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HIS2235 : The Soviet Experiment: 1917-1991

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • 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


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. The Mass Housing Campaign
15. Cultural Thaw and its Limits
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 Mass Housing Campaign
8. Seminar replaced with Surgery Hours
9. Brezhnev, Stagnation and the Experience of the Last Soviet Generation
10. Environmental Histories of the Soviet Union
11. Histories of the Soviet Experience from Below: Women and Children
12. Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists