The History of Russia, 1676-1825

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Paul Keenan SAR 2.13


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

May be taken by 3rd years, General Course students and as an outside option where regulations, timetabling constraints and teaching capacity permit.

Course content

The course provides an introduction to the history of the early Russian empire. The following topics are studied: late Muscovite Russia by the 1670s; the impact of the reign of Peter I on the internal development and international position of Russia; the social and political developments of the period 1725-1762; popular revolt during the eighteenth century; the domestic and foreign policies of Catherine II; the impact of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution on Russia; Russia and the Napoleonic Wars; the failure of constitutional and social reform in the first quarter of the nineteenth century; the policies towards non-Russians within the empire; the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. The course is taught chronologically but several main themes are addressed throughout the period. These themes include: tsarist rule as an instrument of both reform and reaction; the relationship between the ruler and the major social groups; the significance of serfdom for Russia's economic, institutional and legal development; the 'missing' middle class; the nature and impact of Western ideas on Russia; the role of the Orthodox Church within the Russian state; the growth of a disaffected elite in Russia; the relationship between Russia and other European powers; the development of Russia as a 'great power'; the policies towards the non-Russians in the multi-ethnic empire; the growth of a Russian national consciousness.


Students will engage with lecture content through asynchronous recorded lectures and synchronous live Q&A sessions each week.

Students will be asked to work together to prepare in small groups in advance of each week’s class, focussing on primary sources, then discuss their findings and their relation to the week’s readings in the synchronous classes.

The recorded presentations will provide another resource for students in advance of the class and will help students to develop the requisite set of skills (which are similar but not the same as a regular presentation); it will also help to mitigate the challenges of presentations for students with, for example, social anxiety considerations.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be required to write three essays, one of which will be done under examination conditions.

Indicative reading

A full reading list will be provided at the start of the course. Useful introductory works include: E. Kimerling-Wirtschafter, Russia's Age of Serfdom; N. S. Kollman, The Russian Empire, 1450-1801; J. Hartley, A Social History of the Russian Empire 1650-1825; S. Dixon, The Modernization of Russia: 1676-1825; M. Raeff, Understanding Imperial Russia: State and Society in the Old Regime; J. Billington, The Icon and the Axe; An Interpretive History of Russian Culture; A. Kahan, The Plow, the Hammer and the Knout: An Economic History of 18th-Century Russia; P. Dukes, The Making of Russian Absolutism, 1613-1801; D. Saunders, Russia in the Age of Reaction and Reform, 1801-1881.


Presentation (20%) and class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.
Take-home assessment (65%) in the ST.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2019/20: 19

Average class size 2019/20: 9

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills