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SL5: Russian Culture after 1900

The years from 1900 to the present day have seen an extraordinary series of transformations in Russian history and culture - avant-garde experimentation; the age of Revolution; the rise and gradual dismantling of Stalinist orthodoxies; the hopes and disappointments of perestroika and glasnost’, and more recently the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of contemporary Russian culture on the world stage. Both aesthetically and politically, this period has been extraordinarily rich and varied.

This paper focuses on Russian cultural production (text, film, and visual art) from the early 20th century to the present day. Its topics allow you to explore a range of materials from the early experiments of avant-garde writers and film-makers, through the feel-good ideological texts of Stalinist Socialist Realism, to an investigation of how, after the death of Stalin in 1953, writers, film-makers and visual artist, attempted come to terms with a complex and traumatic past. In the fraught political arena of Soviet Russia, literature and culture were formed in relation to state imperatives, which could be accepted or rejected, but which were difficult to ignore. The literary and visual texts that we study in this paper provide a wide range of responses to the particular contexts of twentieth and twenty-first-century Russia, and reveal the remarkable creativity that flourished, however paradoxically, in that world.

There will be 16 lectures and 4 revision seminars. Students will normally have 10 supervisions over the academic year. Assessment by Long Essay instead of final examination is available in this paper for students in Part IB (Options A&B) and by Optional Dissertation for students in Part II.


Section A: Set Text

Mikhail Bulgakov, Master i Margarita (any text published after 1990)

Section B: Topics

  1. Revolution
  2. Violence and Mourning
  3. The City and Everyday Life
  4. Legacies of Stalinism
  5. Narrating Difference: Contested Identities in Late/Post Soviet Culture

Please note: The SL5 Course Handbook treats each topic as a separate entity, with distinct primary and secondary sources, but as the course proceeds you will realize that readings you have studied in relationship to one topic may also be discussed in relationship to several others.   You may find it possible to write about revolution, for example, in relation to readings set for the topics on violence or the city.  Readings for the final two topics may also overlap in their formal and aesthetic concerns with each other and/or with the topics on the city or on violence.  Thus, although you will only write on TWO of these six topics in the examination, you should find that your work on each of the five topics enhances your understanding of all the others.  This structure also allows you to develop a solid grasp of the period as a whole, while developing your own approach to the topics you choose to prepare for the exam.

Preparatory reading: 

Please see SL5 Course Handbook for details.

Teaching and learning: 

This paper is taught through 16 lectures in Michaelmas and Lent terms, and four longer revision seminars in Easter Term.

For the SL.5 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.


The paper is divided into two sections, and all candidates must answer three questions. All candidates must answer one question from Section A on the set text, and two questions from Section B on the topics.

Past examination papers are available on Moodle, along with Examiners' Reports.

This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Emma Widdis (Michaelmas)
Dr Susan Larsen (Lent, Easter)

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