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The Material World of the Russian Imperial Court, 1700-1917 - HIS00118M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tatyana Zhukova
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

This course will focus on the Russian royal court and the representation of the monarch’s power through court ritual, decorative arts, clothing and visual imagery like royal portraiture, monuments and palaces. It will explore the changing nature of Russian architecture, the developments of the ceremonial dress and the collection and consumption of luxury commodities. The module will address the significance and impact of royal patronage, the changing nature of Russian court ceremonial and the social, cultural and financial impact and value of royal collecting.  It will likewise explore the evolution of court entertainment and question the extent to which it was influenced by the developments at other European courts. It will also look at the impact of European craftsmen on the development of Russian court culture.

The module will look at the changes in the representation of Russian monarchy as a result of the reforms of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Alexander II, though it will not be a chronological history of great rulers. The main aim of the course is to examine the symbolic representation of the Romanov dynasty in conjunction with principal concepts of autocratic and absolute power, masculinity, war, gender and empire.

The module will provide an opportunity to engage with a variety of primary source material including written and visual sources, as well as artefacts, relating to the period and encourage students to consider how they can be of value to historians in understanding the past. 


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should have/be able to:

  1.    A body of knowledge relating to the history of the Russian monarchy in the period 1700-1917.

  2. A thorough understanding of the main function and impact of architecture, decorative arts, portraiture, clothing, ceremony and ritual on expressions of monarchy, autocracy, power, masculinity, empire, war and gender. 

  3.    A close familiarity with a range of primary sources, be able to analyse these and use them in historical interpretation and argument.

  4. Analyse individual pieces of historical evidence very closely, set them in context, judge their qualities as evidence and explain their significance.

  5.   Analyse and comment on competing interpretations of modern/contemporary history (including current historiographical positions).

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

1.  The Russian Imperial Court: Themes and Resources

2.  A ‘Russian Versailles’: Rastrelli and the great palaces of St Petersburgh

3.  From Consumers to Collectors: the decorative arts at the Imperial court

4.  The Royal Court Dress

5.  Entertainment at the Imperial court: The Grand Ball  

6.  Dinning with the Tsars: The Imperial Kitchen

7.  Gifts and Gift-giving

8. Concluding session: From demolition to restoration, the material culture of the Romanov Tsars in public memory


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the autumn term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of the spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s 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:

  • An excellent introduction is provided by Adamson, J. (ed.), The Princely Courts of Europe: Ritual, Politics and Culture under the Ancien Régime, 1500–1750. London, 1999, 7-41. 

  • Hughes, L., The Romanovs: ruling Russia, 1613-1917. London, 2009.

  • Wortman, R.S., Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy from Peter the Great to the Abdication of Nicholas II, (abridged edition). Princeton, 2006. 

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.

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