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History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev

Hear about 300 years of Russian history from a renowned author and world-class historian who was a student in the Soviet Union.
History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 113.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Review of the why and how of Russia This course focus on basically the philosophical history of Russia. Why has the Russian civilization gone the way it has. It is not a study of evicts and wars. The presentation is basically a standup lecture with minimal charts and figures. However, the content is so thorough and interesting that your interest remains glued to each lecture.
Date published: 2023-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction This is my first course with Professor Steinberg, and I am impressed. I was looking for a survey course on Russia incorporating a good deal of social, intellectual, and cultural elements, going beyond a lock-step recounting of political matters, to explain why Russia developed the way that it did. Professor Steinberg does not disappoint. I got a better understanding through this thirty-six lecture course. Though the whole of the three centuries of Russia’s history interested me, I especially appreciated Professor Steinberg’s treatment of late nineteenth century radical thought and action that culminated in the 1917 revolution; how the Bolsheviks secured and wielded power; and how Stalin came out on top eventually after Lenin’s death, then ruling through terror. The period has long interested me and Professor Steinberg provides telling details to flesh out the story, demonstrating here also, as in previous periods, “contrariness” in Russian history. Throughout the course, Professor Steinberg provides considerable biographical details and assessments of the key individual he treats. This is important in better explaining developments. I think this biographical element is what made the course so compelling for me. This course actually ends in the early 2000s (2003 publication), with Professor Steinberg expressing hope for Russia’s future with Vladimir Putin in charge. Well, that has not turned out well, has it? Professor Steinberg is a good lecturer, easy to follow. I mixed audio and video lectures through my Wondrium account, perhaps more of the audio overall. Though the audio worked fine, allowing me to enjoy long walks while listening to the lectures, I found that I lost out on some good visuals in the video format when I went back for review. The 217-page guidebook has good lecture summaries, timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and a bibliography. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2023-02-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too soon Like almost all your requests for a review, this comes too soon after my purchase of the course.
Date published: 2022-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Rise and Fall of Soviet Russia Steinberg provides a “you are there” atmosphere. But today some believe that historical authors write to create so-called: “attitude polarization”. In fact, in the Great Course “Herodotus” its author Vandiver states: “Any (historian) will arrange the material to find patterns.” Yet Vandiver (Lecture L22) notes that excellent work relies on PARALLELS to identify boundary violations, hubris, and excess. I hope to reinforce Steinberg’s astute historical writing via PARALLEL observations from other Great Courses. PEASANTS: Lecture 5 (L5): In Russia, peasants (the “narod”) were practically in a state of slavery to their landlords. PARALLEL (from the Great Course "Story of Medieval England”, Paxton): The peasants' path to success was “cancelled” everywhere by the Barons (English landlords). PEASANT "IGNORANCE": (L19): They accepted suffering, created peasant-owned communes and found comfort in their religious faith (a mix of Christianity and mysticism). PARALLEL: (America’s Founding Fathers, Guelzo, L4) "Why do stones fall to earth?” is Guelzo's brilliant summation of the pre-Scientific Revolution. Guelzo shows that our thinking is no better than theirs…we just know a LITTLE more. PEASANT REVOLT: (L19): Later, “land hunger” due to population growth drove them to unrest. Their “Bloody Sunday” rebellion destroyed Nicholas II & his family. PARALLEL (“Story of Medieval England", Paxton): Ostracized & desperate, rebels descended on London attacking the Tower of London AND John of Gaunt (the public face of 14-year-old King Richard II). They beheaded the chancellor and treasurer. ENLIGHTENMENT & REASON: L6 introduces Russian "IntellIgenty” whose “lichnost” (L22) was an ideal “…of the person, the self”. OPPOSITION: 1.) (Living the French Revolution, Desan, L3): Rousseau contradicted Enlightenment optimism: "The arts & sciences in fact made man morally weaker…they'd grown soft…corrupt." Indeed, most of the Intelligenty were students with no life experience. 