The Soviet Union: Domestic, International and Intellectual History

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Vladislav Zubok SAR 3.13


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History, BSc in International Relations, 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.

Course content

This course will cover the history of the Soviet Union, from its inception as a combination of the Russian Revolution and a Bolshevik dictatorship, through the Stalinist terror and World War II, its role as an international centre of the ‘socialist camp’ during the Cold War, to the failure of Gorbachev's reforms and a surprisingly peaceful demise in 1991. Many courses on Soviet history deal separately with politics, social history, foreign policy, and intellectual/cultural developments. This course seeks to connect disparate threads into one historical and analytical narrative by focusing on major issues confronting the interpretation of the Soviet Union and its role in the international history of the twentieth century. The course takes advantage of the extraordinary wealth of new sources about Soviet history that appeared in recent years. The following questions will be examined during this course. Was the Soviet Union a continuation or rejection of its Russian heritage? What were the sources of Soviet legitimacy, modernization, and expansionism? What was Stalinism about? Why and how did the Soviets win the war against the Nazis? Can Soviet history be better understood as a multinational, imperial, or transnational history? How did the outside world affect Soviet domestic evolution? Why did the militarily successful Soviet state that emerged strongly from the Second World War then collapse so suddenly only a few decades later? Finally, the course will examine the legacy of the Soviet Union and the extent to which there is a Soviet ‘path dependency’ for Putin’s Russia.


Recorded lectures. Classes will be on campus or via Zoom as circumstances dictate. There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.


Formative coursework

Students will be required to write two 2,000-word essays (one in MT and one in LT) and make two class presentations (one in MT and one in LT).

Indicative reading

Vladislav Zubok, A Failed Empire. The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (2007); Vladislav Zubok, Zhivago’s Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia (2009); Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy. A History of Socialism in Russia (Free Press, 1995); Ronald Suny, The Structure of Soviet History. Essays and Documents (Oxford, 2002); Terry D. Martin, The affirmative action empire: nations and nationalism in the Soviet Union 1923-1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001); Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism. Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times (Oxford, 2000); Jochen Hellbeck. Revolution on my mind. Writing a Diary under Stalin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); Varlam Shalamov, Kolyma Tales (New York : Norton, c1980); Catherine Merridale, Ivan’s War. Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 (Picador, 2007); Elena Zubkova, Russia After the War : Hopes, Illusions, and Disappointments, 1945-1957 (E.M.Sharp, 1998); Geoffrey Hosking, Rulers and Victims: Russians in the Soviet Union (Belknap, 2006); Yuri Slezkine, The Jewish Century (Princeton, 2006); relevant chapters on the Soviet Union and Soviet foreign policy from Melvyn Leffler and Arne Westad, eds, The Cambridge History of the Cold War (2010), vols. 1-3; Katerina Clark and Evgeny Dobrenko, with Andrei Artizov and Oleg Naumov, Soviet Culture and Power. A History in Documents, 1917-1953 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007); William Taubman, Krushchev. The Man and His Era (W.W.Norton, 2003); Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More. The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, 2005); Yegor Gaidar, Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia (Washigton, Brookings, 2007).


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

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: 24

Average class size 2019/20: 12

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