History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev

Course No. 8380
Professor Mark Steinberg, Ph.D.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
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Course No. 8380
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Course Overview

It’s difficult to imagine a nation with a history more compelling for Americans than Russia. Yet many Americans have never had the opportunity to study Russia in depth, and to see how the forces of history came together to shape a future so different from the dreams of most ordinary Russian people, eager to see their nation embrace Western values of progress, human rights, and justice.

This course focuses on 300 years of Russian history from Peter the Great to Gorbachev by examining the lives of the men and women who, in fact, were Russia. This is history told through biography.

Now a much-honored teacher has created a series of 36 lectures designed to give you one of the deepest glimpses into Russia you’ve ever had—a vivid journey through 300 years of Russian history as seen through the eyes of her own people.

In this course, you'll examine key individuals and groups, the contexts in which they thought and acted, and their driving ideas.

Topics include:

  • the revolution of Peter the Great,
  • Catherine the Great,
  • the Decembrist Uprising,
  • Belinskii and the early years of Russian Socialism,
  • Alexander II,
  • Nicholas II,
  • Stalin, Gorbachev, and Communism, among others.

Discover historical themes made clear not by discussing treaties, war declarations, or economic statistics —but by examining the lives and ideas of the men and women who were Russia: tsars, emperors, Communist Party leaders, writers, artists, peasants, and factory workers.

Grasp what Russian life was like as Professor Steinberg analyzes ideas of power not only from the viewpoint of its rulers, but also from that of the ruled; the theme of happiness and its pursuit that resonates throughout Russian history, and ideas of morality and ethics as wielded by both the Russian state and its critics.

Professor Steinberg draws on his own years of experience as an author, a student in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and, more recently, as a world-class historian granted access to once-secret government archives. Listen as he brings alive the vibrant Russian imagination—so willing to visualize a different kind of life for its people, yet so burdened by its darker sides of doubt and pessimism that those visions were rejected.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Understanding the Russian Past
    This lecture introduces the course's focus on human experience, ideas, and values as manifested in the lives of Russian people, and discusses why Russia's own history is significant as both a shaper of world history and a story of human experience. x
  • 2
    The Russia of Peter the Great's Childhood
    Did Peter the Great single-handedly make Russia a part of the West, or did he further a transformation already underway? This lecture explores the Russia into which Peter was born, efforts to modernize the state and its laws, the Westernization of everyday life, and how all this affected Peter. x
  • 3
    Peter the Great's Revolution
    Who was Peter and what did he accomplish? This lecture examines the possibilities he inherited as Russia's tsar, his contradictory personality, and the major reforms he instituted, as well as the vision of progress that motivated them. x
  • 4
    The Age of Empresses—Catherine the Great
    After Peter died in 1725, Russia was ruled by women—Peter's daughter, Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great—for most of the rest of the century. This lecture discusses their efforts to continue Westernizing reforms and the ethos of power in each of their reigns. x
  • 5
    Social Rebellion—The Purgachev Uprising
    This lecture examines the conditions that led to the serf uprising led by Emelian Pugachev during the reign of Catherine the Great, as well as the ideas and language of the uprising's leaders and the groups that followed them. x
  • 6
    Moral Rebellion—Nikolai Novikov
    The development of secular higher education for Russia's elites and the emergence of an educated public and even an intelligentsia paved the way for the first critiques of autocratic despotism in Russia. This lecture focuses on one of the most influential of those critics. x
  • 7
    Alexander I—Imagining Reform
    A complex ruler—variously called a "sphinx," an "enigma," and even a "crowned Hamlet"—Alexander I exhibited many contradictions, including his ideas about power and order and their role in ensuring happiness; his sincere embrace of Enlightenment values; his love of military culture; his limited conception of constitutionalism, and his eventual retreat into mysticism and doubt. x
  • 8
    The Decembrist Rebellion
    This lecture provides a look at a remarkable event in Russian history: the unsuccessful armed uprising against autocracy in December 1825 by groups of educated nobles belonging to secret societies. x
  • 9
    Nicholas I—Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality
    The image of Nicholas I is that of one of the most reactionary rulers in modern Russian history. This lecture examines that image and the personality, ideas, and beliefs that helped create it, as well as the official ideology he created for the Russian state and how its tenets help us understand Russian state politics in the 19th century and beyond. x
