Welcome to the Russian Department

The St. Petersburg river at night

For many Amherst students, the first encounter with Russian culture takes place in a course taught in English with all readings in translation and no previous knowledge of the Russian language or history expected.

The Russian department offers a variety of these courses. From first-year seminars and surveys of major eras in cultural history to courses that focus on specific authors (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov) or larger problems, such as revolutionary thought and aesthetics; film and media; theater and performance; private experience and cultural institutions; contemporary geopolitics; and various contested relationships between self and society: class; gender; race, etc. Some of the students who take these courses become Russian majors. Others simply take them to enrich their liberal-arts experience and explore an interest in the culture that has been singularly influential in shaping the modern world: its politics, its imagination, its anxieties, and its aspirations. 

Courses for Non-Majors • Fall 2022


Interested in taking a liberal studies course in the humanities that looks beyond literature originally created in English? Ready to expand your horizons? Considering dipping your toe in the study of Russian literature and culture?

How about any one of these courses in culture and literature — appropriate for students at any point in their academic career and offered in English, with no expectation of previous acquaintance with Russian history or Russian language!  

Strange and wonderful books, images, films and sounds await.


Fall 2022

Identity and Ideology: The Cinema of Moscow, Berlin, and Hollywood
RUSS-245 • Luke Parker

(Offered as RUSS 245 EUST 245 and FAMS 305) Are our screens really windows through which we glimpse other worlds? Or just mirrors reflecting our own preconceptions? Are they doors through which we enter new experiences? Or cheap frames for prepackaged content? The power of visual media to emancipate its users - or trap them - was first recognized in the cinema, from the earliest silents to the flourishing of classical sound film. Film has always been the great art of exile, produced by immigrants and cosmopolitans facilitating the circulation of images, identities and ideologies. Yet it was also the battleground of competing visions of modernity, from Hollywood's exported Americanism to Soviet political and artistic utopias, to Nazi promises of national renewal. In this course we focus on the interactions between Soviet, German, and American cinemas in the first half of the twentieth century as a way of understanding visual media's power to shape identity and circulate ideology. We will look not only at questions of propaganda and censorship, but also at mediation, circulation and exchange, as well as the crucial skills of (self-)translation and adaptation. Key figures include Grigory Alexandrov, Boris Barnet, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, Sergei Eisenstein, Greta Garbo, Piel Jutzi, Lev Kuleshov, Fedor Otpet, G.W. Pabst, Anna Sten, and Josef von Sternberg. No previous background or language required-all films with English subtitles.


Vladimir Nabokov

RUSS-225 • Luke Parker

This course looks at the fiction and career of Vladimir Nabokov, a trilingual fiction writer of genius and a sophisticated self-promoter. As a liberal aristocrat living in exile in Berlin and Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, the young Nabokov was hailed as the hope of an entire generation of émigrés – artists and writers forced out of their homeland following the Russian Revolution. We first examine this European career in its publishing and media contexts, including his writing for translation into German, French, and English and for adaptation into screenplays for silent and early sound cinema. We then track to his move to America and discover how a transnational career is crafted. Modernist fiction of this period was shadowed and overshadowed by a burgeoning film industry: we will watch a number of great movies from the silent and early sound era, including some of the masterpieces of Weimar cinema by the directors who would go on to create film noir in Hollywood. We will focus on a range of Nabokov’s darkly comic novels: The Luzhin Defense, Laughter in the Dark, Invitation to a Beheading, Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire. During the course we will learn through Nabokov’s fiction to appreciate the subtleties of irony, voice, and parody; to think more deeply about the relation between history and culture (how do events engender works of art?); and to study the interaction between literature and visual culture. All readings in English.


Last Russian Revolution
RUSS-240 • Sergey Glebov

(Offered as RUSS 240 EUST 240 and HIST 240)This course explores the tumultuous and unprecedented transition from the late Soviet Communism to contemporary Russian Federation. We will discuss the state of the Soviet Union on the eve of dissolution and politics of nationalism; emergence of the post-Soviet states and divergence in their historical development; transition to capitalism and privatization; challenges of federalism and regionalism in post-Soviet Russia; relations between the Russian Federation and “Near Abroad,” NATO and China, and the social and cultural developments from the late Soviet period to the early twenty-first century. The class will also explore the historical evolution of the phenomenon of Putinism as rooted in long-term transformation of the former Soviet space. Two class meetings per week.


Major Explorations: Russian

Whether your passion is literature, politics, history, film, we offer courses on all of these subjects in English, so they are accessible to all comers, as well as a full Russian language curriculum. We have a remarkable resource called the Amherst Center for Russian Culture.