This is a blog for use in both of my HIS 241 and HIS 242 Russian history survey courses at Northern Virginia Community College.

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11 October 2012

Russian History Free Digital Versions at Pitt Press

The University of Pittsburgh Press has unveiled a great new feature, free digital versions of quite a few Russian history monographs that have been published by the press in the last twenty years or so.  Some of these are pretty standard works.  Check at for a complete list.  (I found 53 listed under the topic Russia and Eastern Europe.)

01 October 2012

Katyn Revisited

A recent AP News story headlined, Memos show US hushed up Soviet crime, by Randy Herschaft and Vanessa Gera.
The gist of the article was that it appears that the US government might have had some credible evidence during the war about the Russian massacre of Polish POWs that took place on the orders of Stalin.
American and British POWs views the site of the massacre (Germans took them there and made then inspect the site to prove that it was the Russians who carried out the killings.)   It is unclear exactly at what level of the US government the information stopped and was not passed on (It is not clear what really could have been done, although one could argue it might have given Roosevelt and his key advisers a different appreciation of Stalin when it cam time to meet at Yalta.  Perhaps, the history of Eastern and Central Europe might have been different, but that remains problematic as the Red Army was already there.).  I would like to review the documents, when they do become available, to see if we can identify what exactly what level of the government the information stopped.
Now the other issue that I have is the reluctance of the US government (despite what Congress concluded in 1952) to assert the guilt of the Russians until the 1990s.  Sometimes political correctness goes too far.
I have course materials available on Katyn.

27 September 2012

Ivan the Great and Peter the Terrible or Peter tne Great and Ivan the Terrible

Reading through some scholarly book reviews in the American Historical review and Russian Review, when I came comments on a recent book by Kevin Platt, Terror & Greatness: Ivan and Peter as Russian Myths. From what I could gather, and I don't intend reading the entire book, the argument was about how Ivan has evolved through Russian history as "the terrible" while Peter has come through as "the Great" even though both expanded the territory of Russia, both killed their sons, both came up with alternative internal regimes, both spent a lot of money, and so forth.
You can look at Russian intellectual developments, really since the reign of Aleksandr I, and trace how the outlook towards these two tsars evolved through to the Soviet Union (I think that the book ends with the films by Sergei Eisenstein), and I am guessing that one is trying to explain why Peter is positive (the great) while Ivan is negative (the terrible).
It is kind of interesting, but first you should remember that there already was an Ivan the Great (Ivan number 3). So you really can't have two Ivan the Greats; much too confusing.  You should also realize that I avoided the course on medieval Russian history when I was in grad school--too much Church Slavonic--so I am not as familiar with the reign of Ivan IV.
Second, you will also recall that Pushkin, Russia's poetic soul, did not have an altogether positive outlook on the achievements of Peter.  He was far more ambiguous in assessing Peter's legacy.
Third, it would be interesting to apply some modern technology tools, such as content modeling, to examine attitudes towards these two rulers in contemporary Russia.

20 June 2012

What's New in Russian history

Just finished browsing through my new issue of Slavic Review (summer 2012).  It is amazing how very little of academic writing I bother to read any more.  Of the issues articles, I glanced at"Swarm Life and the Biology of War and Peace."  Really, did we need to read that?  Then there are the pages of reviews of the newest books in the profession.  Does anyone really buy books like:  Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians?  Is there really something new and important to be told in The Socialist Alternative to Bolshevism:  The Socialist Revolutionary Party, 1921-1939?  It is not hard to understand the challenges faced by the academic publishing industry these days.  Most of this should just be in eformat.

13 June 2012

Russia defends weapons sales to Syria, says U.S. arming rebels

Reuters.  Evidence that Putin's leadership is still struggling with trying to understand the realities of a new world out there.  There is no zero-sum game anymore.

12 June 2012

More Protests in Russia June 2012

There were again large protests in Russia directed against the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin.  It is tough to make out what exactly direction Russia will be taking with respect to liberalizing the political regime in the years ahead.  Seems as if the oil economy boomlet is still providing enough in the way of money to fuel a middle class upgrade in living standards, and there is definite signs of improved living conditions for a lot of people in Moscow and St. Petersburg (that is debatable elsewhere in Russia).  There is also entrenched corruption at all levels of the regime to provide enough coercive force to keep things in order, and much of that force is now in the hands of pretty professional people. Change will not come easily in Russia.

17 May 2012

Protests Continue in Russia

President Putin continues to suppress protests in Russia (, no matter how minor.  Former chess champion continues to try and lead an opposition.  It is not clear where this is heading.  Putin is firmly in control and has now been in a position of power long enough to have been able to establish a new class (these is past significance to that phrase) that has also been brought into the power structure.

09 January 2012

What Happens Next in Russia?

See Jeff Tayler's article in The Atlantic, Russia's Protest Movement: Big, Angry, and Preparing for the Worst. Not sure what to make of this or the earlier demonstrations in December, but given the previous prevention of such outbursts by the Putin-Medvedev governments, one can only wonder what is up.  The elections this spring will certainly be interesting, but don't expect the unexpected.

Having just celebrated, in our own modest way, Russian Christmas, I found this article very interesting, Over 2 million Russians visit churches on Christmas.