Module Catalogue 2019/20

HIS2235 : The Soviet Experiment: 1917-1991

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Robert Dale
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module will give students the opportunity to explore the major events, processes, themes and historiographical issues in Soviet history from the creation of the Soviet system in 1917, through to its collapse in 1991. The module aims to provide a survey of the Soviet social, economic, political and cultural experiment, one of the most ambitious and longest lasting political projects of the twentieth century. The module will explore how the first socialist society was created, and the ways in which Soviet state and society developed over the 74 years of communist rule. The module will examine key events and periods including the establishment of the early Bolshevik State, the New Economic Policy, Stalin’s revolution from above, the Khrushchev period thaw, the stagnation of the Brezhnev period and the reforms of the Gorbachev era. Alongside these events it will also explore key issues and themes that run across the period, including: economic modernisation, state building, political violence, the role of war in shaping society, the effects of ideological and cultural revolution, the impact of propaganda. In so doing the module seeks to explore both continuities and change in this period. Above all the module will consider what the Soviet experiment sought to achieve, evaluate the society that it created, and consider the lasting legacy of this experiment.

The topics we will study, especially in seminars, will force us to look beyond the Kremlin walls to try to understand what Soviet power meant for ordinary citizens. At the same time we will explore how rapidly and dramatically the historiography of Soviet history has developed. Thanks to the opening of Soviet archives since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 our understanding of this period has been revolutionised. The module will use primary and secondary resources that previous generations of historians can only have dreamed of accessing. Students, therefore, have an opportunity to see how history is revised and re-written in the light of changing international political contexts and in the light of exciting new evidence.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module consists of 24 one-hour lectures, 11 one-hour seminars, and three hours of surgery hours.
The outline lecture syllabus is intended as a guide only, and topics may vary slightly form those given below:

1. Introduction: Setting up the Module
2. Background: What was the Soviet Union?
3. The October Revolution 1917
4. Establishing Soviet Power 1918-1921
5. The New Economic Policy
6. Faction Fighting: Stalin’s Rise to Power
7. Collectivisation: The War on the Countryside
8. Forced Industrialisation and Economic Modernisation
9. Stalinist Purges and the Great Terror
10. The Gulag system
11. The Great Patriotic War and its Impact
12. Constructing the Stalinist Self
13. Khrushchev and Destalinisation
14. Cultural Thaw and its Limits
15. The Mass Housing Campaign
16. Storming the Heavens: The Soviet War Against Religion
17. Brezhnev, Stagnation and Developed Socialism
18. The Last Soviet Generation
19. The Stalinist Transformation of Nature
20. Ecocide?: Soviet Environmentalism
21. Gender, Family and the New Soviet Person
22. Children, Youth and the Komsomol
23. Gorbachev, Glasnost’ and Perestroika
24. Nationalism and the Collapse of the Soviet Union

Schedule of Seminars:
1. Introductions: Setting up the Module
2. The Early Bolshevik State
3. Stalin’s Rise to Power
4. Stalin’s Revolution from Above
5. Terror and Repression in the 1930s
6. Stalin-era Diaries and Stalinist Subjectivities
7. Khrushchev, De-Stalinisation and the Thaw
8. The Mass Housing Campaign
9. Brezhnev, Stagnation and the Experience of the Last Soviet Generation
10. Environmental Histories of the Soviet Union
11. Seminar replaced by Surgery Hours
12. Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

Students who have successfully completed this module will have a better understanding of:
•The major issues and events in Soviet History from its rise to its collapse, and the relationship between them.
•The key thematic aspects of the social, economic, political and cultural history of the Soviet Union, from the October Revolution of 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
•The key issues in the historiography and interpretation of this tumultuous period.
•The complexities and challenges of writing, researching and interpreting Soviet history.
Students will also:
•Have developed their own ideas, arguments and responses to key debates in the history of the Soviet Union, particularly shifts in understanding prompted by the opening of Soviet archives.
•And be better equipped to formulate and present historical arguments in relation to the history of the Soviet Union in the light of both primary sources and secondary literature.
•Have a better understanding of the historiography of Stalinism, and a critical appreciation of how historical approaches to studying Stalinism have developed.

Intended Skill Outcomes

Students successfully completing this module will have developed a number of key skills, including written and oral communication, planning and organisation, time-management, and problem solving. Students will better equipped to digest volumes of primary and secondary evidence, and to argue clearly and concisely on both paper and in the seminar room. In addition they will improve technical skills including note taking, bibliographic skills, and computing literacy. The module will also develop student’s capacity for independent research, critical reading and reasoning, sustained argumentation, and appropriate presentation of research findings.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture241:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion651:0065:0040% of guided independent study
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading651:0065:0040% of guided independent study
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery13:003:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study321:0032:0020% of guided independent study
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures are designed to introduce students to concepts, ideas, debates, interpretations and arguments that are unfamiliar to them, and to provide students with core knowledge about the subjects and themes explored in the module. The lectures will also provide a framework upon which students can build their own knowledge and understanding. Lectures will make use of PowerPoint presentations, handouts and a variety of sources (visual and textual) which will help guide students in their independent study of recommended reading, and critical evaluation of source material.

Seminars are intended to complement lectures, but also allow students an opportunity to explore challenging subjects through the discussion of recommended reading. Preparation for seminars will promote critical skills and independent research, while the seminars themselves will foster oral presentation, interpersonal communication, discussion and debate, and critical skills, and will give students the confidence to develop their own arguments and interpretation in response to secondary and primary sources.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1352A75unseen
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M252000 word essay (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The balance of assessment provides students to demonstrate their abilities across the range of skills that this module has helped them to develop. The assessed essay examines written argument, histroriographical engagement,independent thinking and independent research. The written examination assess critical evaluation of secondary source material, student’s understanding of the course content, and skills of written argument.

Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining student progress. Submitted work tests knowledge outcomes and develops skills in research, reading and writing.

The exam tests acquisition of a clear general knowledge of the subject plus the ability to think and analyse a problem quickly, to select from and to apply both the general knowledge and detailed knowledge of aspects of the subject to new questions, problem-solving skills, adaptability, the ability to work unaided, and to write clearly and concisely.

The form of the resit is no different from the above, i.e. no marks are carried over from the sit to the resit. Students are not allowed to submit for the resit any work that they have previously submitted.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.
Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework and Exam:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be one essay in addition to the other coursework assessment (the length of the essay should be adjusted in order to comply with the assessment tariff); to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Exam only:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be two 2,000 word written exercises; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Coursework only:
All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2019/20 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2020/21 entry will be published here in early-April 2019. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.