictatorship. At the cost of millions of lives, Stalin engineered an industrialization drive that put Russia on a par with the West, and laid the bases for Russia’s superpower status after World War II, supported by a quasi-imperial domination of Eastern Europe. A half-century of Cold War with the United States, marked by global confrontations that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, but also by the promising beginnings of cooperation in outer space, ended with the quiet demise of the USSR in 1991.
In building a post-Communist life, the peoples of its successor states may draw on a history not only of hardship and oppression, but of courageous resistance to tyranny, innovative responses to the ideas of others, and proud achievements in many spheres.
Students with a concentration in Russian studies may enter into fields such as education, government, security, engineering, development, and research.
A minimum of 16 credits is required for the concentration, and more than one discipline must be represented. Two courses must be at the 300-level, and at least one course (200- or 300-level) must be in Russian history. Beyond that, students may focus on ideological and economic developments, on literature and the arts, on Russia’s links to Eastern Europe or to Eurasia, or on a coherent combination of these elements. The list below suggests the range of courses appropriate for the concentration. Students are encouraged to study the Russian language at Bard College, and to take advantage of study abroad programs offered by the College in relevant areas.