Accessibility statement

Catherine the Great 1763 - 1796 - HIS00116I

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Shane O'Rourke
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

Catherine the Great was one of the most extraordinary women of any epoch. Empress, philosophe, author, journalist, this multi-faceted woman dominated an entire epoch. Chosen to be the bride of the heir to the Russian throne by the Empress Elizabeth, Catherine went on to be empress in her own right. Catherine raised the Russian Empire to a position of unprecedented power in Europe, transformed the internal administration of the Empire and deepened and extended the cultural revolution began by Peter the Great . The splendour of her court in St Petersburg dazzled Europe. However, Catherine ruled autocratically, the majority of her subjects were serfs, barely distinguishable from slaves and she carried out a successful foreign policy guided by unparalleled cynicism. In this course we will look at Catherine’s reign primarily focussing on the woman herself, her character, her relations with her family, and her rule to attempt to assess this most remarkable woman. We will make use of Catherine’s own writings and those of her contemporaries as well as the extensive secondary literature that exists on her.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • Gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project

Module content

Teaching Programme:

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Royal women in Muscovy and Imperial Russia

  2. Catherine at the Court of Empress Elizabeth

  3. The Seizure of the Throne

  4. The Reforming Empress

  5. The Empress and Serfdom

  6. Catherine the Great and Foreign Policy

  7. Cultural Life under Catherine

  8. Court, Family and Favourites

  9. Catherine: Legacies

Project work will consist of a 3000 word piece of work based on primary sources. There is vast amount of sources available on Catherine’s life and reign in English beginning with her own voluminous writing as well as those of courtiers, diplomats and travellers. The iconography, architecture, and literature of Catherine’s reign form another large body of primary materials suitable for a project. Subsequent representations of Catherine and her epoch are other possible subjects for projects.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Catherine the Great
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Catherine the Great
8 hours 67

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:

Hilde Hoogenboom and Mark Cruse (ed and trans) The Memoirs of Catherine the Great (London, 2006)

Simon Dixon Catherine the Great (London, 2009)

Isabel Madariaga Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great

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.