2.) (America’s Founding Fathers, Guelzo, L9): The math genius Blaise Pascal once said: “Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it." NIHILISM: (L14) Based on Chenyshevskii’s “rational egoism", ie: "individual needs and happiness were the basis of morality", students rejected everything with manifestoes and clashes with the police. G.A.Henty’s brilliant 19th century novel "Condemned As A Nihilist" precisely portrays this treacherous era and the consequences of moral relativism. RUSSIAN SOCIALISM/MARXISM/COMMUNISM: (L20) Grew via two faces: propaganda (“education” and organization) and terrorism. Steinberg remarks that true Marxism needed capitalism to finance its dreams and didn’t really care about the worker. PARALLELS: 1.) (Rise of Communism, Liulevicius): Marx despised the ‘lumpenproletariat' (“the poor, unemployed, criminals, and dropouts”); 2.) (Living the French Revolution, Desan): It took France so long to get past the Revolution NOT because of its ideals of civil equality but rather its attempted “economic equality”. In 1795, deputy d’Anglas observed: “Absolute equality is a chimera...civil equality was enough." Desan’s L28 adds: “…the Revolution was on a path to self-destruction.” LIES AND VIOLENCE: (L16) Lenin had an “…almost visceral hatred of liberalism”, distrust of workers, and used democracy solely for its “situational and utilitarian value". (L29): Discusses Trotsky’s argument: “…the ends not only justify the means but ennoble them and make them moral". L31: Stalin collectivized the peasant’s land, socially purged of millions, and created the vicious “5 Year Plan”. PARALLELS: 1.) (Wisdom of History Fears, L25): "...we see a lust to dominate others, to inflect pain and humiliation" on those with dissimilar viewpoints. 2.) ("Rise of Communism", Liulevicius): Stalin’s twisted logic preceded Trotsky’s “falsehood is truth” when his party retained the Bolshevik (meaning "majority") name for his (in numbers) minority party - while casting off what Lenin termed the Menshevik (meaning “minority") for the (in numbers) majority party; 3.) (Living the French Revolution, Desan, L30) Robespierre himself observed: “Revolutions get their power from...the myth of creating the new by destroying the old.” SUMMARY: In L7, Alexander the Great who had been trained in secular Enlightenment, heartily promoted it. But as he grew older, he began to face that “rationalism” could never make the world right. I heartily recommend its deep historical analysis.
Date published: 2022-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A unique perspective on Russian history I recommend this to anyone genuinely interested in Russian history. However, you should be aware this course takes a relatively unique approach to presenting history. There is not a heavy emphasis on names, dates, military history, foreign policy, international relations in this course, the way one might expect in a traditional history course. The emphasis here is on the development and evolution of ideas, of culture, and of Russian identity. In a way it is a more intimate look at what it meant to be Russian over these three centuries covered in the course. The instructor is not particularly dynamic, but he has a pleasant, lucid, and focused presentation style with a good pace and cadence to his speech. With the caveats I mentioned above, I felt I received a very good, and very intimate look at Russia in the time period covered.
Date published: 2022-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting! I really enjoyed the lectures, learned a number of interesting facts and wasnt bored for a moment. Thank you!
Date published: 2022-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Course Having taken Russian history in college and having followed developments there from the 1950s (beginning as a child the day Stalin died in March of 1953) I was taken by the lectures of Professor Steinberg and his depth of knowledge. I highly recommend this course which lives up to the company's name.
Date published: 2022-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent The course claims to focus on the human experience, ideas, and values and delivered just that. History is often taught as a series of events with little context, but this course provided plenty of context both in terms of the ideas behind movements and the lives of prominent individuals. I very much enjoyed this course and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2021-12-25
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Grasp what Russian life was like as Professor Steinberg analyzes ideas of power not only from the viewpoint of its rulers, but also from that of the ruled; the theme of happiness and its pursuit that resonates throughout Russian history, and ideas of morality and ethics as wielded by both the Russian state and its critics.


