History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Qn eye opener I have always been curious about Russia/USSR history. I enjoy their great authors and even visited Moscow and St Petersburg during the cold war on a Danish tour. I thought I was knowledgeable about their history but this course was a true eye opener. What a complex country and society. Excellent presentation. In depth but not overwhelming in minutiae. Yielded important insights to Russian culture that has relevance to current politics. However, I do get tired of the repetition of the old professorial "indeeds" and the more current "modernity" - but a minor complaint.
Date published: 2020-07-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Much good, too much missing I enjoyed this course very much, the professor is very good. However, there appeared to be an emphasis on the daily lives of Russians throughout its history so that so much else was skipped or glossed over. There was nothing on the Russo-Japanese War, the Crimean War, The Napoleonic War. There were only, at best, a couple of passing references to the experience of Jews, nothing on the Pogroms, the Pale, this deserved an entire lesson. There was nothing on the post WWII Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. There was entirely too little on the influence of Rasputin on the Romanov's and its consequence of the downfall of the Tsar. I thought all this deserved more, even at the expense of lectures on the state of mind of the people of Russia. Perhaps a few additional lectures could be added.
Date published: 2020-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Beautifully done course and easily one of the best that I've seen on this site. Prof Steinberg is a marvelous presenter who knows his material so well and I must say I felt privileged to have the chance to listen to him for 18 hours. As others have noted, the course doesn't cover everything. Diplomatic and military history is largely absent, and you don't get a real sense of Russia as a global empire. The many indigenous populations that were absorbed by Russia are barely visible in the story. Economics are covered but not in great depth until the Soviet era (though many will see this as a plus). But as a political and social history it's just brilliant, with a panoramic scope throughout, but especially during the 1917 revolutionary period. The description of letters from ordinary people to the provisional government were a real highlight in this regard. The vignettes about the various personalities were masterfully done. As promised in the first lecture, the coverage between elite and government on the one hand and ordinary experiences on the other is well balanced.
Date published: 2019-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Russia I haven`t watched it yet! However, I`m sure that I will enjoy it because I` ve liked every course so far.
Date published: 2019-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Interesting Insight Into Russian History When you start this course you have to put aside today's meanings of words such as autocracy, liberalism, conservatism, and westernization, and look at what these words meant and how they were used at different times prior to the 20th century in Russia. An example is the need to westernize Russia between the 1600's to the 1900's, this is not to make Russia like the United States or England, but to make Russia like Germany and France who were the major players in European politics and culture during that time. Another interesting point that repeats itself is that not all Tsars and Tsarinas wanted to improve Russia because they were perfectly happy with ruling their backward country, it appears that what one ruler did the next ruler tried to undo. While either trying to do or undo they added more bureaucracy, centralization, and "watchers" to keep the public in line. One thing that may be a credit to early Russian rule was that the successor should not be the next person in the family line, but should be the person best suited to rule the country. Another concept that repeats itself is that the people wanted to be free of government rule, but they wanted a strong authoritative government to run the country. Up until the late 20th century violence against both the government and the people was not unusual to either control the people or protest the government; this included bombings and targeted assassinations. This only got worse up to the early 1900's and greatly escalated after the 1917 revolution all the way through Stalin's reign. This course of 36 lectures shows that the covered period is one of contradictions and confusion that show how Russia to transformed itself from a backward mess into its present state. Bringing Russia "kicking and screaming" into each ruler's idea of modern times proved to be trying, due to the government and the bureaucracy either being unable, unwilling, or just incompetent in the way it handled things. This is a course worth going through in other to better understand how modern day Russia came into being and the challenges it faced to get here.
Date published: 2019-08-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hard to maintain focus Lots of information presented, but I found the presentation dry.
Date published: 2019-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Old style but very engaging! Could get away with audio only but some good portraits. Nice context - both intellectual & cultural - good overall overview for a very complex set of circumstances- lecturer keeps you engaged with salient details. Recommend!!
Date published: 2019-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, lucid well paced course. Dr. Steinberg is a skillful lecturer. Presentations are clear, organized, well paced and engaging. More background information on influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, infrastructure such as transportation, education, communication networks and on alcoholism would provide additional context. This additional information might deepen our understanding of the Russian character and the persistent characterization of Russia as "backward.".
Date published: 2019-01-11
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Understanding the Russian Past
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
The "Great Patriotic War"
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
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 California, Berkeley


University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

About Mark Steinberg

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.

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