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Russian History from Peter the Great to the 1910s: St. Petersburg’s Culture, Myth, and Everyday Life

Peter the Great’s Monument on the Senate Square

Vasily Surikov. Peter the Great’s Monument on the Senate Square, 1870. Oil on canvas: 52 × 71 cm. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

New and unique online course!

After a brief survey of early Russian history from the emergence of Russian Orthodoxy and Muscovy, this innovative, year-long course will provide an overview of different facets of Russian life and culture across the centuries through the exploration of St. Petersburg, the Russian empire’s political capital and its most populous and developed city. Conveying the everyday life alongside historical events, the course will examine the social and political thought, art, music, chronicles, fiction, essays, documents, maps, newspapers, travelers’ accounts, and personal memoirs that bring to life the distinctive culture of St. Peterburg and the Russian Empire.

Built at the edge of an enormous empire by Peter the Great at the start of the 18th century, Petersburg was designed to display the emperor’s power to his subjects and to the world. Called “The Venice of the North,” its straight, wide streets, reflecting in the canals, are lined with beautiful pastel-colored palaces, built by nobles whom Peter forced to move there. However, St. Petersburg was never only a physical city. From the moment it was founded, this city was always a “cultural phenomenon,” a “metaphysical space,” a “myth,” and a “text.” Even the most abstract representations of the city were shaped out of its streets, buildings, people, wind, and fog. Approached from diverse perspectives (as a myth, text, historical urban metropolis, a metaphor for Russia, an imperial city, the epitome of state bureaucracy, a ‘window onto Europe,’ and the cultural capital), St. Petersburg will also be contrasted to Moscow to examine the fundamental duality that forms the Russian national identity. Native views on St. Petersburg will be juxtaposed with the foreign perception. Imperial Russia’s final decades were the time of possibility and crisis, marked by desperate search for the meaning of the present and a sense of the future.

The course will emphasize the place of the visual arts in Russian culture, combining visual analysis and historical detail, weaving between descriptions of paintings, analyses of iconography, and discussions of the larger social and political context. We will interpret the unique place of Petersburg in art, linking it to the developing of Neo-classicism, Romanticism, Realism, Symbolism, and Modernism, and explore of the complex relationship between visual and verbal art, which is particularly important in the context of Russian culture.

The course is designed to assist students in developing critical thinking and analytical abilities through open discussion of and writing on the most pivotal factors in Russia’s history. The fall semester will cover the early Russian state and the building of St. Petersburg in the early 18th century to 1850s, while the winter/spring semester will be devoted to rapid changes in the second half of the 19th century as well as Russia’s fin de siècle and St. Petersburg during the Silver Age of Russian culture (1890-1914). The burst of creativity in visual, literary, and performing arts will be set against the background of social unrest, decadence, and political upheaval. Students will be guided through the superb website “Mapping Petersburg,” which explores the everyday life and the material, political, and literary culture of St. Petersburg.

Peter the Great by Serov

Valentin Serov. Peter the Great, 1907. Tempera, gouache on cardboard: 68,5 х 88 cm. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Required Texts:
St. Petersburg: A Cultural History by Solomon Volkov translated by Antonina W. Bouis, The Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 1995 ISBN-10: 0028740521 or ISBN-13: 978-0028740522

Moscow & St. Petersburg 1900-1920: Art, Life & Culture of the Russian Silver Age by John E. Bowlt, Vendome Press, 2020 ISBN-10: 086565378X or ISBN-13: 978-0865653788

Tuition: $399.00 per semester or $750.00 (a $48.00 discount) if tuition is paid in a single payment. There will be 15% discount for the siblings taking the class. Payment is due before the first session. Payment will be accepted through PayPal. Both credit card payments and cash transfers are accepted at It is not necessary to have a Paypal account to pay with a credit card via 90% of class fees are refundable if a student withdraws before the official start of the semester. 50% of class fees are refundable during the first two sessions of the semester. After the second session, no refunds are given for any reason.

Blended Class Format (Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom): This is a blended course. This means that we will meet synchronously through a live webinar using Zoom software once a week for an hour and a half. We will also meet online using Canvas learning management system during the week, and participation in all online activities is required. Students will find that the synchronous and asynchronous components of the class are interdependent and integrated.

Synchronous Component: Synchronous classes will take place weekly on Wednesdays from 1:00 pm to 2:15 pm Central Time for 11 weeks in the fall semester and 13 weeks in the winter/spring semester and consist of a short 15 to 20-minute lecture by the teacher, students’ presentations, and group discussions. The combination of lecture, presentations, and discussions is a format that should prepare teens for the college environment.

Asynchronous Component: Online participation is required every week. A brief video orientation overview of the online classroom will be available at least a week before the class starts. The classroom will include an Announcements area used for weekly updates, the Discussions area, the Modules area, the Syllabus area, and the Assignments area. Students will post their weekly short reflection paragraphs on the Weekly Reflections Discussion forum. A good question is as valued as a comment. Students need to finish reading the assigned chapters, write a paragraph, and comment on other students’ paragraphs before the synchronous session. Students are encouraged to participate actively on all forums and extra points will be awarded for helping others and building an online community.

Course Requirements/Amount of Outside Work/Contact Info: This is a college-level class, and as such it has a corresponding workload and expectations. The reading will be considerable – up to 100 pages per week. Students are expected to read the assigned selections in advance of each online discussion and be prepared to discuss actively what they have read during the synchronous session. The workload will include weekly supplemental reading (essays, criticism, history, poetry, and philosophy); watching films; weekly short written assignments and comments; and two PowerPoint presentations on relevant, individually researched topics. Students will also be expected to write and revise one research paper (6 to 8 pages long in the MLA format) each semester. Each student will make a presentation to demonstrate the results of the research and write a research paper on their adopted person which is due at the end of the year. The teacher will log on to the online classroom nearly every day. The Q&A discussion forum is generally the best place to ask most questions. The teacher will also be available for individual consultations through e-mail and Skype calls. Communication with students is important to me!

Prerequisites: Honors-level high school history classes or AP History are prerequisites. Students are expected to have experience writing essays and research papers. While I will encourage students to develop their ideas and style and to improve their writing skills, the course is intended neither to be an introduction to history or writing.

Level: College-level

Age/Maturity Level: 15+. We are going to read adult, college-level material. The paintings and readings include nudity and violence.

Evaluations and Transcripts: Written evaluations will be provided for all writing assignments and presentations. At the end of each semester, students will receive grades on the final paper and an end-of-the-course grade. Detailed course descriptions and student evaluations will be sent to the students; these can also be sent to colleges/universities upon request. Although the class is not officially accredited, the grades and evaluations have been appreciated by colleges and universities and quite useful to former students in the college application process.

Grades: Grades are based on a scale of 100 points and are distributed among major assignments as follows (I won’t rely on Canvas for awarding grades but will use a holistic approach):
• Active participation in online weekly discussion forums: 30 points
• Active participation in the synchronous session discussion: 25 points
• Presentations during the synchronous session: 15 points
• Final analytical paper: 30 points
• Helping others on the forums will give students extra points!
Grading scale: A: 90-100; B: 80-89; C: 70-79; D: 60-69, F: 59 or below

Learning Outcomes:
1) Read literary and cultural texts with discernment and comprehension and with an understanding of their conventions.
2) Draw on relevant cultural and/or historical information to situate texts within their cultural, political, and historical contexts.
3) Perform critical, formal analyses of literary texts, historical documents, and visual images.
4) Write focused, analytical essays in clear, grammatical prose.
5) Employ logic, creativity, and interpretive skills to produce original, persuasive arguments.
6) Employ primary and/or secondary sources, with proper acknowledgment and citation, as they contribute to a critical essay’s thesis.

How to Apply for the Course:

If you are interested in taking the class, please do the following:
1. Copy and paste the application below from “Student Application” through all of the “Statement of Intent” into the body of an email.
2. Complete all the questions, and type your name and the date in the Statement of Intent. Please include “Student Application for Teen History Course” in the subject of your email.
3. Email the completed Student Application and Statement of Intent directly to me at jkdenne at aol dot com.
Note: All students under the age of 18 must include the name and signature of a parent or legal guardian on the application.

I will respond as soon as possible to all applications received by email.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Julia Denne




Student Name and Age:
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I have read the course description and understand what this course will require from me. I further pledge to participate fully in the course, keeping up with required assignments and deadlines. The work I submit will be solely my own composition. Plagiarism is grounds for dismissal from the course with a failing grade. Even though I am submitting this electronically, I understand that my signature is still binding.
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