Mark Steinberg

Rather than detailing history of events and institutions, I prefer history as human experience, ideas, actions, even emotions; history as lived and made by people-ordinary people, innovators, leaders, and rulers with great power.


University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Mark Steinberg is Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the Director of the Russian and East European Center, designated as a national resource center by the Department of Education. Professor Steinberg completed his undergraduate work at the University of California, Santa Cruz and earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to taking his post at the University of Illinois, Professor Steinberg taught at the University of Oregon, Harvard University, and Yale University. He has received many awards for his teaching, including the Sarai Ribicoff Prize for Teaching at Yale University (1993) and, at Illinois, the George and Gladys Queen Excellence in History Teaching Award (1998 and 2002) and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (2002). In 2001, the University of Illinois gave him one of its highest honors and named him a University Scholar.

By This Professor

Understanding the Russian Past

01: Understanding the Russian Past

This lecture introduces the course's focus on human experience, ideas, and values as manifested in the lives of Russian people, and discusses why Russia's own history is significant as both a shaper of world history and a story of human experience....

32 min
The Russia of Peter the Great's Childhood

02: The Russia of Peter the Great's Childhood

Did Peter the Great single-handedly make Russia a part of the West, or did he further a transformation already underway? This lecture explores the Russia into which Peter was born, efforts to modernize the state and its laws, the Westernization of everyday life, and how all this affected Peter....

31 min
Peter the Great's Revolution

03: Peter the Great's Revolution

Who was Peter and what did he accomplish? This lecture examines the possibilities he inherited as Russia's tsar, his contradictory personality, and the major reforms he instituted, as well as the vision of progress that motivated them....

31 min
The Age of Empresses-Catherine the Great

04: The Age of Empresses-Catherine the Great

After Peter died in 1725, Russia was ruled by women-Peter's daughter, Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great-for most of the rest of the century. This lecture discusses their efforts to continue Westernizing reforms and the ethos of power in each of their reigns.

31 min
Social Rebellion-The Purgachev Uprising

05: Social Rebellion-The Purgachev Uprising

This lecture examines the conditions that led to the serf uprising led by Emelian Pugachev during the reign of Catherine the Great, as well as the ideas and language of the uprising's leaders and the groups that followed them....

31 min
Moral Rebellion-Nikolai Novikov

06: Moral Rebellion-Nikolai Novikov

The development of secular higher education for Russia's elites and the emergence of an educated public and even an intelligentsia paved the way for the first critiques of autocratic despotism in Russia. This lecture focuses on one of the most influential of those critics....

30 min
Alexander I-Imagining Reform

07: Alexander I-Imagining Reform

A complex ruler-variously called a "sphinx," an "enigma," and even a "crowned Hamlet"- Alexander I exhibited many contradictions, including his ideas about power and order and their role in ensuring happiness; his sincere embrace of Enlightenment values; his love of military culture; his limited conception of constitutionalism, and his eventual retreat into mysticism ...

31 min
The Decembrist Rebellion

08: The Decembrist Rebellion

This lecture provides a look at a remarkable event in Russian history: the unsuccessful armed uprising against autocracy in December 1825 by groups of educated nobles belonging to secret societies....

30 min
Nicholas I-Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality

09: Nicholas I-Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality

The image of Nicholas I is that of one of the most reactionary rulers in modern Russian history. This lecture examines that image and the personality, ideas, and beliefs that helped create it, as well as the official ideology he created for the Russian state and how its tenets help us understand Russian state politics in the 19th century and beyond....

31 min
Alexander Pushkin, Russia's National Poet

10: Alexander Pushkin, Russia's National Poet

This lecture looks at the life and powerful myth of Alexander Pushkin, Russia's most beloved writer, and the meaning of Pushkin as a symbol of the Russian nation....

29 min
The Birth of the Intelligentsia

11: The Birth of the Intelligentsia

This lecture examines the emergence of one of the most important social and cultural groups in Russian history-the intelligentsia-and the characteristics that united them, with special emphasis on the arguments of a single individual, Petr Chaadaev, whose ideas about Russia's past and future both shocked and inspired many educated Russians....