  • 10
    Alexander Pushkin, Russia's National Poet
    This lecture looks at the life and powerful myth of Alexander Pushkin, Russia's most beloved writer, and the meaning of Pushkin as a symbol of the Russian nation. x
  • 11
    The Birth of the Intelligentsia
    This lecture examines the emergence of one of the most important social and cultural groups in Russian history—the intelligentsia—and the characteristics that united them, with special emphasis on the arguments of a single individual, Petr Chaadaev, whose ideas about Russia's past and future both shocked and inspired many educated Russians. x
  • 12
    Westernizers—Vissarion Belinskii
    The life and ideas of a single exemplary Westernizer intelligent spotlights the passion with which he and other Russian intelligenty struggled to find the meaning of life. This lecture explores Belinskii's ideas about the dignity and rights of the individual and how these ideas were used to critique serfdom, autocracy, and social injustice, and concludes with a comparison of how Westernizers and their rivals, the Slavophiles, viewed the individual. x
  • 13
    Alexander II and the Great Reforms
    Made painfully aware by the Crimean War of Russia's backwardness, the new tsar embarked on a series of reforms, including the abolition of serfdom and the reform of major institutions, that reflected his persistent desire to balance progress with power and change with order. This lecture looks at Alexander's political personality, its role in those reforms, and the crisis that marked the end of his reign, when he was assassinated . x
  • 14
    This lecture looks at the continued growth of dissent by educated Russians, this time an organized student movement in the 1860s and the appearance of a new kind of intelligent, the "Nihilists" whose criticisms of tradition seemed so uncompromising as to be a rejection of everything. x
  • 15
    Populists and Marxists
    Two major intellectual and political movements emerged in the final decades of the 19th century, spurred by populist ideas such as those of Petr Lavrov, and the "to the people" propaganda movement of the summer of 1874. These were the rise of terrorism as a political and social strategy, and the reasons for the emergence of Marxism in Russia. x
  • 16
    Paths to Revolution—Lenin and Martov
    This lecture examines the two most influential Marxists—Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and his rival, Menshevik leader Iulii Martov—and the implications of their differing views on democracy, consciousness, and violence. x
  • 17
    Lev Tolstoy
    One of the most remarkable men in modern Russian history, Tolstoy was notable as both a famous writer and a public voice of morality and conscience. This lecture considers the widely varying stages of his life: aristocrat, novelist, and religious and moral prophet. x
  • 18
    The Reign of Alexander III
    The reign of Alexander III has often been described as an "era of reaction." This lecture examines the beliefs and influences that led to his efforts to limit civic liberalization, his turn to the past for inspiration, and the deep pessimism that colored the views of his closest advisers. x
  • 19
    Nicholas II, The Last Tsar
    Notwithstanding the widespread belief that Nicholas II had no interest in governance or ideas about rulership, this lecture explores the essential political beliefs of Russia's last monarch, including his embrace of autocratic authoritarianism, his ideal of the tsar as the loving ruler of his people, his deep religious belief that God acted through him, and his relationship with Rasputin. x
  • 20
    The Revolution of 1905
    The strikes, demonstrations, and public demands that the tsarist government accept civil rights and democratic rule became a signpost moment in the nation's history. This lecture explores the forces that brought it about, the revolution itself, and the shape and meaning of the reforms in its aftermath. x
  • 21
    Peasant Life and Culture
    This lecture considers the lives of Russian peasants who formed the vast majority of the population in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including traditions of community and the role of religion; "land hunger," and signs of cultural changes such as the growth of literacy and the impact of migration to the cities. x
  • 22
    The Modern City and Its Discontents
    This lecture looks at the changes in urban life from the 1890s to the eve of World War I: a flourishing public sphere that included a growing press, voluntary associations, and public entertainment counterbalanced by growing anxieties about the dangers and harm of modern life, including hooliganism, murder, suicide, disease, and industrial exploitation. x
  • 23
    Fin-de-Siècle Culture—Decadence and Iconoclasm
    Was Russia heading toward crisis and even revolution on the eve of World War I? This lecture explores that still-debated question by examining two major cultural trends that surfaced between the 1905 revolution and the war: decadence, as evidenced by new attitudes in literature, art and entertainment; and futurism, with its willingness to "shock the philistine" in style and art, its attraction to primitivism and abstraction, and its embrace of modernity. x
  • 24
    Fin-de-Siècle Culture—The Religious Renaissance
