Understanding Russia: A Cultural History

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done, concise, accessible Dr. Hartnett does a great job in giving a comprehensive and accessible overview of Russian history and culture. This course covers a lot of ground but the way it is organized doesn't make it overwhelming. Her style of presentation is approachable and informal. I would have been interested in one more lecture with more detail about Putin's influence which is basically covered to some degree in the last lecture. Nice visuals to go along with the lectures - perhaps more musical samples from time to time. Overall, a I looked forward to each one of these and learned a lot.
Date published: 2021-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course Very informative & very entertaining presentation. I wish it spent more time on the Soviet era, though.
Date published: 2021-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A delightful course My wife and I enjoyed this course immensely. It is well organized and delivered with Prof. Hartnett’s flawless speaking style. The lectures are complemented with images of artworks and relevant photographs. I particularly liked her choice of an oil-on-canvas painting by Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926), Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1897), to convey an image of the fearsome Ivan IV (1530-1584) who killed his own son, Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich (1554-1581), in an argument. Lectures 15-17 concisely chronicle the rise of Bolshevism, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924), the 1917 October Revolution and the years of civil war, counter-revolution and terror that followed. One cannot help but grieve for what the Russian people suffered in those years. My wife and I recalled our 2009 trip to Russia and the trouble that we took to visit the statue of Cheka leader Felix Dzerzhinsky (1877-1926) sculpted in 1958 by Yevgeny Vuchetich (1908-1974) that once stood in front of the Lubyanka. We found “Iron Felix” on the Moskva river embankment, behind the New Tretyakov Gallery. Lecture 24 (Intelligentsia, Dissidents and Samizdat) also triggered a memory of my first reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008). That was back in 1970 when I found a copy in the little library of Presley O'Bannon Hall at Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA. Altogether, Prof. Hartnett does an excellent job of fitting the great Russian artists ⸺Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekov, etc.⸺ into the nation’s story. This is a lecture series to be savored. HWF & ISF, Mesa, AZ.
Date published: 2021-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview I took this course using Great Courses Plus. The professor did an articulate job of covering the intended material. She jumped around a bit and I would have like complete coverage, i.e., politics, government, literature, art, music, etc., for each era all covered together before moving to the next era. Doing it the way she did required some repetition which might have been avoided. I would have like some better detail on the fall such as the Gorbachev/Reagan meeting in Iceland. The course did, however, do a great job on how society developed on Russia. I would have enjoyed her perspective on how the US manipulated Gorbachev into perestroika and Glasnost thus lessening the prospect of another major world conflict. I recommend this course...
Date published: 2021-03-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A little light on detail Not really holding my interest. I like presentations with lots of facts, supported by scholarly interpretation that put those facts into a conceptual historical framework. Through lecture 4 on Peter the great, I am told that Peter was fighting the Swedish armies in the early 1700s and he had initially had difficulties but then overcame them. No explanation of what deeper forces were going on here or what were the origins of this war. I found this frustrating.
Date published: 2021-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Educated and entertaining presentation My goal in taking this course was to get a general understanding of Russian history. I received so much more than that when it was all said and done I had no idea that the history of Russia was so unique and filled with intrigue, struggle and human determinism. I was amazed by our professors knowledge and mastery of a subject she is obviously fond of and her delightful pursuit of a minimally biased point of view. Although guided I feel that I was allowed to draw many of my own conclusions from her presentation and feel much more a kin to Russia and to the Russian people than I ever could have under someone else's tutelage. Thank you for a wonderful educational experience.
Date published: 2021-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course - Provides an Excellent Overview For someone who had only a sketchy knowledge of aspects of Russian history, this course was perfect. It was well-taught, the materials were detailed enough (but not too detailed), there was some use of images, and the areas of focus picked out (such as Pushkin, religion) made it very interesting and provided a good overview of the history and the culture. The lecture is very engaging, she's clearly an expert in her field, and she delivered lectures that were enjoyable to listen to. This was my second Great Courses course and I am as impressed as the first time around. What a terrific learning experience!
Date published: 2021-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a great course! This course has really expanded my mind about Russian history. This is a fascinating subject and the instructor does an excellent job of telling us the story. A great value!
Date published: 2020-12-22
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Understanding Russia: A Cultural History
Course Trailer
A Russian Past, the Putin Future
1: A Russian Past, the Putin Future

As you start your journey into the heart of Russian history and culture, consider several themes you’ll encounter throughout these lectures. Among them: the enormity of Russia’s geography, its desire for power, and its search for an organic cultural identity. Then, explore the beginnings of Russia in the land known as Rus’.

