Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Russia in the Early Modern European Imagination

HISTORY 20N
Prerequisites: 
Completion of PWR 1.

During the early modern centuries (1500-1800), Europeans fanned across the globe to conquer people, seize resources, enslave and colonize; in the process they also explored these new peoples and cultures. They composed maps, drew images and wrote ethnographic accounts. They came with prejudices but also an open-minded curiosity and a proto-scientific desire to accumulate knowledge. Those who traveled to Russia found it both familiar and strange. Some called it a “despotism,” others found Russia more civilized than the steppe nomads of Russia’s borderlands. Cliches abound. We will read several accounts and critically analyze the author’s point of view; for your research paper you will select any of dozens of other travelogues to analyze. We will also read theoretical works about the genre of travel literature. It’s a serious history class, but we will also have a constant focus on skills – research, writing, historical analysis and lots of oral communication. In each class we discuss an assigned primary source and one or more students will present an oral report, followed by everyone participating in Q&A, ending with constructive feedback on the presentation. Requirements include a shared 20-minute oral presentation, a short paper, a long research paper (first and final draft) and a solo 20-minute presentation on your research. Course goals: to better understand how Europeans worked out a sense of European identity in contrast to others, to develop skills of critical analysis of primary and secondary sources, and to improve research, writing, and oral communication skills.

This course fulfills the second-level Writing and Rhetoric Requirement (WRITE 2) and will emphasize oral and multimedia presentation.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Nancy Kollman

Nancy Kollmann

"I have taught at Stanford since 1982 and I'm a specialist in early modern Russia—the centuries of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great. I went to college interested in Russia — I intended to become a diplomat, so I took Russian since it was, after all, the Cold War. In part because of a junior semester in Leningrad, I was lured away from Poli Sci to History, and I ended up going to history graduate school. There, I became fascinated with figuring out how 'autocracy' worked—yes, the tsars had tremendous power and there were no legal institutions such as nobilities or parliaments to constrain them. But still, all rulers need to interact with society and elites to get things done and keep stability. All my research has explored this problem—I've looked into how the great men of the realm used marriage and kinship to cement political power, how all subjects of the tsar went to court to defend their personal honor, how the criminal justice system really worked in practice and how they governed their multi-ethnic, multi-religious huge empire. I'm fascinated to teach this seminar on foreign views of Russia since some of the cliches you hear about Russia today go back to our sixteenth-century foreign travelers.”