    The decades before the war saw a widespread religious revival. This lecture looks at the nature of Russian Orthodoxy, the ideas of religious philosopher and poet Vladimir Soloviev, and new spiritual movements such as mysticism and the occult. x
  • 25
    War and Revolution
    This lecture looks at the Russian experience in World War I and the coming of revolution, including growing disenchantment with the war, terrible conditions at the front and at home, and the growing disorder that culminated in the collapse of the monarchy and the ascension of a liberal democratic government. x
  • 26
    Democratic Russia—1917
    This is a close look at why the new government failed, from the fall of the monarchy in February to the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in October of 1917. In particular, the lecture explores four central ideas of the time: the love of freedom; the need for a strong and progressive state; distrust of the rich and powerful, and the centrality of moral feeling and ethical judgment. x
  • 27
    Bolsheviks in Power
    Focusing on the first months of Soviet power, this lecture considers the actions and motivating ideas of the new Communist rulers, including their thoughts on both democratic emancipation and participation, authoritarianism, repression, and violence. x
  • 28
    Civil War
    The Bolshevik victory over an impressive array of opponents in the Civil War of 1918-1920 shocked many people and both shaped and revealed the role of Communist rule. This lecture explores why and how the Bolsheviks managed to win and examines both the growing centralization and militarization of Bolshevik rule and the persistence and intensification of emancipatory and utopian idealism. x
  • 29
    Paths to Socialism—the 1920s
    In the 1920s the Soviet Union still faced enormous issues of backwardness. This lecture focuses on the debates of that time that offered socialism as a remedy, with emphasis on the New Economic Policy (NEP), troubling social conditions, and the conflicting arguments of Lev Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin. x
  • 30
    Joseph Stalin
    This lecture examines the roots and political development of the man who would dominate Soviet life for more than a quarter-century, including his attraction to the Bolshevik ideology, his rise to power in an increasingly centralized Communist party, and his discontent with the NEP, which he would eventually cast aside. x
  • 31
    Stalin's Revolution
    The Soviet Union's first five-year plan (1928-1932) marked an era of radical industrialization and social transformation. This lecture considers why Stalin chose this course, the military atmosphere of the campaign and the politicization of economics, forced collectivization of the peasantry, and the social radicalism known as the "cultural revolution." x
  • 32
    Joy and Terror—Society and Culture in the 1930s
    Political, cultural, and social life during the years of high Stalinism may well be the most enigmatic period in Soviet history, with overwhelming authoritarian power and the death of millions sharing the stage with a public face of glittering night clubs, new public spaces, and Stalin's new guiding slogan that "Life has become more joyful." This lecture explores how both these histories could co-exist. x
  • 33
    The "Great Patriotic War"
    This lecture examines the Soviet experience in World War II, beginning with expectations and fears in the years prior. Discussions include the USSR's lack of preparedness for war, Stalin's relationship with his military experts, and the national resources and values around which resistance to the Nazis could be rallied and eventual victory achieved—helped in no small part by the Nazis' own practices. x
  • 34
    The Soviet Union After Stalin
    This is a look at the politics and experiences of Soviet people during the decades after the war and before Gorbachev's reforms, beginning with Stalin's return to the harsh order of the past (including what many saw as a new purge and terror prevented only by his death in 1953) and continuing through an examination of his successors, most notably Leonid Brezhnev, and the major changes in everyday society. x
  • 35
    Private and Public Dissidence
    This lecture covers the alienation from and resistance to the Soviet system during the years before Gorbachev, examining both conformity to the system and the many ways in which demand for change was made apparent. x
  • 36
    Mikhail Gorbachev—Perestroika and Glasnost
    The course concludes with a look at Mikhail Gorbachev's recognition of the many problems of the system and his efforts to make Communism work. It focuses on his notions of democracy and authority and his preoccupations with moral order, examines why he failed, and concludes with a consideration of the situation now left after Communism's collapse. x

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  • 224-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Mark Steinberg

About Your Professor

Mark Steinberg, Ph.D.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Dr. Mark Steinberg is Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the Director of the Russian and East European Center, designated as a national resource center by the Department of Education. Professor Steinberg completed his undergraduate work at the University of California, Santa Cruz and earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to taking his post at the...
