History 109 Imperial Russia
History 109 Imperial Russia Fall 2018
Analytical Essay PromptsChoose ONE of the following prompts to answer in at least 6 but no more than 10 double spaced pages in a standard 12-pt font with 1-inch margins on all sides. Use Chapter 6 of the Essential Guide to Writing for the History Classroom to guide you through the essay. Most importantly: be sure to incorporate course readings as much as possible (paraphrasing more than quoting). Use ONLY materials from the course (lectures, readings, recommended or optional readings or films). Submit the essay to the link provided on Blackboard.After you submit, click “View/Complete” AGAIN to check that your essay is viewable!!
1. Who, in your view, was Russia’s most successful Romanov ruler and who was the least successful ruler as of the onset of World War I (i.e., not knowing that a revolution was about to take place)? What were the respective strengths and weakness of both rulers? How did each monarch understand the nature and purpose of the monarchy, and how did they want their subjects to understand it? How did each ruler define success or legitimacy, and in what ways did they meet or not meet those standards? In what ways did each monarch respond to the needs of Russia in their time? What characteristics or actions did each ruler have in common, and what features or actions made them most distinct from each other?
2. Tsar Alexander III once said that Russia had only two real friends: its army and its navy. Did Russia’s military contribute positively to the empire’s stability or longevity or, conversely, did its failures ultimately lead to imperial Russia’s downfall? Be sure to give specific examples and consider the causes and effects of changes in Russia’s military over time, including its composition, training, preparation, the strategy or tactics of leaders, composition of the officer corps, the role of individual rulers, technological changes, economic constraints, the “paradomania” phenomenon, overall popular patriotism or lack thereof, or any other factors you find significant.
3. Evaluate the circumstances of women of various social estates across the Imperial period. In what ways did women make meaningful contributions to Russian society, and how did the ways they were able to participate in public life or assert control over their own circumstances change over time? How did this differ for elite women versus peasant women? What were the effects of “the Age of Empresses” on the status of women in Russian society then and after? Give examples of specific women from the readings who embody the contributions, opportunities, and constraints of women’s place in Imperial Russian society.
4. How did the Orthodox Church and its place in Russian society change over the period of the Romanov Dynasty, what was the impact of these changes, and what do they teach us about the nature of the Russian state over this period? What role(s) did religion and/or the official Church play in defining Imperial Russian culture, society, and politics? In what periods did the influence of the Church wax or wane, in what realms (politics, culture, society, etc), with what results? Give specific examples of events, changes, and influences and explain their impacts in each case.5. What were the benefits and drawbacks to “Westernization” in Russia? Identify some of the major changes that were considered “Westernization,” and ask to what degree these changes were really transformative, or truly “foreign.” Then, isolate a few examples of particular benefits Russia received from so-called Westernization — in each case, specify who benefitted, in what ways, and to what degrees. Similarly, isolate a few examples of drawbacks of “Westernization,” again specifying who was disadvantaged, in what ways, and to what degrees. Explain the positions of a few relevant authorities on Westernization, including at least one critic and one proponent, and position your own view in relation to theirs.
6. Consider various ways that the Russian state affected the lives of ordinary people and the ways that ordinary people interacted with the Russian state. How would you characterize the relationship between the Russian state and its people at several key points (that you choose) over the course of the Romanov Dynasty, and how would you characterize these changes over time? Give examples from the readings to support your characterizations and consider alternative ways of looking at the question, explaining why you find them less compelling. Consider the many variations among “ordinary people” in status, ethnicity, culture, education, occupation, etc, and explain how these kinds of differences affected people’s relationship to the state.
7. Consider the role of geography in Russian history from 1613 to 1917. How did the nature and extent of Russia’s territory—and the many changes to its borders—impact the form and practices of the state and the lives of the empire’s people, especially nonRussians? Give examples of several moments of change in Russia’s geography, explaining the impact of each, and give examples of other, unchanging aspects of Russia’s geography that constrained or otherwise affected the policies and methods of Russian rulers. Pay particular attention to the ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity of the empire (and how this changed over time) and detail several of what you think are the most important ways various Russian rulers handled this diversity or the empire was affected by it. Consider at least one pair of contrasting geographical settings and how at least one major event was shaped by these contrasts (for example, urban/rural, center/periphery, Russian/non-Russian, Moscow/Petersburg, north/south, east/west: how did any significant event you choose play out differently in each of two contrastingsettings, and why?)
