Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses



Professor Ciepiela‡, Associate Professors Kunichika‡‡ and Wolfson (Chair), Senior Lecturer Babyonyshev.

Major Program. The major program in Russian is an individualized interdisciplinary course of study. It includes general requirements for all majors and a concentration of courses in one discipline: literature, film, cultural studies, history, or politics. Eight courses are required for the major, including RUSS 301 and one course beyond RUSS 301 taught in Russian. Language courses numbered 202 and above will count for the major. Normally, two courses taken during a semester abroad in Russia may be counted; 303H and 304H together will count as one course. Additionally, all majors must elect at least one course that addresses history or literature before 1850. Other courses will be chosen in consultation with the advisor from courses in Russian literature, film, culture, history and politics. Students are strongly encouraged to enroll in non-departmental courses in their chosen discipline.

Comprehensives. The College-wide comprehensives requirement is satisfied by completing two projects. The Concentration Essay is required of all majors. Students entering the College in Fall 2018 and later are required to complete a Capstone Project, as described below; students who entered the College before that semester can elect, by the end of the add/drop period in the penultimate semester of study, to pursue a (year-long) Capstone Project or to take the Translation Exam (during that semester).

Concentration Essay and Senior Conversation. By the last day of add-drop period classes in their final semester of study, all students majoring in Russian will complete a draft of an essay, around a thousand words in length, in which they describe the trajectory and primary focus of their studies in the major. Throughout this process, majors will have the help of their advisors. The final draft of the essay, due approximately four weeks later, will be the subject of the Senior Conversation between the student and a committee of departmental readers.

Capstone Project. The Russian major program aspires to prepare students for independent analysis of authentic Russian materials. The College has exceptional resources for such study: the rare book and archive collections of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture and the Russian art collection at the Mead, most of them donated by Thomas Whitney ’37. During their final two semesters in the program, Russian majors will complete a Capstone Project that involves selecting and studying an artifact from one of the collections: a work of verbal or visual art or a document of significance to Russian cultural history. Throughout the process they will be supported by their major advisors, the staff of the Center, and/or the Mead Museum’s Curator of Russian and European Art. During the penultimate semester of study, students will research and establish the contexts that they judge most crucial for understanding the chosen work’s significance. The goal is to prepare a fifteen-minute-long presentation to be shared with the department’s faculty and students at the Russian Department Capstone Symposium, to take place about half way through the final semester of study. Students will confirm selection of the artifact with their advisors by the middle of the penultimate semester of study. By the last day of classes in that semester they will submit to their advisors: (1) a draft of their presentation; (2) an English translation, from the original Russian, of an excerpt from the chosen material (for printed or handwritten documents) or from a Russian-language source consulted in the course of doing research on an object or work of visual art. The final version of the presentation draft and the translation, which respond to comments and notes from faculty, will be due by the first day of classes in the final semester of study.

Departmental Honors Program. In lieu of the Capstone requirement, the Honors candidate will enroll RUSS 498-499 during the final two semesters of study and prepare a thesis on a topic approved by the Department. They will present an overview of their thesis work at the Department Capstone Symposium along with majors pursuing capstone projects. Students who anticipate writing an Honors essay on a topic that focuses on Russia's social history should consult with Professor Glebov (History) or may request to work under his direction. All Honors candidates should ensure that their College program provides a sufficiently strong background in their chosen discipline.

Study Abroad. Majors are strongly encouraged to spend a semester or summer studying in Russia. Students potentially interested in study abroad should begin planning as early as possible in their Amherst career. They should consult members of the Department faculty and Janna Behrens, Director of Global Education, for information on approved programs and scholarship support. Other programs can be approved on a trial basis by petition to the Director of Global Education. Study in Russia is most rewarding after students have completed the equivalent of four or five semesters of college-level Russian, but some programs will accept students with less. One semester of study in Russia will ordinarily give Amherst College credit for four courses, two of which may be counted towards the major in Russian.

Summer language programs, internships, ecological and volunteer programs may be good alternatives for students whose other Amherst commitments make a semester away difficult or impossible. (Please note that Amherst College does not give credit for summer programs.) U.S.-based summer intensive programs can be used to accelerate acquisition of the language, and some of these programs provide scholarship support. Consult the department bulletin board in Webster and the department website for information on a wide variety of programs.

‡ On leave 2022-23 Fall.

‡‡ On leave 2022-23 Spring.