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History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 97.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A top-down story all the way. DVD review. Russia is back in the news. This year, after hosting a very expensive Winter Olympics, Russia saw the modern image it wished to project shattered by the Ukraine crisis. The impression one gets of Putin is of an intelligent, articulate man deeply aggrieved by his country's fall to second-tier status ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-90s. Dr Steinberg's A HISTORY OF RUSSIA describes the trajectory of Russia's political and social elite between Tsar Peter the Great and Gorbachev, from 1680 to 1991. It is a description of their evolving mental image of Russia — its strength and weaknesses, the path it must follow to modernize, etc. — not a blow-by-blow account of its political or military history. It is therefore a story of warring ideals and changing sensibilities, not short-term decisions. Objective events such as assassinations and military setbacks are mentioned, of course, but primarily as factors in the ever-shifting climate of ideas within Russia. Are we stronger than we were? More respected? More advanced? Or are we falling behind our peers in Europe? Is there a uniquely Russian way forward, or are there better foreign models that could propel us into a more enviable position? More bluntly, the first 2/3 of this course is about a tiny, albeit growing elite up to 1917 talking to itself, alternatively worshipping and demonizing ordinary Russians, the "wise" peasant masses especially. The last 1/3 describes a much more repressive reality under Lenin and Stalin where the masses become the experimental play thing of another, more meritocratic elite. Either way, average Russians had very little say in defining their hopes, fantasies and self-image. It's a top-down story all the way. ___________________ The PRESENTATION and course guide were fine. The selected images were good, but few in number. Audio platforms are therefore a good choice if you make use of the guidebook. RUSSIA is a good companion course to TTC's excellent CLASSICS OF RUSSIAN LITERATURE. Both are about self-image in a fast-developing society leaping from medieval to modern belief systems without the benefit of a Renaissance or an Enlightenment. The toughest challenge for us in RUSSIA is the weird social context. Our European ancestors barely settled in for a generation or two before moving to cities in large waves. They were temporarily "farmers" without ever becoming "peasants" with millennial traditions. Russia, like most of Europe and Asia, had peasants. Change did not come easily. Strongly recommended for fans of Russian literature and thought.
Date published: 2014-05-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The title is a misnomer: This is a historyof Russia with all the history squeesed out of it. He spends more time discussing a Symbolist painter than the war against Napoleon, and significant people and movements, such as Kerensky and the Petreshevsky circle, are never even mentioned.
Date published: 2014-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative The professor's presentation was very clear and easy to follow. The information was comprehensive and provided a great background on Russian history. I've now listened to it twice and enjoyed it each time. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2014-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Intro to Russian History and Culture Prof. Stein berg's enthusiasm for his material and the clarity of his presentations made this course a pleasure. He frames Russian history as a history of ideas and emphasizes the importance of ideas in shaping history. Although the course was clearly taped some years ago, one can see these ideas playing out now in Putin's annexation of the Crimea and his efforts to have Russia recognized as a great power with it's own, not necessarily Western, culture and ethos.
Date published: 2014-04-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not what I expected I echo what several other reviewers have said. The course lacks specific details on important events in Russian history, and some lectures are tedious in their coverage of philosophical writings and thoughts of Russian leaders. The course on the history of China, as mentioned by another reviewer, was much superior to this one. It also seemed strange to spend the final lecture entirely on the writings of Gorbachev rather than putting the history of Russian into some perspective.
Date published: 2014-04-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Where is the Russian culture? Just another lecture series of universalizing western values. Except for couple of statements on the barbaric peasantry, everything is the inevitable westernization from enlightenment ages table manner to Gorbachev era's blue jean, and from destructive communism to rotting capitalism thru and thru. I have hard time to understand the value of so-called human dignity - it's just plain animal desire - why it's the biggest idea needs to be glorified in human history? Is it Russian history or just partial history of the west?