30 min
Westernizers-Vissarion Belinskii

12: Westernizers-Vissarion Belinskii

The life and ideas of a single exemplary Westernizer intelligent spotlights the passion with which he and other Russian intelligenty struggled to find the meaning of life. This lecture explores Belinskii's ideas about the dignity and rights of the individual and how these ideas were used to critique serfdom, autocracy, and social injustice, and concludes with a comparison of how Westernizers and t...

31 min
Alexander II and the Great Reforms

13: Alexander II and the Great Reforms

Made painfully aware by the Crimean War of Russia's backwardness, the new tsar embarked on a series of reforms, including the abolition of serfdom and the reform of major institutions, that reflected his persistent desire to balance progress with power and change with order. This lecture looks at Alexander's political personality, its role in those reforms, and the crisis that marked the end of hi...

32 min

14: Nihilists

This lecture looks at the continued growth of dissent by educated Russians, this time an organized student movement in the 1860s and the appearance of a new kind of intelligent, the "nihilist," whose criticisms of tradition seemed so uncompromising as to be a rejection of everything....

31 min
Populists and Marxists

15: Populists and Marxists

Two major intellectual and political movements emerged in the final decades of the 19th century, spurred by populist ideas such as those of Petr Lavrov, and the "to the people" propaganda movement of the summer of 1874. These were the rise of terrorism as a political and social strategy, and the reasons for the emergence of Marxism in Russia....

31 min
Paths to Revolution-Lenin and Martov

16: Paths to Revolution-Lenin and Martov

This lecture examines the two most influential Marxists-Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and his rival, Menshevik leader Iulii Martov-and the implications of their differing views on democracy, consciousness, and violence....

31 min
Lev Tolstoy

17: Lev Tolstoy

One of the most remarkable men in modern Russian history, Tolstoy was notable as both a famous writer and a public voice of morality and conscience. This lecture considers the widely varying stages of his life: aristocrat, novelist, and religious and moral prophet....

31 min
The Reign of Alexander III

18: The Reign of Alexander III

The reign of Alexander III has often been described as an "era of reaction." This lecture examines the beliefs and influences that led to his efforts to limit civic liberalization, his turn to the past for inspiration, and the deep pessimism that colored the views of his closest advisors....

30 min
Nicholas II, The Last Tsar

19: Nicholas II, The Last Tsar

Notwithstanding the widespread belief that Nicholas II had no interest in governance or ideas about rulership, this lecture explores the essential political beliefs of Russia's last monarch, including his embrace of autocratic authoritarianism, his ideal of the tsar as the loving ruler of his people, his deep religious belief that God acted through him, and his relationship with Rasputin....

31 min
The Revolution of 1905

20: The Revolution of 1905

The strikes, demonstrations, and public demands that the tsarist government accept civil rights and democratic rule became a signpost moment in the nation's history. This lecture explores the forces that brought it about, the revolution itself, and the shape and meaning of the reforms in its aftermath....

31 min
Peasant Life and Culture

21: Peasant Life and Culture

This lecture considers the lives of Russian peasants who formed the vast majority of the population in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including traditions of community and the role of religion; "land hunger," and signs of cultural changes such as the growth of literacy and the impact of migration to the cities....

32 min
The Modern City and Its Discontents

22: The Modern City and Its Discontents

This lecture looks at the changes in urban life from the 1890s to the eve of World War I: a flourishing public sphere that included a growing press, voluntary associations, and public entertainment counterbalanced by growing anxieties about the dangers and harm of modern life, including hooliganism, murder, suicide, disease, and industrial exploitation....

31 min
Fin-de-Siecle Culture-Decadence and Iconoclasm

23: Fin-de-Siecle Culture-Decadence and Iconoclasm

Was Russia heading toward crisis and even revolution on the eve of World War I? This lecture explores that still-debated question by examining two major cultural trends that surfaced between the 1905 revolution and the war: decadence, as evidenced by new attitudes in literature, art and entertainment; and futurism, with its willingness to "shock the philistine" in style and art, its attr...

31 min
Fin-de-Siecle Culture-The Religious Renaissance

24: Fin-de-Siecle Culture-The Religious Renaissance

The decades before the war saw a widespread religious revival. This lecture looks at the nature of Russian Orthodoxy, the ideas of religious philosopher and poet Vladimir Soloviev, and new spiritual movements such as mysticism and the occult....