101 First-Year Russian I

Introduction to the contemporary Russian language, presenting the fundamentals of Russian grammar and syntax. The course helps the student make balanced progress in listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing, and cultural competence. Five meetings per week.

Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Senior Lecturer Babyonyshev.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

111 Understanding Russia

This introduction to Russian culture and history examines Russia’s vast and varied contributions to world culture, from literature and the arts to intellectual and political history. Setting aside cultural commonplaces about Russia—from borscht to nesting dolls and vodka—and various clichés of Russia as some enigmatic, reason-defying civilization, this course considers Russia’s ongoing development as it responds to the world and fashions its own forms of art, culture, and thought. The course will survey Russian culture and history from the early eighteenth century to the present, a broad span of time in which we see periods of upheaval and change to which its writers, artists, and intellectuals gave artistic and intellectual expression. We will be guided throughout the course by such questions as: How has Russia imagined its place in the world and in world culture? How has it responded to developments from abroad in fashioning its own culture? What is distinctive about Russia’s literary, visual, and performing styles? What can Russian cultural history tell us about the ways people experience, negotiate, and navigate multiple identities in a single polity stretching from Germany to Alaska? About class and gender politics?

This course will draw upon the rich holdings of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture and the Mead Art Museum, which, together, form a premier teaching and research collection of Russia’s culture history in the West. Each module of the course will, for example, focus upon an archival, verbal, or visual artifact held in these collections, using it as a springboard to consider broader themes of Russian culture and history. 

Spring Semester. Professor Ciepiela.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2025

122 Love and Death: the Big Questions of Russian Literature

Who is to blame? What is to be done? How can we love, and how should we die? In an age when such larger-than-life questions animated urgent debates about self and society, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov and other writers whose famous shorter works we’ll read in this course reinvented the idea of literature itself. Political terrorism and non-violent resistance, women’s rights and imperial expansion, quests for social justice and personal happiness: as nineteenth-century Russian authors explored the cultural anxieties provoked by these challenges of modernity, their ambition was not to mirror experience but to transform it by interpreting its deepest secrets. This is an introduction to the daring, contradictory visions of life and art that forever changed how we do things with words. No familiarity with Russian history or culture expected. All readings in English.

Spring Semester. Professor Wolfson. 

Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

123 Century of Catastrophe: Soviet and Contemporary Russia in Writing and Film

Russia was launched on a unique path by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917: It was intended to become the first Communist society in history. The cultural revolution that followed sought to transform all social arrangements and institutions, even human beings themselves. This utopian project came up against twentieth-century realities not just in Russia but internationally (World Wars I and II, and the Cold War competition between capitalism and socialism). Much of the best Russian literature and film of the twentieth century addresses the social traumas of the era. We will study landmark works of poetry, film, fiction and documentation which address particular moments of catastrophic change – the Revolution, the “internationalizing” of non-Russian peoples, collectivization and famine, Stalin’s purges, World War II and the siege of Leningrad, ecological disaster, and the collapse of the Soviet empire and transformation of Russia into a “capitalist” society. All readings and discussion in English. No familiarity with Russian history and culture is assumed.

Omitted 2021-22. Professor Ciepiela.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2020

201 Second-Year Russian I

This course stresses vocabulary building and continued development of speaking and listening skills. Active command of Russian grammar is steadily increased. Readings from authentic materials in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Brief composition assignments. Five meetings per week, including a conversation hour and a drill session.

Requisite: RUSS 102 or the equivalent. This will ordinarily be the appropriate course placement for students with two to three years of high school Russian. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor Wolfson.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

206 Sino-Soviet Bromance? Emancipation and Catastrophe

(See ASLC 206)

215 Modernism and Revolution

We will examine the revolutionary upheavals of early twentieth-century Russia through the lens of three modernist texts: Andrei Bely’s experimental novel Petersburg (the failed revolution of 1905), Isaac Babel’s story cycle Red Cavalry (the civil war that followed the Bolshevik takeover in 1917) and Mikhail Bulgakov’s phantasmagorical masterpiece The Master and Margarita (the “cultural revolution” of 1929-32 and the rise of Stalinist society). Reshaped by the crises that they confronted in their works, these Russian writers reached beyond literature – to the images, sounds and ideas of their Russian and European contemporaries – to reimagine the place of artistic innovation and esthetic tradition in times of trouble, and so revolutionized the very idea of what literature can do in negotiating the relationship between text and experience. All readings and discussions in English. No familiarity with Russian history or culture is assumed.

Omitted 2021-22. Professor Wolfson. 

