Living the Revolutionary Utopia: Reconfiguring the Russian Empire as the Soviet Union, 1917–1920s

HIST-445  |  RUSS-345 • Sergey Glebov • Fall 2017

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was the end of the dynastic imperial regime and the onset of the new, unprecedented attempt to create a utopian society of universal equality and justice. It was also the beginning of the bloody and brutal Civil War and foreign intervention. Yet the Russian Revolution as a modernist project of remaking the social order and human nature had a much longer history as it developed since the nineteenth century in politics, science, literature, and arts. Following the Revolution, the Bolshevik reordering of state, society and empire developed along with and conflicted with the futuristic project of global transformation of the old world.  What Soviet life would look like and how the Soviet multiethnic empire should be built became highly contested projects.  This seminar introduces students to the new research into the elaboration, implementation, domestication, taming, or overcoming of revolutionary utopianism and futurism. Studying secondary and primary sources, we will explore how people created new forms of life, moral, knowledge, gender order, postcolonial arrangements, and new state institutions. Students will produce a research paper based on primary sources, including those at the Amherst Center for Russian Culture. One class meeting per week. Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students.

Literature as Translation

ENGL-320  |  EUST-303 • Catherine Ciepiela • Fall 2017

Acts of translation underwrite many kinds of cultural production, often invisibly. Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, for instance, engaged with black internationalism through bilingualism and translation, as Brent Edwards has reminded us. In this course we will study literary translation as a creative practice involved in the making of subjects and cultures. We will read key statements about translation by theorists and translators, such as Walter Benjamin, Roman Jakobson, Lawrence Venuti, Peter Cole and Gayatri Spivak. We also will directly engage in translation work: each student will regularly present translations in a workshop format to produce a portfolio as a final project. The class will be “polyglot,” meaning that students are welcome to translate from any language of which they have knowledge; when they share translations, they will be asked also to provide interlinear, or “literal,” translations for those who may not understand the language they are working in.

War and Peace

FYSE-130 • Boris Wolfson • Fall 2017

Leo Tolstoy insisted that War and Peace was not a novel, all appearances to the contrary.  As we carefully read his subversive masterpiece, we will consider the ways in which the book attempts to revolutionize what literature can do, by posing radical questions about freedom, violence, the relationship between the life of the mind and everyday experience, the value of culture, the possibility of change, and the search for an authentic self.  This course takes Tolstoy’s text as a departure point for exploring the possibilities of interpretation as an intellectual practice:  the fictions of history and the truth of fiction; the challenges of writing about emotions, events, and texts; and the attempts to adapt something as complex and unorthodox as this book to stage and film--including a recent BBC re-make and an “electropop opera” opening on Broadway this fall, which we will plan to visit as a class.   

Revolutionary Thinking

FYSE-103 • Bryn Geffert • Fall 2017

From the early nineteenth century until the early twentieth century, Russia served as the world's greatest incubator of revolutionary thought. Philosophers, politicians, clerics, literary figures, and activists of every stripe asked in publication after publication and debate after debate, "What is to be done?”  How do we fix a country beset by innumerable and seemingly intractable problems? Do we look to the West for answers, or do we look within? Should we face our travails by affirming traditional values, or should we reexamine those values? Must we reform existing institutions, or must we scrap the entire system altogether and start anew? In this course we read proposals by those advocating this latter option—outright revolution—and the responses of those horrified by such thinking. All these proposals and counterproposals tackle fundamental questions still relevant in our era: Does history follow rules? Can individuals change the course of history? Is government a tool for good or evil? Does religion function as a reactionary or a progressive force? Can we identify and embrace universal values, or do values rightly differ among regions? Does ideology flow from economics, or do economics develop according to ideology? We read arguments by Bakunin, Berkman, Chernyshevsky, Dostoevsky, Herzen, Lenin, Plekhanov, Pobedonostsev, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Zaulich, and others—published in philosophical essays, novels, political treatises, journal articles, and pamphlets. And as we read these thinkers arguing with each other, we debate their questions ourselves. 

Russia Between Tsars and Communists

HIST-439 | EUST-339  • Sergey Glebov • Last offered:  Spring 2016

The course explores a most intense and fascinating period in Russian history: the years 1890-1910. This period witnessed rapid urbanization and industrialization; the rise of professional and mass politics; first instances of modern terrorism and an intensification of nationalist struggles; imperialist ventures in Central Asia, Manchuria, and Korea; several revolutions and wars; and, above all, an unprecedented efflorescence of modernist culture in the late Russian Empire which was readily exported to and consumed in Europe. We will analyze these developments through a range of sources, including resources found at the Mead Art Museum. In addition to acquainting students with major developments in turn-of-the-century Russian Empire, the class will address contemporary scholarly debates that focus on concepts such as “modernity,” “self,” “discipline,” “knowledge,” “civil society,” and “nationalism.” Students will be required to complete an independent research paper. Two class meetings per week. 

Soviet Union During the Cold War

HIST-236 | EUST-238 • Sergey Glebov • Last offered: Fall 2015

The Cold War indelibly shaped the second half of the twentieth century.  Spies seemed ubiquitous; nuclear annihilation imminent.  Films such as Red October and the James Bond series forged a Western image of the Soviet Union.  But how were these decades experienced behind the Iron Curtain?  This class explores Soviet history between the end of World War II and the collapse of the USSR.  We will study the roots of the Cold War; the politics of de-Stalinization in the USSR; the unfolding of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe; and Soviet relations with the West, China, and the developing world.  We will also explore the internal dynamics of Soviet society: the rise of the Soviet middle class, consumerism, tourism, the entertainment industry, demographic trends, education, and public health.  

European Intellectual History in the Twentieth Century

HIST-232 | EUST-242 • Sergey Glebov • Last offered:  Spring 2015

An exploration of European intellectual history in the twentieth century, focusing on the important trends such as psychoanalysis, phenomenology, structuralism, and post-modernism. While studying thinkers such as Freud, Lacan, Heidegger or Levi-Strauss, we will pay special attention to how world-historical events shaped their thought.  How did European intellectuals react to World War I, Communism, Nazism, or de-colonization? How did they imagine a way out of totalitarianism and the assured mutual destruction of the Cold War? How did abstract ideas about the individual, freedom, or beauty develop in response to the historical circumstances in which they were forged?  Finally, the class will draw on local archival sources to highlight the thought of several influential European intellectuals who found refuge in the Five Colleges.