HIS 250: History of Russia, 860-1991

Lectures:  11-12 MW, LM 162

Dr. Alison K. Smith  
Office: SS2067 
Office hours: book an appointment here: https://aksmith.youcanbook.me/

Ryan Buchanan
Alex Rowlson
Course Description:
This course surveys the broad span of Russian history, from the formation of the first “Russian” state to the resurrection of Russia as the Soviet Union fell apart.  The first term moves from the earliest Kievan state, through the rise of Moscow first locally, then on the world stage, and culminates with the Russian victory over Napoleon.  The second term traces the difficulties facing autocratic Imperial Russia in the changing world of the nineteenth century, moves on to the Revolution that brought that state to an end, and finally focuses on the history of the Soviet Union.


  1. two 4-6 page essay papers (15% each) (one each term)
  2. quizzes (20% total)
  3. one final exam (30%)
  4. tutorial participation (15 %)

You must receive permission from the professor (not the TA) to turn in a paper late.  Following the policy of the Governing Council of the University of Toronto, late work is only accepted in cases “where there are legitimate, documented reasons beyond a student’s control.”

There will be FIVE quizzes given during lecture over the course of the year; your lowest quiz grade will be dropped. THERE WILL BE NO MAKE-UP QUIZZES. IF YOU MISS A QUIZ, THAT ZERO WILL BE YOUR DROPPED QUIZ.

Tutorials are an integral part of this course. Please come prepared for tutorials, having read and thought about the biweekly tutorial readings. Your TAs may request additional preparation if they feel it is necessary, and may also give pop reading quizzes if they so desire.

Email: please use HIS250 in the subject line of your emails to the professor. If you are asking for a meeting because you cannot make any of the scheduled office hours, please suggest at least two possible times for a meeting in your initial email. If you are asking for an accommodation, please be as specific as you can about what you are requesting.

Classroom behavior: a recent study found that people who used laptops during lectures for things other than taking notes did retained less information, and did significantly worse on a test, than those who used paper and pencil.  More disturbingly, those who were fooling around on the web in class also cause those sitting around them to retain less information. Please be aware that your computer use affects not just yourself, but also your neighbors. Also, please be aware that the professor actually notices when you’re checking your phone on your lap.

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity:
Plagiarism is a serious offense.  Read the university’s policies on academic dishonesty, located here. Plagiarism can lead to failure, not on a single paper, but for the class as a whole.

Furthermore, students agree that by taking this course all required papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to Turnitin.com for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers will be included as source documents in the Turnitin.com reference database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of such papers. The terms that apply to the University’s use of the Turnitin.com service are described on the Turnitin.com website.

The University of Toronto is committed to accessibility. If you require accommodations for a disability, or have any accessibility concerns about the course, the classroom or course materials, please contact Accessibility Services as soon as possible: http://www.accessibility.utoronto.ca/

Required Texts:

Tutorial Readings:     on-line, or via Blackboard (see below syllabus for direct links)

Schedule of Assignments:



Textbook reading

Tutorial Readingsand Assignments

September 8:
September 10:

Kievan Rus’: Power

Riasanovsky, Chapters 1-4


September 15:
September 17:

Kievan Rus’: Religion
Kievan Rus’: War

Riasanovsky, Chapters 5-6, 9-10


September 22:

September 24:

The Coming of the Mongols
Appanage Russia

Riasanovsky, Chapters 7-8, 12

The Lay of Igor’s Raid (or On Igor’s Campaign and Zadonshchina

September 29:
October 1:

The Rise of Moscow

Riasanovsky, Chapters 11, 13

Epiphanius the Wise:  “The Life, Acts, and Miracles of Our Blessed Father Sergei of Radonezh” (Blackboard)

October 6:

October 8:

Ivan the Terrible AND QUIZ #1
The Time of Troubles

Riasanovsky, Chapters 15-16

Correspondence between Prince Andrei Kurbsky and Ivan IV and excerpts from the Domostroi

October 15:

Muscovite Society

Riasanovsky, Chapters 17, 18

The Ulozhenie (Law Code) of 1649, Chapters 11 and 21

October 20:
October 22:

The Schism
Russia and the World

Riasanovsky, Chapter 19

The Life of Archpriest Avvakum by Himself

October 27:
October 29:

Peter the Great
The Era of Palace Revolts

Riasanovsky, Chapters 20-1

Essay #1 due Thursday, October 30, 11:59 pm, electronically

November 3:
November 5:

Catherine the Great
Eighteenth-Century Culture

Riasanovsky, Chapters 22, 24

Catherine II, “Prince Khlor,” and G. I. Derzhavin, “Felitsa” (Blackboard)

November 10:

November 12:

Russia as Empire AND QUIZ #2
Paul and Alexander

Riasanovsky, Chapter 23

A. S. Pushkin, “The Captain’s Daughter” (or, “Daughter of the Commandant”)

November 19:

The Napoleonic Wars

Riasanovsky, Chapter 25


November 24:

November 26:

The Rise of the Intelligentsia
Nicholas I

Riasanovsky, Chapters 26-7

Peter Chaadaev, “Apology of a Madman,” and The Decembrists in Thomas Riha, Readings in Russian Civilization

December 1:

What Is Russia?

Riasanovsky, Chapter 28





January 5:
January 7:

Crimea and Alexander II
The Great Reforms

Riasanovsky, Chapter 29


January 12:

January 14:

The Radical Intelligentsia AND QUIZ #3
Alexander III and Reaction

Riasanovsky, Chapter 33

Ivan Turgenev, A Hunter’s Sketches, “Khor and Kalinich,” and “Bezhin Meadow" and
Anton Chekhov, “In the Ravine

January 19:
January 21:


Riasanovsky, Chapters 30, 32

V. I. Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?” Chapters II-III

January 26:
January 28:

Nicholas II

Riasanovsky, Chapter 31


February 2:
February 4:

Civil War

Riasanovsky, Chapter 34

John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World

February 9:

February 11:

NEP (except really Civil War)AND QUIZ #4
The Rise of Stalin

Riasanovsky, Chapters 35-6

Readings on the rise of Stalin:

February 23:
February 25:

Cultural Revolution

Riasanovsky, Chapter 37

watch Sergei Eisenstein’s The General Line (also known as Old and New)

March 2:
March 4:

Foreign Policy

Riasanovsky, Chapter 41

Essay #2 due Thursday, March 5, 11:59 pm, electronically

March 9:
March 11:

Post-War Stalinism

Riasanovsky, Chapter 38

read three of the memoirs recorded at the I Remember website (http://english.iremember.ru/)

March 16:
March 18:

Khrushchev and the Thaw
Brezhnev and Stagnation AND QUIZ #5

Riasanovsky, Chapter 39


March 23:
March 25:

Gorbachev and Perestroika
The Soviet Empire

Riasanovsky, Chapters 40, 42

Excerpts from Dear Comrade Editor (Blackboard)

March 30:
April 1:

The Shattered Empire

Riasanovsky, Chapter 43

Review Tutorial