Date published: 2014-02-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Course is Misnamed This course is not a "history of Russia" in any usual sense. A better title would be "Russian Political Thought from Peter the Great to Gorbachev" - and it would be better categorized under "Philosophy & Intellectual History." The material presented is reasonably good - just not what the title suggests. As one glaring example, none of Russia's great wars of the period is covered in more than a couple of sentences. Unfortunately, before buying I failed to read the other reviews that also point out the divergence of the content from the title. Compared with an excellent, informative, and balanced history such as "From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History", "History of Russia" doesn't measure up
Date published: 2013-12-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This is a SOCIAL history of recent Russia DVD REVIEW: Dr Steinberg presents a series of lectures on the Russia of the last few centuries. The pictures he paints of the lives of the peasant, intellectual, and ruling classes are fascinating; the lecture on Pushkin is very good. The professor's emphasis is heavily on society; military aspects are given short shrift. The cultural role of the Intelligentsia is well-explained. This course should be named the SOCIAL HISTORY of Russia, Peter The Great to Gorbachev. Many significant historical events were passed over very quickly. I must add here that there is no special advantage in purchasing the DVD version over CDs, for the pictorial content is absolutely minimal, and, ALAS, the guidebook has no pictures or maps! Dr Steinberg's presentation is very straightforward to the point of being dull, unfortunately; very much a reading of his lectures. I would suggest he use the word "rebellion" instead of "rebelliousness" (lecture 8). Also, saying "a armed rebellion" is improper English! It's "an armed rebellion" for goodness' sake! (lecture 10) And I think he means "contradiction" when he says "contradictoriness", a terribly cumbersome concocted word. These are just a few examples of verbal oddities encountered. I was particularly looking forward to this course as I had enjoyed a visit to Moscow in 1988 and had a special family interest in Russia. Overall, the course was not very helpful: I'd prefer a short book on the recent history of Russia. Not recommended.
Date published: 2013-11-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from philosophy over action I've find it difficult to write an objective review with the understanding that individuals have diverse interest. That said, this course is not very exciting to me. Even though Dr. Steinberg is well informed and possesses a pleasant speaking voice, his focus is basically a philosophical history of Russia and not on the events. I expected fascinating biographies of eccentric leaders, saddening last days of the royal family, horrific descriptions of the gulags, and tales of valor at Stalingrad during WWII. Instead we get... how Western romanticism attempted to rescue Russia from its backwardness...the poetry of Alexander Pushkin,..the birth of the intelligentsia and philosophies of Vissarion Belinskii...humanism & theology...Tolstoy's search for self understanding and perfection through truth. If one loves deep philosophical discussions then they should enjoy this, but I enjoy a little more sensationalist action in my courses.
Date published: 2013-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Beginner's Course on Russia I wish to open by saying that I was always fascinated with Russian history but knew little of Russia before purchasing these DVDs. The only information I knew about Russia was from movies and TV which did not give the big picture. This course did. What possessed a country to move in the direction that they did? This is a very evolutionary and fascinating story. Russia has a colorful history and there are lots of lessons to be learned. I think this is a great opening course on the subject and I thank Professor Steinberg for a job well done. I would agree with other reviewers that much was left out. After finishing the course I started to read Orlando Fige’s A People’s Tragedy (a highly recommended book). I’m not here to review a book but I will say the author does lay out a thorough and excellent foundation regarding Russia’s old regime before the revolution. A whole course could be spent on this alone. Though I felt that much was missing from this course, Professor Steinberg answered the aforementioned question. Professor Steinberg is the right man for the job. He is passionate about the subject of Russia. The course is laid out in a logical order. Every aspect of life is touched up including dynasty, government, feudalism, religion, economics and literature. He balances views from all levels of society including monarchs, bourgeois, proletarians, intelligentsia and peasants. “Backwardness” is a pervasive theme. He is a very confident speaker and a great story-teller. You can tell he has been teaching this subject for a while. If you want to learn about Russia then History of Russia is a great start. I am glad I finished the course before reading the book. An even better sequel to this would be to travel there. I plan on taking his course again after reading A People’s Tragedy. What a great combination of book and course. I recommend bringing back Professor Steinberg to do a 48 lecture 2nd edition of this course.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Easy to see why Russia is a mess This was a very interesting course, offering great detail on the culture and politics of Russia over about 325 years. I enjoyed it and learned a lot. It's clear why Russia has been a mess for hundreds of years, why it's a mess today, and that it will be a mess for many generations to come, trapped in its sad history. I did find some of the lectures on authors and some details of the cultural changes a little tedious, but I understand why they're in the course. I wanted more detail on Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and more of a summary of the earlier history of Russia than was provided in Lecture 1. I found the coverage from Alexander II through the end of WW II particularly well done. Prof. Steinberg is a clear lecturer who is easy to listen to, and he definitely understands the subject material and is quite passionate about it.
