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Russia Under the Tsars, 1613-1855 - HIS00071I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. David Moon
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

Module summary

This module examines major themes in the history of tsarist Russia between two major crises. In 1613, the election of first Romanov tsar, Michael, marked the end of the 'Time of Troubles' when the state nearly collapsed. Two and half centuries later, the then mighty Russian Empire was defeated by Britain, France and the Turkish Empire in the Crimean War of 1853-56. In between these crises, Russia's tsars acquired considerable power over their population and a vast empire that extended across three continents.

This module considers how the tsars were able to attain autocratic power and how they exercised it. We will pay particular attention to the major personalities of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Both drew on western European models to shape their empire. Another major theme is how, why and with what consequences the tsars were able to build an enormous empire. By the end of the eighteenth century, it extended from Poland and Finland in Europe, across Siberia in northern Asia, to Alaska in north America. We will also consider the social history of a country whose population was made up overwhelmingly of peasants.

The lectures will address major themes in the history of tsarist Russia. The discussion groups will allow us to explore major themes in greater depth by analyzing primary sources. The module assumes no prior knowledge of Russian history.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to important specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological or geographical focus;
  • To enable them to work on those topics by combining access to the specialised expertise of staff through lectures with their own close study and discussion of issues and reading;
  • To deepen students' understanding and appreciation of a range of historical subjects and issues; and
  • To support students' progression from the broad chronological and conceptual work undertaken at Stage 1 of their programme to more detailed and rigorous study of particular topics.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have a broad overview of specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological and geographical focus;
  • Be able to evaluate different interpretations of the subject matter and approaches to it;
  • Gain a critical awareness of the primary material and secondary works used in these interpretations and approaches; and
  • Be able to synthesise information from lectures, discussion groups and reading to make evidence-based arguments both orally and in writing

Module content

Teaching Programme:
This 20-credit module consists of 16 twice weekly lectures delivered in weeks 2-9 plus one round-up session in week 10, and eight 90 minute discussion groups.

The likely lecture programme will include the following (please note - some topics are covered by more than one lecture) :-

  • Russia through western European eyes in the 16th and 17th centuries
  • Peter the Great (1682-1725): wars, reforms, historiography
  • Catherine the Great (1762-1796): the Enlightenment and reforms
  • Alexander I (1801-25): reforms, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Decembrist Revolt of 1825
  • Nicholas I (1825-55): the apogee of autocracy?
  • The Russian Autocracy
  • Territorial Expansion: the creation of the empire
  • The Nobility
  • Serfdom
  • Cossack and peasant revolts
  • The peasant commune
  • The Intelligenta

Discussion groups will deal with a range of key topics, such as:-

  • Western Perceptions of Russia
  • Peter the Great and the Autocracy
  • Catherine the Great and the Enlightenment
  • War
  • Reforms
  • Empire
  • Imperial Russian Society


Task Length % of module mark
Short Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will be required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in either week 5 or week 7 of the autumn term. They will then complete a 2,000-word essay for summative assessment, due in week 1 of the spring term.


Task Length % of module mark
Short Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Hughes, Lindsey. The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613-1917. London: Continuum, 2009.

Wirtschafter, Elise. Russia's Age of Serfdom 1649-1861. Blackwell Publishers, 2008.

Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917. London: Fontana, 1998.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students