31 min
Ivan the Terrible’s 500-Year Reign
2: Ivan the Terrible’s 500-Year Reign

For better and worse, Ivan the Terrible’s reign has become a cultural and historical symbol of Russian leadership. Was he really terrible—or just awe-inspiring? How did he use cultural symbols to create a spectacle of autocracy? And to what extent did he set the standard for subsequent centuries of Russian leadership?

31 min
The Russian Orthodox Church
3: The Russian Orthodox Church

In this lecture, examine the fascinating relationship between the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church. Along the way, you’ll assess how religion, as practiced by the Russian masses, changed church institutions (and how the Russian state responded in turn) and the extraordinary influence of the Russian church on state culture.

32 min
Peter the Great and a European Empire
4: Peter the Great and a European Empire

What makes the Russian ruler Peter deserving of the title “great”? The answer lies in looking at how he transformed a minor power on the periphery of Europe into a formidable empire, how he embraced Western culture, and how he spearheaded transformations (including calendar reforms) to create a new European capital.

31 min
Russia’s Northern Window on Europe
5: Russia’s Northern Window on Europe

Modern Russian culture was born in the city of St. Petersburg, built on the shores of the Gulf of Finland in the early 18th century. It’s here where you’ll witness the dawning of the Russian Elizabethan Age: a time of extravagance and cultural energy that produced wonders in everything from architecture to opera.

31 min
Nobility, the Tsar, and the Peasant
6: Nobility, the Tsar, and the Peasant

The political alliance the Russian nobility forged with the Romanov regime facilitated Russian expansion—but at tremendous cost to the Russian masses. Here, Professor Hartnett explores some of the many fissures in the tsarist system that led to popular resentment of the Russian nobility and made the country ripe for revolution.

31 min
The Authentic Russia: Popular Culture
7: The Authentic Russia: Popular Culture

Russian popular culture, produced by the masses of uneducated peasants, can be described as a culture of sentimentality rooted in religious devotion and the agricultural calendar. Here, explore everything from superstitions and folk tales and Stenka Razin’s “myth of rebellion” to the popularity of Russian baths (banya), vodka, and nesting dolls (matryoshkas).

30 min
Catherine the Great and the Enlightenment
8: Catherine the Great and the Enlightenment

In this lecture, explore the powerful legacy of Catherine the Great, who would extend the empire westward and accomplish what even Peter the Great had been unable to do: establish Russian dominance of the southern regions. You’ll also learn how Catherine fueled Enlightenment-inspired developments in politics, architecture, and more.

32 min
Alexander Pushkin’s Russia
9: Alexander Pushkin’s Russia

To understand the poet Alexander Pushkin’s literary significance, you must understand the Russia in which he lived. Here, explore how Pushkin (today recognized as Russia’s greatest poet) intersected with significant events, trends, and individuals, and how he created works including the novel Eugene Onegin and the poem, “The Bronze Horseman.”

33 min
Alexander II, Nihilists, and Assassins
10: Alexander II, Nihilists, and Assassins

Focus on the reign of Alexander II, who ruled Russia from 1855 to 1881. Central to this lecture are three questions: Why did this promising reign end so violently? Did Alexander II shape developments in literature and culture? How could Russia’s last great tsar inaugurate a violent confrontation between the state and its people?

31 min
The Age of Realism in Russian Art
11: The Age of Realism in Russian Art

Dive into the age of artistic realism, whose artists are among the most celebrated in all of Russian culture. As you meet composers like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, writers like Ivan Turgenev, and painters like Ilya Repin, you’ll learn how artists found their muse in the history and traditions of Russia.

32 min
Russian Fin de Siècle and the Silver Age
12: Russian Fin de Siècle and the Silver Age

By the end of the 19th century, Russian artists were helping to make Russian culture among the most exceptional in the world. Here, take a closer look at the cheeky apathy of Anton Chekhov’s plays, the Bolshoi Theater and the Ballets Russes, decorative arts from the House of Fabergé, and more.

32 min
Empire across Two Continents
13: Empire across Two Continents

Chart the tsars’ development of a grand Eurasian empire. You’ll consider the commonalities Russian colonizers shared with their Western counterparts, explore incursions into Alaska and Siberia, examine the Napoleonic and Russo-Turkish wars, and investigate the policy of “Russification,” designed to make the empire’s European areas “more Russian.”

32 min
The Rise and Fall of the Romanovs
14: The Rise and Fall of the Romanovs

Get the real story behind the Romanov dynasty, from its rise to power in 1613 to its bloody end in 1917—a tale filled with adventure, intrigue, romance, and heartbreak. It was this period that saw the Decembrist revolution, the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, and the machinations of the notorious Grigori Rasputin.

