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Catherine the Great - HIS00155I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Shane O'Rourke
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Catherine the Great (1729-1796) 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 focusing 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 Semester 1 2024-25

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

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

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

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 Elizabeth Petrovna
  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


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

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed 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 seminars 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 formative 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 25 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:

  • H. Hoogenboom & M. Cruse, The Memoirs of Catherine the Great (New York: Random House, 2006).
  • S. Dixon, Catherine the Great (London, Profile Books, 2009).
  • I.Madariaga, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).

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.