Fall 2012

Encounters with Eurasia: Russian Culture at the Frontier


Dale E. Peterson (Section 01)


From medieval times to the present, Russians have defined themselves as positioned between Western and Eastern cultural traditions, claiming for themselves a unique role in an historic “clash of civilizations.”  This course closely examines influential representations, in literature and film, of Russia’s encounter with the peoples on the southern and eastern borders of Imperial, Soviet, and contemporary Russia. Beginning with the depiction of pagan “others” in the ancient chronicles and narrative poetry of early Russia’s Orthodox civilization, the course will shift focus onto the secular literature of Imperial Russia, reading the texts that shaped popular conceptions of the “natives” with whom Russians battled, traded, and incorporated into their own non-Western identity. We shall investigate the long history of Russian “Orientalism” in poems, stories, and films that powerfully imposed or challenged stereotypes of the tribal peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Coming closer to the present, we shall follow the development in recent times of the concept of “Eurasianism,” which proclaims Russia to be the center of an emerging civilization that blends the races and cultures of East and West. As appropriate, the course will pause to consider comparisons and contrasts with American national expansion and the encounter with indigenous people on the North American continent. Works to be studied include Russian literary classics by Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, and Tolstoy as well as more recent Soviet and post-Soviet depictions of Russia’s “inner Asia” in film and writing.

This course includes frequent and varied writing assignments of different lengths and oral presentations of assigned material. Students will be encouraged to pay attention to textual and cinematic details and to develop skills as critical readers and creative thinkers. Writing will be discussed and edited in class with the aim of achieving persuasive argument and improving grace of expression. With the help of library staff students will research topics of interest to them in preparation for an independent final project.

 Fall semester. Professor Peterson.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012