HSTEU 445 A: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union

Spring 2020
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm / CDH 101
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
JSIS A 445 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):


The Soviet Union was a an utterly unique experiment, and one which has left a deep impression on the lives we all lead today. Grand and flawed, utopian and ugly, the project of building the first Communist nation took Russians and host of other peoples on a roller-coaster ride of emotions: optimism, brutality, pride, fear, and cynicism. 

The ripple-effects from this experiment were vast, and continue to buffet us today. Our global political debates, beliefs, and assumptions; the entire framework of US military and international policy;  and the political, social, and cultural life of the Russian Federation & 14 other nations--all of these were constructed in response to the Soviet experiment. 

This course will explore that experiment and its aftermath. It will cover the history of Russia and territories of the former Soviet Union from 1917 to the recent past, including:

  • the establishment of the Soviet Union as the world's first Communist state
  • the ups and downs of its tumultuous 70+ year history
  • its abrupt collapse
  • and the recent history of the Russian Federation and other Soviet successor-states

The class will incorporate a mix of political, social, and cultural perspectives. Along the way, it will examine what life was like for the residents of the Soviet Union--across various geographic regions, ethno-religious communities, socio-economic classes, and levels of political engagement. It will also tackle some of the major historical questions and debates surrounding this period in Russian/Soviet history, such as:

  • Why did the Russian Empire crumble, and why did communism take its place?
  • Why did Lenin and his Bolshevik style of Communism come to the fore? What were the consequences?
  • What were the effects of surviving World War, Revolution, Civil War, and the rise of Communism in under a decade?
  • Did Stalin preserve or pervert the revolution? Was there a different path forward in the 1920s-30s?
  • What were the causes and effects of Collectivization, Soviet Industrialization, and the Great Purges
  • How did the Soviet Union seek to unite many ethno-linguistic groups behind one national identity? Did it work?
  • How did World War II shift the trajectory of Soviet history? How did the USSR contribute to the Allied cause?
  • Why did the Cold War arise, why did it take the form it did, and was it avoidable?
  • Was the Soviet Union "stagnant" in its last few decades?
  • Why did the Soviet Union collapse? And why so suddenly and unexpectedly?
  • How did the history of the Soviet Union shape the various successor-states that emerged from it?
  • What imperatives are driving Russian foreign and domestic policy today?


Catalog Description:
Russia and the USSR from Nicholas II to the present. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 445.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
April 16, 2024 - 7:13 pm