8. Consider the role of educated people or intellectuals in Russian history from 1613 to 1917. Trace the policies that helped create an educated elite and shaped their worldviews by exposure to specific influences (and how these influences varied over time). Explain how educational institutions, print culture, and influential personalities and ideas contributed to Russian culture and society over the whole period (identify several individuals, institutions, policies, ideas, or movements that represent what you think are the most significant intellectual influences on Russian history, and explain their origins and effects in the short and long term). Overall, articulate what you think is the role of intellectuals in Imperial Russian society: how did intellectuals shape or reflect their world? What does the treatment of intellectuals by the state at specific times tell us about the state’s goals or strengths/weaknesses? Is there a difference between politically active “intellectuals” and other educated elites like artists or professionals? To what extent should we lump all educated people together, or makedistinctions among them, and why?9. Examine the “Darkest Russia” poster and the Abraham Lincoln quote on the first page of the syllabus for this course. What are the sources of Imperial Russia’s reputation for despotism? Name several specific examples from 1613 to 1917 where that reputation is earned, but also consider several specific ways that Russia was, at given moments, on par with other European powers of the time and/or when outside observers emphasized Russian “darkness” in order to put themselves in a more favorable light. Identify several moments in the Romanov Dynasty when substantial limits on autocracy were considered or enacted, and explain in each case why autocracy came out essentially unscathed until 1917 (and arguably long beyond). Consider the “reforms” of every tsar and the perceived need for nearly constant “reform” throughout the period: what does this state of perpetual reform/revolution tell us about the nature of the Romanov autocracy? Ultimately, would you characterize Imperial Russia as a “dark” outlier to Europe, or can you think of a more useful characterization?
10. Outline the various kinds of resistance or criticism we have seen the Romanov Dynasty face, from peasant uprisings to socialist activists. What was the nature of these various sources of criticism and on what grounds did people criticize the state? How did the state respond to each kind of resistance? Do you think we can view resistance to the Romanov autocracy as a measure of its relative success or failure over time? If we do, when do we see the dynasty at its most and least effective, and with what consequences in each case? How did resistance to the autocracy change over time—do you see any patterns from 1613 to 1917, or did resistance always vary too much to define it by particular stages or periods? How did resistance or criticism (and the state’s response to it) vary when it came from elites versus from lower-status or marginal people?
11. Identify the social groups that most closely supported the state and its values at various periods from 1613 to 1917. Who were these groups, and what were their reasons for supporting the status quo? Compare and contrast the development and fates of several traditionally conservative social groups over the whole period (such as: the clergy, landed gentry/aristocrats, the military leadership) and right-leaning political thinkers like Shcherbatov, Karamzin, Uvarov, and Pobedonostsev, religious leaders and thinkers like Patriarch Nikon, Feofan Prokopovich, Vladimir Solovev, and Fedor Dostoevsky, statesmen like Sergei Witte and, after 1905, the Octobrist Party). What roles did conservatives/conservatism play in supporting, or failing to support, the regime over time? How had various groups of traditionally conservative people fared by the twentieth century, and how did they respond to the challenges posed by the 1905 revolution, World War I, and the two revolutions of 1917? Explain in your own words the significance of conservatism in contributing to and/or delaying the downfall of the Russian monarchy.
12. Do you tend to agree with “optimist” or “pessimist” interpretations of Russian history? In other words, as of the 300-year anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty in 1913, was Russia tending toward further revolutionary crisis or was it embarking on a potential “golden age” (or both or neither)? What were the empire’s sources of strength and of weakness, and how do you evaluate the monarchy’s response to challenges (name several specific, relevant challenges and explain how you think the monarchy’s responses affected later events)? In what ways was the monarchy’s influence moderated or undermined by other social forces, such as the bureaucracy, educated society, the intelligentsia, the “masses,” etc? Would you characterize the major effect of World War I on Russia as highlighting existing faultlines or derailing what had been a progressive development? Remember to make an effort to view evidence as it appeared in its time, without knowing what we know about the effects of World War I and the 1917 Revolution.
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