HI5043 - Rise of the Russian Empire: the Romanovs, 1613-1855

What will I learn on this module?

This module examines major themes in the history of tsarist Russia between two major crises. In 1613, the election of the first Romanov tsar, Mikhail, marked the end of Russia’s ‘Time of Troubles’ when the state nearly collapsed. Two and half centuries later, the then mighty Russian Empire was defeated by Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War of 1853-56. In between these crises, Russia’s tsars acquired considerable power over their population and a vast empire that extended across three continents.
This module considers how the Romanov tsars were able to construct and consolidate autocratic power and how they exercised it. First, we will look at how the Romanov dynasty was established under the ‘boy-tsar’ Mikhail and then grew stronger under his successors in the 17th century. Next, we will turn to the major personalities of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great who, in a drive to ‘modernise’, drew upon western European technology and culture to shape and strengthen their empire. Yet ‘westernization’ also inadvertently undermined the stability of tsarism in the long-term, contributing to the growth of challenges to autocracy. Thus began a debate about Russia’s place in Europe which continues today. We will then consider how the successors of Catherine the Great, the so-called ‘enlightened despot’, dealt with her legacy by pursuing conservatism then ‘enlightened’ reform alternatively. Another major theme of the course is how, why and with what consequences, both domestic and international, the tsars were able to build an enormous empire, the largest country in the world. By the end of the eighteenth century, it extended from Poland and Finland in Europe, across Siberia in northern Asia, to Alaska in north America. The power of the Tsars, arguably, had reached its zenith by the early 19th century, when, despite victory over Napoleon in the first decades, cracks began to show in the social and cultural fabric of the empire. New forms of intellectual and political resistance to autocracy gradually emerged and the economic system of serfdom began to appear unfit to compete with the industrializing countries of Europe, demonstrated by Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War of 1853-56.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn on this module by attending lectures and seminars. The lectures will introduce you to the module’s core themes and key historiographical debates related to the subject area. You will be expected to prepare for the weekly seminars by undertaking the set reading (available via the electronic reading list), and will build on your independent reading by presenting your ideas and arguments in seminar discussions with your peers. Each week's class will involve both small group work and large group discussion, built around focused questions on themes and topics. Carefully selected primary sources will feed into these discussions. You will receive formative feedback throughout the learning process and summative assessment will match your learning against the learning outcomes for the module.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your academic development will be supported through your module tutor, engagement with your peers, and through the programme leader. The module tutor will be accessible within publicised Feedback and Consultation hours and via email. Your peers will provide you with a collaborative learning environment, and your programme leader will guide you through the requirements and expectations of your degree programme, of which this module is part. You will also be supported through individual engagement with the academic literature, lectures, and resources available on the eLP. Formative feedback will be on-going through seminar activities and assessment tasks.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at: http://readinglists.northumbria.ac.uk
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team – http://library.northumbria.ac.uk/readinglists)

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. Knowledge and understanding of the

2. Understanding of a variety of methods for studying early modern royal courts.

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Demonstrate a range of transferable skills, including the ability to make independent critical judgements, to critically evaluate sources, to summarise the research of others, and to present arguments in a cogent and persuasive way.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
4. Curiosity about the nature of evidence on which our knowledge of the past, and therefore our understandings of the present, depend.

How will I be assessed?

2 x 2000-word essays (MLOs 1–5)
These essays will be written in response to questions chosen from two thematic lists provided by the module tutor.

1000 word primary source analysis exercise chosen from a selection of primary source excerpts provided by the module tutor

Formative feedback for each assessment will be provided in seminars. Verbal and written feedback will be given on all summative assessed work. Feedback on initial summative assessments will enable you to improve on later ones.





Module abstract

This module explores major themes in the history of Russia as it grew in size and strength from the election of the boy-tsar, Mikhail Romanov in 1613, through the consolidation of autocracy and expansion of territory through the 18th and 19th centuries, until a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War forced Russian rulers to rethink the foundations of Russian autocracy and empire in a ‘modern’ age.
We will meet major personalities, including the westernizers Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, who in their efforts to modernise and compete with neighbours in Europe opened a fundamental rift in Russian identity and society.
We will trace the development of Russia from ‘rude and barbarous kingdom’ on the fringes of European ‘civilization’ in the early 17th century, to major power at the European table by the early 19th century, and consider how, why and with what consequences, both domestic and international, the tsars were able to build an enormous empire, the largest country in the world.
We will think about how Russia’s tsars consolidated autocracy through the expansion of government and state structures, through the economic system of serfdom, and through paternalist and religious ideology, propaganda and representation of the ‘Father-Tsar’.

Through reading and discussing a variety of texts – for example, legislation, diaries, petitions, polemics and literature, as well as visual sources such as portraits– you will develop a range of transferrable skills such as building and supporting arguments, research and analytical skills.

Course info

UCAS Code T720

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

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