32 min
Russian Radicals, War, and Revolution
15: Russian Radicals, War, and Revolution

On October 26, 1917, a new era in Russian history began. In the first of two lectures on the October Revolution, explore the events that led up to this epoch-making moment, including the devastation of World War I, the repressive rule of Tsar Nicholas II, and the ideas of Vladimir Lenin.

33 min
The October 1917 Revolution
16: The October 1917 Revolution

Examine the Bolshevik seizure of power during the October Revolution and its immediate aftermath. You’ll explore the Bolsheviks’ attempt to implement a utopian vision through the barrel of a gun, and you’ll also investigate how the revolution created a system where violence was a typical tool of statecraft.

31 min
Lenin and the Soviet Cultural Invasion
17: Lenin and the Soviet Cultural Invasion

Professor Hartnett reveals how Lenin and the Communist Party aimed to win the hearts and minds of the Soviet people through a cultural battle fought on every possible front. See how this battle was won through a militarized economy, propaganda radio, the renaming of streets, and the “secular sainthood” of Lenin.

33 min
The Roaring Twenties, Soviet Style
18: The Roaring Twenties, Soviet Style

The Russian Revolution wasn’t just about changing politics. The Bolsheviks also attacked Russia’s traditional religious, sexual, and social norms. Here, examine how the Soviets built a new proletarian culture that had powerful ramifications for education, women, religion, folk songs—and even cinema.

33 min
The Tyrant Is a Movie Buff: Stalinism
19: The Tyrant Is a Movie Buff: Stalinism

Stalin and his cadre aspired to transform everyday Russian life (byt) in ways that brought forth such horrors as collectivization and the gulags. But, as you’ll learn, this was also a period where the creative work and cultural influence of writers, composers, and painters were suppressed by the terrifying mandates of Socialist Realism.

31 min
The Soviets’ Great Patriotic War
20: The Soviets’ Great Patriotic War

By the time World War II ended, the Soviets would lose 27 million men, women, and children from a total population of 200 million. In this lecture, examine Soviet life during the Great Patriotic War and investigate how culture (including poetry and film) was used in service of the war effort.

31 min
With Khrushchev, the Cultural Thaw
21: With Khrushchev, the Cultural Thaw

Nikita Khrushchev emerged from the power struggles after Stalin’s death with a daring denunciation of the dictator’s cult of terror and personality. As you examine Khrushchev’s liberalization of culture, you’ll also explore its limits, including the continuation of anti-Semitism from the Stalin era, embraced under the guise of “anti-cosmopolitanism.”

33 min
Soviet Byt: Shared Kitchen, Stove, and Bath
22: Soviet Byt: Shared Kitchen, Stove, and Bath

What was everyday Soviet life like during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods? How and where did people live? How did they spend their leisure time? Answers to these and other questions reveal the degree to which politics affected even seemingly apolitical areas of life.

32 min
Intelligentsia, Dissidents, and Samizdat
23: Intelligentsia, Dissidents, and Samizdat

In this lecture, explore the culture of intellectual dissent in Russian history. Professor Hartnett reveals how Russia’s intellectuals and artists (including writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov) played a unique, important role in challenging the status quo of autocratic rule—often at the expense of their freedom.

32 min
Soviet Chaos and Russian Revenge
24: Soviet Chaos and Russian Revenge

On December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union came to an end. Follow the road that led to this moment under the policies of perestroika (restructuring the centrally-planned economy) and glasnost (removing rigid state censorship). Then, conclude with a look at the rise of a new popular leader: Vladimir Putin.

30 min
Lynne Ann Hartnett

For better and worse, people are the central characters in revolutions.


Boston College


Villanova University

About Lynne Ann Hartnett

Dr. Lynne Ann Hartnett is an Associate Professor of History at Villanova University, where she teaches courses on all facets of Russian history as well as on the social, political, and intellectual history of modern Europe. She earned her PhD in Russian History at Boston College. Dr. Hartnett’s research focuses on the Russian revolutionary movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and she has conducted archival research in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, and London. She regularly presents her research at international conferences in the United States and Europe. Dr. Hartnett’s work, which has been published in a number of academic journals, focuses on the Russian revolutionary leader Vera Figner and the terrorist group People’s Will; Russian political émigrés in European exile; the Russian Civil War as experienced by an individual family; and the transnational activist networks that Russian émigrés built with British liberals, socialists, and suffragists. Immigration policy and refugee issues are central to this work and provide a link to contemporary policy questions. Dr. Hartnett is also the author of the book, The Defiant Life of Vera Figner: Surviving the Russian Revolution. Dr. Hartnett is the director of Villanova’s graduate program in History and the president of the Sigma of Pennsylvania Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. At Villanova, she has served as the director of the Russian Area Studies Program. Dr. Hartnett has been nominated three times for the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award and has received several teaching awards at both Villanova and Boston College.

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