Understanding Russia: A Cultural History

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course This course is mostly a survey of Russian history but Dr. Hartnett takes the great approach of highlighting Russian literature, art, films, and popular culture as well as social and political developments. I would have liked more attention to music, but this is a small complaint about an otherwise fine course. Dr. Hartnett's lectures are well-organized and she is an engaging speaker. She is never monotonous and she avoids piling facts or debating historiography (two common mistakes for history lecturers). She is equally capable discussing the government, the people, and the intelligentsia, and it is clear that she has full mastery of her subject. She does not generalize but she provides enough information for listeners to draw their own conclusions. I learned an enormous amount from this course and I found myself still wanting more at the end.
Date published: 2020-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating information I'm only three lectures into this course and am finding it fascinating to learn about the early history of Russia. The lecturer is knowledgable and presents her information well and clearly. If I had a complaint, it's the same one I have for most of these courses. I don't think you take full advantage of the video format. We spend nearly all the time with a talking head, basically. She shifts from one foot to another and the camera angle changes, but that's about it. You could use the video format more effectively with maps and other illustrations. Many times, the lecturer will make a point and I'm left wondering what that particularly person looked like, or where on the map a particular event took place, or the relative distance from one place to another. I think next time, I may save some money and not by the DVDs.
Date published: 2020-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction to Russia A very good introduction to Russian history through its art, architecture, literature, and music. Professor Hartnett places the culture of Russia in its proper historical context and provides excellent examples for each period of history. As well as covering the Russian elite, she gives an outstanding presentation of Russian peasant culture. She also does very well at connecting contemporary Russia with its past. She demonstrates real passion for the subject.
Date published: 2020-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very absorbing I have not yet finished the course but I am very much enjoying Professor Hartnett’s presentation of the subject matter. Her manner is very engaging and the subject matter is very absorbing. I specially enjoy the visuals and it’s particularly useful to have the cultural and historical aspects covered in tandem.
Date published: 2020-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation We truly enjoyed this course. Both the content and the presentation were excellent. The broad chronological overview tied together many aspects of Russian history that we were already familiar with and made it all much more meaningful.
Date published: 2020-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very comfortable and quiet The instructor was great. She was very knowledgable and held your attention with all the information presented in the course.
Date published: 2020-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of Russian cultural history This is an outstanding presentation of Russian culture in history, up to the present. The professor is always interesting, and the visuals are rich throughout. We also appreciated the professor's citation of key contemporary scholars - giving credit where it is deserved. What we especially enjoyed was hearing about the experiences and viewpoints (including political jokes) of the ordinary people across the centuries. The arts are also featured here (musical, visual, architectural, literary) and showcased in contexts of the times. It did not bother us that events are not strictly presented in temporal sequence, or that some information is repeated, as the information is organized thematically within large chunks of time, and we found reminders of previous points helpful. One of us is very familiar with Russian literature and the other traveled to Moscow and Leningrad in 1975 as a very young adult, so we already had some familiary with Russian culture. But what we learned in this course went far beyond what we already knew of Russian culture. This is going to enrich our trip to Russia this year so much. Thank you so much, Professor Hartnett, for this gift of your knowledge.
Date published: 2020-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title is a great fit for this course. Opened our eyes to the plight of the common people of Russia under both the tzars and the Soviet leaders. This book did much to increase our knowledge and understanding of Russia’s history.
Date published: 2020-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Watchable The information parallels that of Mark Steinberg's Great Course "A History of Russia". Professor Hartnett's personal anecdotes add insight in many lectures. She has a good instinct for facing the active camera and is much more animated than other professors. There are several features that make this course worth watching as opposed to just listening. The room background is interesting yet not distracting. The photos and maps are well integrated with colorful framing suggestive of Russian decor. The addition of Cyrillic in the portraits was a nice bonus for those familiar with the Russian alphabet.
Date published: 2020-01-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Repetetive This course is aimed at people who know nothing about Russia and need to hear material 5 or 6 times to remember it. Prof. Hartnett seems a bit shaky academically, with citations like "as described by Prof. Boris Badenov, Morris Chair Prof. of Russian History at Wolverhampton University in his book, 'Russian or Not'." Her lecture style is peppered with tropes like "steamy brothe*l," "drunken or*gy" and "ominous clouds." Great graphics.
Date published: 2019-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fresh approach to the topic This program offers a refreshingly different approach to the study of Russian history. The cultures and life challenges faced by the various populations that came to be known as the Russian people are laid out alongside of, and with an emphasis equal to, the more generally discussed political and military events of the many centuries.
Date published: 2019-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course This course covered a lots of topics that I've always wanted to know about Russia. It's hart to stop once you started. Very very good course. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2019-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional. Would be great if this was a required course for credit at American universities.