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2020

225 Vladimir Nabokov’s Double Exile

(Offered as RUSS 225 and ENGL 315) This course looks at the fiction and career of Vladimir Nabokov, a trilingual fiction writer of genius and a sophisticated self-promoter. As a liberal aristocrat living in exile in Berlin and Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, the young Nabokov was hailed as the hope of an entire generation of émigrés – artists and writers forced out of their homeland following the Russian Revolution. We first examine this European career in its publishing and media contexts, including his writing for translation into German, French, and English and for adaptation into screenplays for silent and early sound cinema. We then track to his move to America and discover how a transnational career is crafted. Modernist fiction of this period was shadowed and overshadowed by a burgeoning film industry: we will watch a number of great movies from the silent and early sound era, including some of the masterpieces of Weimar cinema by the directors who would go on to create film noir in Hollywood. We will focus on a range of Nabokov’s darkly comic novels: The Luzhin Defense, Laughter in the Dark, Invitation to a Beheading, Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire. During the course we will learn through Nabokov’s fiction to appreciate the subtleties of irony, voice, and parody; to think more deeply about the relation between history and culture (how do events engender works of art?); and to study the interaction between literature and visual culture. All readings in English.  

Fall semester. Prof. Parker.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, January 2022, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023

237 Soviet Union During the Cold War

(See HIST 236)

240 The Last Russian Revolution: State and Society from the Late Soviet Period to the Present

(See HIST 240)

245 Identity and Ideology: The Cinema of Moscow, Berlin, and Hollywood

(Offered as RUSS 245, EUST 245 and FAMS 245). Are our screens really windows through which we glimpse other worlds? Or just mirrors reflecting our own preconceptions? Are they doors through which we enter new experiences? Or cheap frames for prepackaged content? The power of visual media to emancipate its users – or trap them – was first recognized in the cinema, from the earliest silents to the flourishing of classical sound film. Film has always been the great art of exile, produced by immigrants and cosmopolitans facilitating the circulation of images, identities and ideologies. Yet it was also the battleground of competing visions of modernity, from Hollywood’s exported Americanism to Soviet political and artistic utopias, to Nazi promises of national renewal. In this course we focus on the interactions between Soviet, German, and American cinemas in the first half of the twentieth century as a way of understanding visual media’s power to shape identity and circulate ideology. We will look not only at questions of propaganda and censorship, but also at mediation, circulation, and exchange, as well as the crucial skills of (self-)translation and adaptation. Key figures include Grigory Alexandrov, Boris Barnet, Bertolt Brecht, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, Sergei Eisenstein, Greta Garbo, Piel Jutzi, Lev Kuleshov, Fedor Otsep, G.W. Pabst, Anna Sten, and Josef von Sternberg. No previous background or language knowledge required – all films with English subtitles. 

Professor Parker

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2021, Fall 2022

249 Illustrated Exile: Image, Film and Fiction in Russian Paris

(Offered as RUSS 249 and EUST 249) Amid a new wave of Russian émigrés across Europe, this course looks at the remarkable stories of the First Wave of Russians in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. In their film, fiction and photo shoots, these cultural entrepreneurs managed to construct a modern identity in exile, demonstrating remarkable skills of self-adaptation and assimilation. We will read newly translated fiction from young female authors like Nina Berberova and Irina Odoevtseva, examine the commercial phenomenon of French-language author Irène Némirovsky, and the inventions and observations of taxi driver Gaito Gazdanov. We will watch the films of the Russian-French Albatross film studio and its star Ivan Mosjoukine, as well as Marcel L’Herbier’s Art Deco films featuring Kissa Kouprine, a former Paul Poiret model. And we will examine the daily lives of the average Russians in Paris through the online archive of Illustrated Russia, a weekly magazine which ran the first annual Miss Russia beauty contest. By exploring the visual culture of this publication – cartoons, fashion advice, celebrity photographs, children’s section, and advertising – we will reconstruct this remarkable community, the first post-Soviet Russian society. Through comparative and contextual readings, this course showcases Russian literature and culture as inherently transnational, as we build up a new understanding of Russian artistic, national, gender, and ethnic identities. Students will meet working translators and engage in hands-on work with the collections of the Center for Russian Culture. No background or language knowledge required.  

Professor Parker

2023-24: Not offered

301 Third-Year Russian: Studies in Russian Language and Culture I

This course advances skills in reading, understanding, writing, and speaking Russian, with materials from twentieth-century culture. Readings include fiction by Chekhov, Babel, Olesha, Nabokov, and others. Conducted in Russian, with frequent writing and grammar assignments, in-class presentations, and occasional translation exercises. Two seminar-style meetings and one hour-long discussion section per week.

