Spring 2022 - HIST 420 D100

Themes in Russian Imperial History (4)

Rus&Sov Nationalities&Modernization Exp

Class Number: 4641

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    AQ 5051, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units including nine units of lower division history.



An examination of how the Russian Empire grew, was maintained, and came to an end, if it did end, through a study of imperial and colonial policies and practices and the responses to these by the area's diverse peoples. Content may vary from offering to offering; see course outline for further information. HIST 420 may be repeated for credit only when a different topic is taught.


Russian and Soviet Nationalities and Modernization Experiences in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

This seminar will look at nationality, identity, modernity and nation-building in the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the states that emerged out of its implosion in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Russian Empire was an empire-state that incorporated these regions. In turn, the Soviet Union presented itself as a multinational federal state. Its critics accused it of being a “prison house” of nations. But what did it mean to be Soviet? What were the differences in the way the Soviet project was implemented and perceived in the Russian centre and the non-Russian peripheries?  And how did Soviet developments in Central Asia resonate in neighboring Afghanistan and Xinjiang?

We will begin by examining the social complexities of bringing in various nationalities into the expanding Russian Empire. We will also explore how Soviet leaders responded to the challenge of putting together a multiethnic state in the wake of World War I and imperial collapse, struggling to reconcile Marxist ideas of class with the practicalities of nation building. We will focus on two large and diverse regions on the southern periphery of the Soviet Union: the Caucasus and Central Asia. Tracing Russian/Soviet – as well as Chinese, British, and American – engagements and entanglements in these regions, we will look at how the local peoples adapted and responded. Among the questions that will occupy us will be: How did Soviet policies and practices affect the ethnic, religious, and gender identities of the peoples of Central Asia and the Caucasus? What forms did modernity take in the Soviet, Chinese, and Afghan parts of Central Asia?


  • Seminar participation (including oral presentation) 30%
  • Map quizzes & short written assignments 10%
  • Research essay proposal & preliminary bibliography 10%
  • Peer review 10%
  • Research paper 40%


Students will be expected to produce an 18- to 25-page research paper, engage in discussions, make presentations on our common readings and the progress of their research, and actively participate in peer review.



Shoshana Keller, Russia and Central Asia: Coexistence, Conquest, Convergence. University of Toronto Press, 2019.

Artemy M. Kalinovsky, Laboratory of Socialist Development: Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan. Cornell University Press, 2021.

Kurban Said, Ali and Nino: A Love Story. Harry B. Abrams, 2014.

[These texts are available as e-books on VitalSource and in physical form at bookstores.]

Registrar Notes:


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Teaching at SFU in spring 2022 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with safety plans in place.  Some courses will still be offered through remote methods, and if so, this will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

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Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the spring 2022 term.