For many Amherst students the first encounter with Russian culture takes place in a course taught in English


with all readings in translation and no previous knowledge of Russian language or history expected.

The Russian department offers a variety of these courses:

From first-year seminars and surveys of major eras in cultural history to courses that focus on specific authors (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov) or larger problems, such as revolutionary thought and aesthetics; film and media; theater and performance; private experience and cultural institutions; contemporary geopolitics; and various contested relationships between self and society: class; gender; race, etc. Some of the students who take these courses become Russian majors. Others simply take them to enrich their liberal-arts experience and explore an interest in the culture that has been singularly influential in shaping the modern world: its politics, its imagination, its anxieties, and its aspirations.


Courses for Non-Majors • Fall 2017

Interested in taking a liberal-studies course in the humanities that looks beyond literature originally created in English?  Ready to expand your horizons? Considering dipping your toe in the study of Russian literature and culture?

How about any one of these courses in culture and literature — appropriate for students at any point in their academic career and offered in English, with no expectation of previous acquaintance with Russian history or Russian language!  

Strange and wonderful books, images, films and sounds await.

1917-2017: One Hundred Years in the Story of Labor 
RUSS-251 / EUST-251 / FAMS-356 • Michael Kunichika

In this course, we consider the century that lay between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the present day by focusing on labor. We reconstruct how labor and work have been represented in primarily Russian and Soviet literature and film, while drawing comparisons from American and European cultural sources. We will consider the Revolution as a historical phenomenon, examining central texts in which its ambitions and significance were contested. We then consider chapters in the on-going career of labor from the 1920s to the present-day. We examine the seminal statements of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky; the groundbreaking films of Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein; and the enduring literary works of Andrei Platonov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others. Alongside the Russian texts, we will read or screen works by John Steinbeck, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang, and Eugene O’Neil. Throughout, we will be guided by several questions and concerns: how does an artistic work represent labor and conceive its value? What is the nature of work? How is intellectual labor understood in relation to others forms of labor? How are bodies configured by different labor processes? And, lastly, what might this history tell us about the present state and challenge of labor and social inequity at the centennial of the Revolution? All readings in English.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
RUSS-227 • Catherine Ciepiela

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels remain relevant to readers across the globe for their daring critique of modernity. A journalist himself, he took his material from the newspapers – stories of crime, corruption, poverty, addiction, terrorism, politics – and mined it for existential meaning. He also drew on his own difficult experience as a political prisoner who spent a decade in Siberia, an eternal debtor, and an incurable epileptic. In this course we will study Dostoevsky’s fiction and journalistic writings, alongside reactions to his work from international thinkers (Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche), writers (D.H. Lawrence, Richard Wright, David Foster Wallace) and filmmakers (Alexander Sokurov, Robert Bresson). We will begin with several early works (“Notes from Underground,” “The Double,” House of the Dead) whose concerns persist and develop in the novels that are the focus of the course: Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. All readings and discussion in English.

Revolutions in Theater
RUSS-242  / EUST-246 / THDA-243 •  Boris Wolfson

Each bold innovation in twentieth-century theater sought to redefine in its own way the very idea of theatricality, and so to reshape the relationship between text and performance, experience and interpretation, social reality and cultural tradition. The conviction that a director can, as Peter Brook put it, “take any empty space and call it a bare stage” led the great reformers whose theoretical writings and theatrical practices are examined in this course to conflicting visions of theater’s role in the esthetic, cultural and social revolutions of their times. We explore the experimental esthetics of Konstantin Stanislavsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski, Tadeusz Kantor, Heiner Müller, and Robert Wilson--and each director’s radical reinventions of theater as naturalistic, realistic, symbolist, constructivist, expressionist, epic, cruel, poor, deathlike, painterly, and holy.

Strange Russian Writers: Gogol, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Nabokov, et al
RUSS-217 • Stanley Rabinowitz

A course that examines the stories and novels of rebels, deviants, dissidents, loners, and losers in some of the weirdest fictions in Russian literature. The writers, most of whom imagine themselves to be every bit as bizarre as their heroes, include from the nineteenth century: Gogol (“Viy,” “Diary of a Madman,” “Ivan Shponka and His Aunt,” “The Nose,” “The Overcoat”); Dostoevsky (“The Double,” “A Gentle Creature,” “Bobok,” “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”); Tolstoy (“The Kreutzer Sonata,” “Father Sergius”), and from the twentieth century: Olesha (Envy); Platonov (The Foundation Pit); Kharms’ (Stories); Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita); Nabokov (The Eye, Despair); Erofeev (Moscow Circles); Pelevin (“The Yellow Arrow”). Our goal will be less to construct a canon of strangeness than to consider closely how estranged women, men, animals, and objects become the center of narrative attention and, in doing so, reflect the writer Tatyana Tolstaya’s claim that “Russia is broader and more diverse, stranger and more contradictory than any idea of it. It resists all theories about what makes it tick, confounds all the paths to its possible transformation.” All readings in English translation.