HY242GC      Half Unit
The Soviet Union: Domestic, International and Intellectual History (Spring Semester)

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Vladislav Zubok SAR 3.13


This course is available to General Course ‘Spring Semester’ students.

Course content

This course will cover the history of the Soviet Union, from its victory in World War II 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 in the second half 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. What were the sources of Soviet legitimacy, modernization, and expansionism? What was Stalinism about? How did the outside world affect Soviet domestic evolution and devolution? Why did the Soviet state collapse so suddenly? Running through the course is the discussion about change and continuity, agency and contingency, reform and path dependency. The course helps to understand the origins of Putin’s Russia.


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


Formative coursework

Students will be required to write one 2,000-word essay in the LT and make one class presentation in the 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); 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; William Taubman, Khrushchev. 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); William Taubman, Gorbachev. His Life and Times (W.W.Norton, 2017).


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: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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