Russian Cultural History: From Czars to Commissars

Martin Miller
LS 780-15
Fall 2019
Tuesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
Classroom Building 241 (East Campus)
Begins August 27 - Ends November 26 (no class on October 8)

This course will focus on the extraordinary cultural developments which emerged in Russia during the period when the country evolved from an Imperial autocracy to a socialist empire. The great divide were the revolutions of 1917, which together ended the Romanov monarchy and brought to power a radical Bolshevik party intent on constructing a utopian transformation of society. In the years prior to the First World War during the reign of Nicholas II, Russia experienced a paradoxical set of currents dominated by political decline and cultural awakening. The upsurge in innovations in literature, painting, photography, dance and the cinema that dominated the Silver Age before the revolution maintained some degree of continuity in the early years of the post-revolutionary society of the Soviet Union. Under the banner of socialist construction, new forms of artistic endeavor and experimentation were encouraged and funded by the new regime. Yet, by the end of the 1920s, the ruling communist regime established a doctrinal consensus that led to the abolition of all other political parties at home and the creation of a global confrontation abroad that would later be named the Cold War.


We will analyze these contradictory forces, which were so influential during the transition period from tsars to commissars in Russia. Using both print sources as well as examples of the exciting art forms of the era, we shall seek to answer a number of problems which emerged in this historical time frame, including the important question of how culture and politics interact with one another in two entirely different governmental systems.



Edward Acton, Russia

Steven Marks, How Russia Shaped the Modern World

Selections from the literature, plastic arts and cinema of the time period will be made available,



There will be several short response papers in which students will analyze the artistic forms under study in their historical context, and a longer essay due at the end of the term which will permit research in greater depth on any aspect of Russian culture.


About Martin Miller

Martin Miller received his Ph.D. in Russian history at the University of Chicago and has taught at Stanford University and the New School for Social Research. He has been a member of the History Department at Duke for many years. Dr. Miller has conducted archival research in Russia and Western Europe, and has received numerous grants, among which are the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the National Council on Russian and Eastern European Studies, and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX).