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Unit information: The Struggle for Russia: 19th-century Debates on Self and Society in 2014/15

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Unit name The Struggle for Russia: 19th-century Debates on Self and Society
Unit code RUSS20012
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Offord
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Russian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


It was only in the 19th century that Russian intellectual culture came of age, and it did so against a European backdrop of unprecedented political, social, and cultural change. This course aims to show how Russian thought developed in dialogue (as frequently, polemic) with both Western culture and indigenous cultural paradigms. Through close analysis of set texts it will analyse the spectrum of opinion on the central questions for Russian thought: What is a human being? By what values should a person live? How does the individual relate to society? What is the meaning of history? How should Russia be conceived, and in what direction should it develop? By paying attention both to the development of socialist thinking and to conservative ideologies it will be shown how the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 became possible, but also how the desirability of this outcome remained vigorously contested by a range of intellectual opinion. Ultimately the course will challenge the conventional conservative/radical divide in Russian thought by analysing the radicalism inherent in many ‘conservative’ positions and by bringing out shared concerns and emphases.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be familiar with the broad course of development of Russian thought in the nineteenth century, with its most prominent representatives and its most important groupings or movements. They will be able to articulate and analyse the central questions for Russian thought and to relate these to the question of Russia’s national and cultural identity, particularly in relation to Western Europe. They will have insight into the formation of the radical intelligentsia and the role of this class in laying the foundations for the Bolshevik revolution, but will equally be able to assess the cultural and intellectual importance of anti-socialist Russian thought.

Teaching details

Lecture-seminar format. Students will be expected to come prepared to discuss set texts. Each student will give one non-assessed presentation of between 10 and 15 minutes during the course.

Assessment Details

An essay of 2000 words (50%) A 2-hour exam, to include one essay question and one commentary exercise (50%)

Each assessment will require students to demonstrate sound subject knowledge. Students will be tested on their ability to engage with key issues in Russian C19 thought showing detailed knowledge of primary sources and an evaluation of secondary material. Both exercises test skills of research, expression and analysis.

Reading and References

  1. Edie, Scanlan and Zeldin (eds.), Russian Philosophy, 3 vols. (Chicago, 1965).

Florinsky, M.T., Russia: A History and an Interpretation (New York, 1953) (vol. 2)

  1. Hamburg, G. M. and Randall A. Poole (eds.). A History of Russian Philosophy, 1830-1930: Faith, Reason, and the Defense of Human Dignity (Cambridge: CUP, 2010)
  2. Leatherbarrow, William, and Offord, Derek, A Documentary History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1987)
  3. Leatherbarrow, William, and Derek Offord (eds.). A History of Russian Thought (Cambridge: CUP, 2010)
  4. Walicki, A., A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism (Oxford, 1980)