Date published: 2013-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Czars and Commissars I grew up learning a lot about Russia from the daily news and TV shows: mostly stories about bombs, spies, invasions, and various international crises. It wasn’t until later that I started to become familiar with the music, literature, religion, and history of this massive country, and I became fascinated by it. This 36-part course (which I listened to via downloaded audio files) provides a good overview of the period of Russian history bookended by two memorable leaders: Peter the Great, and Mikhail Gorbachev. The early lectures are devoted to several great Czars, Empresses, reformers and authors, then about two-thirds of the course deals with the period from the late 19th century to the fall of the Soviet Union, with heavy emphasis on the Revolution and the Stalin era. The lectures are varied, and discuss topics and ideas, not just historical dates and events. You will learn about the lives of common people as well as the intelligentsia, the royals, and the Politburo. I listened to this course as a prelude to a European tour this summer which will include two days in St. Petersburg. Prof. Steinberg’s course has prepared me well for what I will see there, giving me a historical background to understanding the places I will visit. I listened to most of these lectures while walking on a treadmill at the gym, and Prof. Steinberg managed to keep my interest despite the loud music in the background, and several flashing TV screens in front of me. I look forward to exploring some of these topics in more detail on my own.
Date published: 2013-06-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing He made history very boring. Discussed K. the Great for approx. 1 minute but droned on an on about inane topics.
Date published: 2013-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful lectures, wonderful professor! I absolutely loved this course! Professor Steinberg was engaging, enthusiastic, and very knowledgable about Russian history. I learned a great deal from his lectures and thoroughly enjoyed watching them. I never got bored...not once. Some people in these comments have complained about how it was too general and not enough about other aspects (economics, social, etc.), but I think it is meant to give the viewers a general overview on Russia/Soviet Union. Professor Steinberg spent ample time on topics that were of great importance in the formation of Russian history, and spent less time on the individuals/events that were of "less importance". In my opinion, I thought that was great. He is just an outstanding professor who is clearly knowledgeable and excited about his field of study. He has inspired me to learn more in-depth about Russian history. Love it!!
Date published: 2013-02-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unbelievably superficial Little in-depth analysis and understanding of cultural/social driving forces in Russian history.
Date published: 2013-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pieces of the Puzzle No single course can treat every facet of history with regard to as expansive a subject as Russia -- especially a subject that spans centuries. No one should expect it to. I *do* expect a nuanced and textured portrayal of the subject from the professor's unique perspective, and this is precisely what Professor Steinberg offers. Vast in its sweep, the course is almost majestic as it tackles one of the toughest and most perplexing historical subjects. A fascinating survey of Russia's history that explores deep cultural motivations that, if thoughtfully considered, can explain much of Russian behavior today. I've always recognized that the Russian Uvarov troika of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationhood has great explanatory power in interpreting and even predicting Russian actions and responses, and this course surely is confirmatory in that respect. Russian history, politics, and culture is so complex as to demand prolonged study; this course is a superb starting place and I recommend multiple listenings for a thorough grounding even as one should incorporate supplementary material to provide a fuller picture. This course is a winner in every respect.
Date published: 2012-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great as a Social History I enjoyed this course, but I agree with the comments of other reviewers regarding the limited scope of the coverage of Russian history. I think it should have been titled something like “A Social History of Russia: from Peter the Great to Gorbachev”. In terms of ‘social’ or ‘intellectual’ history I think this was a great set of lectures. The information on the cultural vitality of the 1920’s was alone was worth the price of the course. The presentation was smooth and ‘professorial’. However, as with many other Teaching Company courses I wish that I had bought the audio version, instead of the video. The very limited use of graphics, mainly in the form of photographs during the second half of the course, was hardly worth the additional cost and trouble of video. The problem may have to do with the fact that the same underlying lectures are used for both video and audio. Maybe The Teaching Company should consider having different lectures for each.
