Narrative is a basic human strategy for coming to terms with fundamental elements of our experience, such as time, process, and change, and thus this a study of the distinctive nature of narrative and its various structures, elements, uses, and effects would help us in understanding the nature of identities. This course will provide a variety of critical lenses for considering the relationships between culture and narrative, focusing on the themes of nationhood, memory, intangible cultural heritage, gender and self-identity from multiple historical, literary and cultural backgrounds. Drawing on a selection of narratives ranging from literature, theatre, cinema, popular culture and performances from everyday life in the city-as the urban is often the most representative space for constructing and imagining new narratives of selfhood, we will consider the relevance of stories and storytelling to our daily lives, how our narratives shape the roles we play in society, and the various conventions of identity and otherness that they reinforce or undermine.

We’ll look closely at what constitutes a narrative, how narrative forms change and develop over time and between cultures, how narratives codify and subvert cultural beliefs, and how writers and readers use narrative to articulate their own ideologies. We will develop a vocabulary for discussing, analyzing, and writing about narratives in an academic context and also in enacting and embodying them in a theatrical performance. As we read/view the texts for this class, we will also be asking and constructing answers for the following questions: What is a narrative? How do we problematize the fictional and non-fictional features of a narrative? How has storytelling changed over time? This course will focus on various forms, genres, structures, and strategies of narrative as a form of self-expression.

Throughout the semester, we will consider the different meanings of narrative and return to the question of what it does for us and why we rely on it.

This Grand Debates course invites students to critically discuss major historiographical approaches to the history of Russia and Eurasia over the longue durée and to set a framework in which they can probe broader historiographical concepts and interrogate their own research interests.


Russian historiography has changed in exciting ways in recent years. Historiography shaped by Cold War rivalries, strict chronological divisions, and limited source access has given way to an archival revolution, novel methodologies, and the rediscovery of our region as a Eurasian polity with non-Russian subjects. Ironically, as topics and approaches to Russian history have expanded, the cooling of political tensions over the past two decades has reduced the piquancy of studying Russia and reduced the number of jobs and courses, requiring historians to integrate old and new debates and to disregard the field’s traditional chronological boundaries, especially the great divide of 1917. Yet Russian historiography is again in flux due to contemporary politics, with the resurgence of an independent and truculent Russia forcing us to address broader questions about path dependency, the explanatory power of culture, institutional change, and the nature of Russian modernity. Thus a perfect storm of factors compels us to embrace big questions and focus on the longue durée. Among the course’s recurring themes will be modernization and Russian modernity; Muscovite, imperial, and Soviet political culture; and Russia and the Soviet Union as empires. An overarching concern will be the role of politics in defining historical agendas.