HST3055: The Soviet Experiment: Society and Culture under Stalin, 1929-1938

20 credits (semester 1)

Module Leader: Dr. Miriam Dobson


This module cannot be taken in conjunction with Dr. Miriam Dobson's Level 3 Special module, HST3027/3028: Stalinism and de-Stalinisation 1908-1951.


A pass in at least two history modules at level two.

Module Summary

This module allows students to explore the first decade of Stalinist power, from the revolutionary crusade of the first five-year plan through to the years of the Great Terror. We will explore not only the ideological and political dilemmas of the ruling elite, but also the diverse experience of ordinary citizens who faced both new opportunities and new ordeals during a period of radical transformation. Throughout the module, we will consider the following questions: What happened to revolutionary idealism? Did citizens consider Soviet power legitimate? What techniques did the authorities use in their attempts to sculpt a loyal and industrious population? How might these techniques be similar or different from those used by other 20th century states? Were they successful, and how can this be judged?

Students will examine the rich - and controversial - historiography surrounding these events, considering in particular how political agendas have shaped our interpretations of Soviet history. In order to reflect independently on how Soviet and Cold War interpretations can be challenged post-1991, students will examine primary sources, including on the one hand 'official' materials such as political speeches, newspaper articles, posters, film, popular songs, and novels and on the other 'unofficial' sources such as letters, diaries, memoirs, and jokes.


Weekly seminars will allow for discussion of particular primary and secondary texts, and related historical, historiographical and theoretical problems.

Module Themes
Introduction: Revolution and the Dilemmas of the 1920s
The Rural Apocalypse: The Collectivisation of Russian Agriculture
Building Socialism: The Soviet Union as a Construction Site
Cultural Revolution: Class War and Social Mobility
The Great Retreat?: Modernity vs Neo-Traditionalism
Making Workers Soviet
Gender: What Happens to the New Soviet Woman?
Making Peasants Soviet
Popular Culture: Film and Song
The Purges: The Show Trials
The Purges: Destruction of the Party Elite

Selected Reading
  • Ron Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (1998)
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism. Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930's (1999)
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick (ed.), Stalinism: New Directions (2000)
  • Victoria Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin (1999)
  • Sarah Davies, Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia: Terror, Propaganda, Dissent, 1934-1941 (1997)
  • J. Arch Getty and Roberta T. Manning (eds), Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (1993)
  • Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (1995)

Intended Learning Outcomes

A student will acquire:
  • A broad understanding of the key social, political and cultural developments occurring within the Soviet Union between 1929 and 1938
  • An awareness of the current debates that are emerging as a result of research in the newly-opened archives and the recent collapse of cold-war paradigms
  • A sophisticated understanding of the varieties of primary source material available, including political speeches, newspaper articles, posters, film, songs, novels, letters, diaries, memoirs, and jokes.
  • Skills in presenting and explaining material and ideas to others through academic writing and a variety of types of seminar presentations, source criticism and group work.