Date published: 2012-11-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mostly a social history. This course focuses heavily on individuals and movements within society that helped to shape Russia. I was disappointed that the course did not go into depth about the major historical events that made the Russian nation and the USSR. For example: World Wars I and II are covered from the perseptive of how it affected Russian society, but very limited on the miltary history. Other wars are only mentioned in passing. The Napolionic wars get 2 sentences! It is only mentioned that Russia gained Finland without any details. I have a very high expectation of TGC products and this was not the Russian history I expected. However, there are some great insights you will gain into Russian and Soviet life. I would still recommend the course, but it really helps to know ahead what you are getting.
Date published: 2012-11-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from not the Russian history I expected Steinberg is very knowledgeable about his field, and impressive for it. However, .... The major shortcoming of this course is that it is not a history of Russia as I had expected it to be. Instead of a balanced history of the country, covering internal affairs, cultural and social issues, and international relations, he focuses almost entirely on the social and cultural evolution of what became the Soviet Union. Anything that does not have a direct bearing on this is left out, or mentioned only in passing. Discussions of some of the 19th century intelligentsia movements in Russia are flogged to death, going into much more detail than is required for any future discussion of the development of what turned into the Soviet state. Peter the Great and Catherine the Great are dismissed in short lectures that say very little about their significance not only in Russia but also in Western Europe. Very little is said about Stalin's rule after WW II, and the leaders of the Soviet Union after Stalin are discussed very briefly, with little to differentiate one from another. Steinberg spends practically no time talking about international affairs involving Russia, and when he does it is very sketchy. For example, he spends almost no time talking about Khrushchev's international affairs, dismissing the Bay of Pigs in less than a sentence. He spends no time talking about the Cold War and the problems the West and the Soviet Union had diplomatically up until the fall of the Soviet Union. This is a good course if you are interested in the long path the Russians took to the rise of Communism, but if you are looking for a perspective on Russia's influence on Western affairs, including its very important roles in the late 19th century, World War I, and later, this course disappoints. Individuals influential throughout Russian history often get short shrift. There are frequent odd lapses in material covered, with some items covered in great detail, and others of equal importance skimmed over.
Date published: 2012-09-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not very interesting This course was very disappointing. Expected to learn about the shape and scope of the pre-and post 1917 Russia. While there is coverage of the actual events, much time is wasted in the discussion of minor figures and individual reflections. Point in fact--the 1917 Civil War is dispatched in a brief 30 minute talk which hardly details with any specificity the breath and scope of the various factions and events. There isn't even a sweeping description and/or reflection of the period, we are constantly treated to asides dealing with the unhelpful thinking of various "liberal" thinkers whose ideas never really take hold and certainly seem not to have swayed any outside of their own ranks. I have watched other courses in which the instructor veers off the main subject to discuss the lives of everyday people, and it is welcome and relevant; here it is not since it does not add to understanding nor add contextual relevance.
Date published: 2012-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized, fascinating I absolutely loved this course. I knew a little about Russian history, but I feel much more clear about it having taken this course. I loved how clearly he presented things, and how the book that goes with the course was concise and to the point and reaffirmed what I'd just learned. I could feel the Professor's passion for Russian history, and it made me feel some of the same.
Date published: 2012-07-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Helpful, but overall disappointing. I learned quite a bit about Russia through this course, but I was also starting from close to scratch. Compared to other history courses from the Teaching Company this was sadly a disappointment. While I did gain some information I did not already have, I did not walk away with a strong picture of the nation as I have with other TC history courses. Other reviewers have noted the heavy focus on philosophy at the cost of the flow and details of actual history, and I agree with that view. This professor seems much more focused on philosophy than history and the course does not reflect a deep understanding of the Russian people or their nation. I feel like I am walking away with significant gaps in my knowledge of Russian history. The flow and continuity of the lectures was not very smooth either. I found myself getting lost and confused at times from lesson to lesson, normally not an issue with the TC. Normally I am engaged and excited to listen to the lectures of TC courses when I get in the car, not the case with this course. I find myself debating whether to return it.