Requisite: RUSS 202 or consent of the instructor. First-year students with strong high school preparation (usually 4 or more years) may be ready for this course. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor Kunichika and Senior Lecturer Babyonyshev.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

302 Third-Year Russian: Studies in Russian Language and Culture II

We will be reading, in the original Russian, works of fiction, poetry and criticism by nineteenth-century authors such as Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Turgenev and Chekhov. Conducted in Russian, with frequent writing and translation assignments.

Requisite: RUSS 301 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Professor Wolfson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

304H Advanced Intermediate Conversation and Composition

A half course designed for intermediate-level students who wish to develop their fluency, pronunciation, oral comprehension, and writing skills. We will study and discuss Russian films of various genres. Two hours per week.

Requisite: RUSS 301 or consent of the instructor. Omitted 2021-22. Senior Lecturer Babyonyshev.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

310 Literature as Translation

(See EUST 303)

315 What is Language? Russian and Soviet Views in Comparative Context

(Offered as RUSS 315 and EUST 315) “We die. That may be the meaning of life,” writes Toni Morrison. “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Russian thinkers, writers, philosophers, and politicians have likewise sought to take measure of their lives and of culture by thinking about the nature of language, and its role in culture, society, and politics. In examining how Russian writers and thinkers have sought to answer the question what is language? — how they did and do language—we will consider a range of sources from intellectual history, linguistics, literary and critical theory, mythology, theology, and philosophy. We will examine the distinctive contributions of Russian thinking about language, while also seeking to situate Russian views on this question within a comparative context. To that end, we will also read intellectual sources that proved seminal for articulating an answer to this question (Vico, Herder, Rousseau, Saussure, and Benveniste, among others). As we consider this broad question, and how it has animated Russian thought and culture, we will also focus upon a range of other questions: What are the origins of language? How does language evolve? What is the relationship of language to national culture? What is the relationship of language to politics? Throughout the course, we will see how views on the nature of language served as an arena in which vying conceptions of culture, politics, and the human have all been contested. All readings in English. No previous knowledge of Russian culture or history expected.

Fall semester. Professor Kunichika.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021

327 The Brothers Karamazov: a Multidimensional Approach

The contemporary Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk claimed in 1999 that “the book of the millennium is Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I know of no other book which dramatizes with such beautiful intensity, and on almost encyclopedic scale, the problems of living in this world, of being with other people, and dreaming of a next world.” Through a careful reading of Dostoevsky’s final work of fiction (1880) and universally regarded supreme artistic masterpiece, we shall investigate the applicability of Pamuk’s claim, availing ourselves of additional works that shed light on the novel’s socio-political, psychological, religious/spiritual, philosophical and aesthetic dimensions. Other texts to be considered include: 1) Dostoevsky’s early travelogue “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions” (1862); 2) excerpts from Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s utopian novel What is to be Done? (1863); 3) a medieval saint’s life, “The Life of St. Theodosius”; and 4) two critical studies by American Dostoevsky specialists James Rice (Dostoevsky and the Healing Art, 1985) and Liza Knapp (The Annihilation of Inertia: Dostoevsky and Metaphysics, 1996). Our semester-long examination of The Brothers Karamazov will conclude with a discussion of Jose Ortega y Gasset’s “Why Dostoevsky Lives in the Twentieth Century,” from his 1925 essay “Dostoevsky and Proust,” and Leonid Tsypkin’s short novel Summer in Baden Baden (1980), which will help us to articulate further the attractions, the challenges and the ambiguities we encounter when reading a writer as profound, and as controversial, as Dostoevsky.

Limited to 20 students; open to first-year students with instructor's permission. Omitted 2021-22. Professor emeritus Rabinowitz.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

401 Advanced Studies in Russian Literature and Culture I

The topic changes every year. Taught entirely in Russian. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Senior Lecturer Babyonyshev.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

490 Special Topics

Independent Reading Course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Open to, and required of, seniors writing a thesis.

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Russian Language Courses

102 First-Year Russian II

Continuation of RUSS 101.

Requisite: RUSS 101 or equivalent. Limited to 12 students per section. Spring semester. Senior Lecturer Babyonyshev.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

202 Second-Year Russian II

Continuation of RUSS 201.

Requisite: RUSS 201 or equivalent. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Professor Parker.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

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