Date published: 2019-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I now have a much better understanding of Russia! Dr. Hartnett's course is well organized and nicely illustrated with maps and pictures. I really enjoyed the set in which she made the presentation; it was nicely done in a way that gave an unexpected intimacy to the lectures. I learned a great deal about Russia and how the history of the country interweaves with the history of our world today. I really enjoyed the course and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2019-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Useful Info format After a couple of weeks of sporadic watching (short on time) I'm almost finished and gained a great deal of information. It is the perfect vehicle to bone up for a Russian tour later this year.
Date published: 2019-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great summary of Russian cultural history I enjoyed learning more about Russia's cultural history. I was hoping for a more chronological coverage of the material rather than a topical coverage which made it more difficult to keep things in order and caused a lot of information to be repeated. The professor did a great job keeping my attention but I did notice that she missed reading her presentation often which was a slight distraction but I attributed it to nervousness.
Date published: 2019-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Refreshing I have always enjoyed Russian early History, visited Moscow in 1990 along with a riverboat trip up the Volga to St. Petersburg, so now comes along a course pertaining to their cultural history which I found most enjoyable, good presentation and favorable amount of photographs and art.
Date published: 2019-05-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Rather shallow treatment I would have preferred more substance, more information, digging a bit more.
Date published: 2019-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Dense with information combined with photos and artwork.
Date published: 2019-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Preparing for a trip to Russia Great course that added greatly to my understanding of Russia and her history. The sequence of lecture topics was effective. The visuals are very good - especially the maps and labels. Thank you!
Date published: 2019-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview This is an excellent overview of Russian history and culture. Professor Hartnett highlights the important rulers and artists, and the forces that made them. She is an engaging lecturer. It increased my knowledge of the subject and held my interest.
Date published: 2019-04-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Relevant, informative, and well presented As someone from another field who has not studied Russian history extensively—but who finds an understanding of Russia increasingly important in our current political context—I found this course relevant, informative, and well presented. Without compelling personal experience or fervent underlying ideology with respect to the material being presented, I did not get the impression of a strong political or cultural bias on Professor Hartnett’s part, as has apparently been the case for some reviewers. Much of the material was new to me and, while the presenter of every survey course must pick and choose based on their own interests and expertise, I did not think it was excessively subjective or overtly slanted. I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot. And that introductory theme music is still stuck in my head…
Date published: 2019-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good, not excellent I thought this was a very good video course, and I would recommend it for anyone wanting a basic introduction to Russian cultural history. In enjoyed it. The instructor's presenation style was not the best I have seen in Great Courses, but it was more than adequate and was not distracting in any way. As the title implies, the focuse here is on cultural history, so I would not come into it expecting a lot of political, military, or intellectual history. But the course did exactly what it advertised to do, so I was not surprised in the least. Overall, I give it a very solid four out of five stars.
Date published: 2019-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Russia, All Tied Together Excellent lecturer who knows what she's talking about and gives just the right amount of detail and of overview. Carefully chosen sequence of subjects brings the history of Russia to life. My wife and I are both enjoying these lectures very much.
Date published: 2019-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gets into the meat of history “Understanding Russia” is a good title for this course. The prof gets under the surface of happenings and eras in Russian history. I now feel that I know a lot more about Russians and “what makes them tick.”
Date published: 2019-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting course. Very Interesting course. Covers much history of which I had only a slight knowledge, as well as more recent histories which I remembered but only from the distance .
Date published: 2019-02-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mediocre Scholarship My main criticism of the course is the presentation. Dr Hartnett sounds less like a scholar and more like a broadcaster on a local news program. The emphasis seems to be on emotion rather than information. The content also lacks depth and glosses over the many atrocities that occurred in Russian history, especially the deploarable role played by the Russian Orthodox Church in promoting antisemitism and political repression in general. There is a millennial feel to Dr Hartnett’s approach. approach.
Date published: 2019-02-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Certainly appropriate course title It has been a few weeks since I listened (Audio CD) to Prof Hartnett's 24 lectures. My feelings about the course are mixed. On one hand I am impressed with Prof Hartnett's knowledge and immersion in Russian language and history; on the other hand I expected her lectures to be more intimate and considerably less rigid. Prof Hartnett simply read her lecture notes as if sitting in an office rather then revealing her passion for Russian culture and history. Furthermore, I was confused about the order of topics she presented, wishing for a more orderly and coherent linkage from one presentation to the next. I I intend to go further, with another lecturer, into Russian political and social history. Prof Hartnett's lectures are a worthy starting block..
Date published: 2019-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation I bought this course by Dr. Hartnett because I have read about Russia, its culture, literature and history in the past. Dr. Hartnett does a fantastic job of giving interesting and easy to understand information in an informal but enjoyable lecture format. The visuals are appropriate and add pleasant variety to the lectures. What is also pertinent is that Dr. Hartnett does not make unnecessary value judgments and critiques on the people and cultural changes that she informs us about, which has been important for my wife's appreciation and reception of this material. Dr Hartnett presents the issues, facts and interpretations in a scholarly manner.
Date published: 2019-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course! Awesome Course!! Loved it. Professor brings subject to life.
Date published: 2019-02-07
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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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