HIS32360 Environment & Power in Modern Russia

Academic Year 2020/2021

The modern Russian state contains some of the most varied environments on the planet, from mountains, forests and lakes, to steppe, tundra and taiga. This course explores human-nature relations from 1861 until the collapse of the Soviet Union: the ways in which interactions with these diverse landscapes and eco-systems have shaped and been shaped by Russia’s modern history. It focuses in particular on the role of the environment in the ongoing processes of empire, nation, state and identity-building under the late imperial and Soviet regimes, examining how landscape and resources were integral parts of the state exercise of power. In doing so, the course looks at imperial cityscapes, the development of national identity, frontier settlement, arctic exploration, natural resources during the revolutionary period, Soviet industrialisation and collectivisation, and the natural/un-natural disasters of late socialism, including Chernobyl and the Aral Sea. Alongside exploring key moments in the history of modern Russia, we will engage with some of the major themes in environmental history more broadly, including resource management and exploitation, energy regimes, pollution and preservation, and consider whether the Soviet quest to ‘master nature’ has led only to environmental decline.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module, students should be able to:
1. Explore in detail the connections between power, identity, culture and environment within the social and political history of the period.
2. Demonstrate a good awareness of the key actors, events and processes in the broader history of Russia’s nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
3. Develop a working knowledge of the relevant key debates in environmental history, and of the historiography of Russian environmental history in particular.
4. Critically engage with a variety of primary and secondary material.
5. Contribute regularly and in a meaningful way to class discussion
6. Write scholarly essays to the standard of a level 3 student of history.

Indicative Module Content:

The module will cover the following main topics:
Week 1: Russia: Land, people, power
Week 2: Rural land and the late imperial state
Week 3: Frontier expansion and settlement
Week 4: The forest question: Resource management and Russian identity
Week 5: The late imperial city
Week 6: Revolutionary environments
Week 7: Stalinism: The Great Break
[Reading week]
Week 8: Nature and the quest to build socialism, 1933-1953
Week 9: Khrushchev and the years of peaceful coexistence
Week 10: The world of developed socialism
Week 11: Disasters, perestroika and the Soviet legacy

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This is a small group module, taught via a combination of a one-hour weekly lecture and a two-hour weekly seminar. The lecture provides a broad introductory overview of the period and/or topic, while the seminar explores the subject in more detail, examining issues of interpretation and debate. Seminars are structured around student presentations and discussion, the latter incorporating both full class debate and smaller group work. Discussions are source-led and task-based, with a weekly handout of primary material supplying the basis for close contextual analysis. Advanced research, writing and citation skills are developed through a combined individual student presentation on a primary source and parallel written essay, and a semester-long 4000-word research project. Autonomous learning is developed via student-led debate in the seminars, in particular through group discussion of the weekly primary materials. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Additional Information:
Students should have completed one of the pre-requisite modules listed.

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Presentation: A combined 15 minute class presentation and 1,500 word essay Varies over the Trimester n/a Graded No


Project: A 4,000 word end of semester research project Week 12 n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Student contribution / participation is graded on a weekly basis in seminars Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Remediation Type Remediation Timing
Repeat Within Two Trimesters
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on the mid-term assessment of a 15-minute presentation and 1500-word essay assignment will be provided in writing on the returned hard copy. Written and oral feedback will be provided on an ongoing basis on plans and reading lists for the end of semester research project. Feedback on the end of semester 4000-word research project will be provided by appointment in one-to-one meetings.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.

Seminar Offering 1 Week(s) - 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 Thurs 09:00 - 10:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 Wed 15:00 - 15:50