31 min
War and Revolution

25: War and Revolution

This lecture looks at the Russian experience in World War I and the coming of revolution, including growing disenchantment with the war, terrible conditions at the front and at home, and the growing disorder that culminated in the collapse of the monarchy and the ascension of a liberal democratic government....

32 min
Democratic Russia-1917

26: Democratic Russia-1917

This is a close look at why the new government failed, from the fall of the monarchy in February to the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in October of 1917. In particular, the lecture explores four central ideas of the time: the love of freedom; the need for a strong and progressive state; distrust of the rich and powerful, and the centrality of moral feeling and ethical judgment....

32 min
Bolsheviks in Power

27: Bolsheviks in Power

Focusing on the first months of Soviet power, this lecture considers the actions and motivating ideas of the new Communist rulers, including their thoughts on both democratic emancipation and participation, authoritarianism, repression, and violence....

31 min
Civil War

28: Civil War

The Bolshevik victory over an impressive array of opponents in the Civil War of 1918-1920 shocked many people and both shaped and revealed the role of Communist rule. This lecture explores why and how the Bolsheviks managed to win and examines both the growing centralization and militarization of Bolshevik rule and the persistence and intensification of emancipatory and utopian idealism....

31 min
Paths to Socialism-the 1920s

29: Paths to Socialism-the 1920s

In the 1920s the Soviet Union still faced enormous issues of backwardness. This lecture focuses on the debates of that time that offered socialism as a remedy, with emphasis on the New Economic Policy (NEP), troubling social conditions, and the conflicting arguments of Lev Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin....

32 min
Joseph Stalin

30: Joseph Stalin

This lecture examines the roots and political development of the man who would dominate Soviet life for more than a quarter-century, including his attraction to the Bolshevik ideology, his rise to power in an increasingly centralized Communist party, and his discontent with the NEP, which he would eventually cast aside....

31 min
Stalin's Revolution

31: Stalin's Revolution

The Soviet Union's first five-year plan (1928-1932) marked an era of radical industrialization and social transformation. This lecture considers why Stalin chose this course, the military atmosphere of the campaign and the politicization of economics, forced collectivization of the peasantry, and the social radicalism known as the "cultural revolution."...

32 min
Joy and Terror-Society and Culture in the 1930s

32: Joy and Terror-Society and Culture in the 1930s

Political, cultural, and social life during the years of high Stalinism may well be the most enigmatic period in Soviet history, with overwhelming authoritarian power and the death of millions sharing the stage with a public face of glittering night clubs, new public spaces, and Stalin's new guiding slogan that "Life has become more joyful." This lecture explores how both these histories...

31 min

33: The "Great Patriotic War"

This lecture examines the Soviet experience in World War II, beginning with expectations and fears in the years prior. Discussions include the USSR's lack of preparedness for war, Stalin's relationship with his military experts, and the national resources and values around which resistance to the Nazis could be rallied and eventual victory achieved-helped in no small part by the Nazis' own practic...

31 min
The Soviet Union After Stalin

34: The Soviet Union After Stalin

This is a look at the politics and experiences of Soviet people during the decades after the war and before Gorbachev's reforms, beginning with Stalin's return to the harsh order of the past (including what many saw as a new purge and terror prevented only by his death in 1953) and continuing through an examination of his successors, most notably Leonid Brezhnev, and the major changes in everyday ...

31 min
Private and Public Dissidence

35: Private and Public Dissidence

This lecture covers the alienation from and resistance to the Soviet system during the years before Gorbachev, examining both conformity to the system and the many ways in which demand for change was made apparent....

31 min
Mikhail Gorbachev-Perestroika and Glasnost

36: Mikhail Gorbachev-Perestroika and Glasnost

The course concludes with a look at Mikhail Gorbachev's recognition of the many problems of the system and his efforts to make Communism work. It focuses on his notions of democracy and authority and his preoccupations with moral order, examines why he failed, and concludes with a consideration of the situation now left after Communism's collapse....

32 min