Date published: 2012-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from "Talking head" presentation! In spite of the boring and sometimes very distracting presentation, the content of this course was VERY HELPFUL to my understanding of a people that every American should know better. The presenter appears ... and sounds like, he is reading every word that comes out of his mouth from a well-rehearsed script.
Date published: 2011-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, broad, insightful and as complete as... As someone said, this course takes you to the heart of Russia and URSS. It gives you the feeling, the sense and the mental sight of what it might have been. You feel walking in the streets and seeing events happening around you. Excellent presentation and as complete as possible in 36 lectures.
Date published: 2011-12-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Minimal content The informational content of this course is simply too low. The professor spends too much time on wordy superficial musings with too litlle hard information.
Date published: 2011-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Russia He brings Russian czars to life...weaves them into the history of the time...connects them to their relatives all over Europe...a fascinating course.
Date published: 2011-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course This course is outstanding in content, delivery, and interest. This is the first time that I have been able to keep straight the history of the czars and to understand the causes of the revolution. There is an excellent blend of political and social history. Unbiased presentation. I have a long commute and it has made the most tedious traffic jam a positive learning situation. I hope he teaches more courses for TC.
Date published: 2011-09-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much bloviating! Agree with reviewer below who characterized this as History of Russian Intellectual Movements and Fads. Hour after hour of abstract pontificating about various philosophical and cultural ideas and how they may or may not have influenced Russian history. The Russian history itself is a little weak, particularly on her details as a character on the world stage. After I finished course I know NOTHING about: the Great Northern War; the Crimean War; the Great Game for control of central Asia; the Partition of Poland, November uprising, colonization of Siberia and Alaska; Dostoevsky; Mendeleyev; the Russo-Turkish, Persian, Finnish, or Japanese Wars; Russia's role in starting WWI; the Gulag; the Katyn Massacre; Sputnik, Gagarin, or the Space Race; the Berlin Wall, the Cold War with the West and the Arms Race; the KGB, the Cuban Missile Crisis; Prague Spring/Velvet Revolution; Solzenitsyn; Sakharov; Afghanistan fiasco, or Chechnya. It's really a little nuts when you consider it's supposed to be an introductory college history course-- I find I can't really remember what the heck professor was blathering about all that time. Teaching Company: please try again for this important subject.
Date published: 2011-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good review of Russia Downloaded version. I lived in the former USSR from birth until I was 22, then I moved to the US. This was in the year 1977 when Jimmy Carter was President and the communists were still in firm control in Russia. I did study history in high school and college, but it was not at all the history that prof. Steinberg presents in this course. In my case, it was mostly the history of Russia from the time of the communist revolution. There was some discussion of the past, a mention of Peter the Great, but the emphasis was on the communist party and its “great leadership.” So it was with great pleasure that I listened to this course because it was the first opportunity for me to learn about the real Russian history. I found the professor interesting, with good and pleasant voice. His material was organized and presented well. Even his Russian was good. For me, two periods were particularly interesting: pre-revolutionary history and the time after I left the country, leading to Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost. Professor Steinberg did a good job describing both. I got a feeling that he was sympathetic to the communist phase of the Russian history, but it was not something he specifically stated, rather the way he talked about it. I may be wrong, but in any case, it was a great review of Russian history and I recommend it.
Date published: 2011-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good, with caveats Prof. Steinberg obviously has in-depth knowledge of his subject, bolstered greatly by his residence in Russia for an extended period of time. His enthusiasm for the material was evident, as was the desire to make his lectures interesting and informative. However, I feel the course did not provide adequate information about the devastating impact both World Wars had on the population of the Soviet Union, or about the unrelenting pressure the Cold War placed on Soviet leaders and on the Soviet economy. Those events had at least as much effect on the direction of the nation as did the personalities of the leaders who ruled it. Finally, the effectiveness of the course was, for me, reduced due to the hundreds of times Prof. Steinberg said "uh" during his lectures. It became quite distracting.
Date published: 2011-01-25
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