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HIST4304JM Topic Studies in Pre-Modern World History:
Russia: From Origins to Empire

Semester 2 (2019-2020)

Lecture TimeWednesday 2:30pm-4:15pm

VenueLSK 306


Lecturer James MORTON ((852) 3943 1531 /

Teaching Assistant ZHANG Zhao (

Course Description

Sitting astride the Ural Mountains, medieval and early modern Russia found itself between two worlds and peripheral to both: the developing nation states of Europe on the one hand, and the great Mongolian empires of the steppe on the other, bridging the gap between China and the West. Modern views of Russia’s past, like that of China, have been heavily shaped by twentieth-century assumptions about a despotic ‘East’ and liberal ‘West’ formed in the Cold War era: it has often been seen as authoritarian, illiberal, only barely European. Yet when we put aside the anachronisms of the Communist period, we see in early modern Russia an emerging state that was not so different from its counterparts elsewhere.

This course will provide a chronological and thematic survey of Russian history from the first appearance of the ‘Slavs’ in written history to the reign of Peter the Great, who is widely credited with bringing Russia into the ranks of the world’s great imperial powers. It will address difficult and often misunderstood topics such as the creation of Slavic ethnic identity, Russia’s relationship with Byzantium and medieval Europe, the ‘Mongol Yoke’, and the vexed issues of ‘Westernization’ and modernity. We shall look at the emergence of the modern Russian state in a comparative perspective with early modern state-building in Europe and China to ask the question: was Russia truly such a unique case, and if so, how?


Learning Goals
The course has three main learning goals:
1. To introduce you to the key events, peoples, and individuals in the emergence of the Russian state and Russian cultural identity in the medieval and early modern periods.
2. To explore how and why historians have constructed narratives around the creation and character of the early modern Russian state and society.
3. To help you develop the skillset and sensibility of a historian: how to understand primary sources, how to think critically about historical questions, and how to effectively communicate your analysis to others.


Need Help?
It’s ok to ask for it! I understand that you may not have studied this subject before. If you have any difficulties with the readings, assignments, lectures, or any other aspects of the course, let me know and I will be happy to help you – that is what I am here for. You should feel free to email me or come to my office hours and I will answer any questions that you have. Also, if you have a question during a lecture or tutorial section, go ahead and ask me there and then; other students in the class may have the same question and you might be helping them too!


Office Hours and Contact
I will hold office hours from 2 to 5pm every Friday in my office (Fung King Hey Building 221B). During this time, my door will be open and anyone is free to come in and talk to me about any aspect of the course or other matters that you wish to raise. If you cannot make it to my office hours, please let me know and we can arrange a more convenient time to meet. Alternatively, if you have a shorter question then you can email me at any time and I will get back to you as soon as possible.


Lecture 01 (8 Jan): Introduction: Russia between Europe and Asia, Past and Present
Christian Raffensperger, ‘The Place of Rus’ in Medieval Europe,’ History Compass 12.11 (2014): 853-65.


Lecture 02 (15 Jan): Slavic Origins
Procopius, History of the Wars, trans. H.B. Dewing (London, 1924), 7.14.
Florin Curta, The Making of the Slavs: History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region, c. 500-700 (Cambridge, 2001), ch. 1: ‘Slavic Ethnicity and the Ethnie of the Slavs: Concepts and Approaches.’


Lecture 03 (22 Jan): Kievan Rus’
‘Porphryogenitus’ Description of the Voyage down the Dnieper River’ (Source Book, no. 4).
Simon Franklin and Jonathan Shepard, The Emergence of Rus 750-1200 (London, 1996), ch. 1: ‘The Silver-Seekers from the North.’
Oleksiy P. Tolochko, ‘The Primary Chronicle’s ‘Ethnography’ Revisited: Slavs and Varangians in the Middle Dnieper Region and the Origin of the Rus’ State,’ in Franks, Northmen and Slavs: Identities and State Formation in Early Medieval Europe (Turnhout, 2008), 169-88.

(29 Jan) Lunar New Year Holiday
No lecture or tutorial


Lecture 04 (5 Feb): Christianisation

Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (trans.), The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text (Cambridge, MA, 1953), 82–87, 95–118.
Francis J. Thomson, The Reception of Byzantine Culture in Mediaeval Russia (Aldershot, 1999), ch. 2: ‘The Nature of the Reception of Christian Byzantine Culture in Russia in the 10th to 13th Centuries.’


Lecture 05 (12 Feb): The Beginnings of Russian Literature
Simon Franklin, ‘Booklearning and Bookmen in Kievan Rus’: A Survey of an Idea,’ Harvard Ukrainian Studies 12–13 (1988–1989): 830–848.
Andrew Kahn, Mark Lipovetsky, Irina Reyfman, and Stephanie Sandler, A History of Russian Literature (Oxford, 2018), ch. 1: ‘Institutions and Contexts – Writing and Authorship, 1100–1400.’


Lecture 06 (19 Feb): The Mongol Conquest
William of Rubruck, The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55, trans. William W. Rockhill (London, 1900), 40–52, 83–94.
Donald Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-Cultural Influences on the Steppe Frontier, 1304–1589 (Cambridge, 1998), ch. 1: ‘Setting the Scene;’ ch. 2: ‘Administration, Political Institutions, and the Military.’


Lecture 07 (26 Feb): Merchants and Crusaders: Novgorod and the West
The Chronicle of Novgorod, 1016-1471, trans. Robert Michell and Nevill Forbes (London, 1914), 84–98.
‘A Treaty between Novgorod and the Hanseatic League, 1270’ (Source Book, no. 20).
Janet Martin, Treasure of the Land of Darkness: The Fur Trade and its Significance for Medieval Russia (Cambridge, 2008), ch. 3: ‘Novgorod: The Squirrel Fur Trade.’


Lecture 08 (4 Mar): Moscow – the Third Rome?
‘The Sudebnik (Code of Law) of Ivan III, 1497’ (Source Book, no. 41).
‘Filofei’s Concept of “The Third Rome”’ (Source Book, no. 42).
Donald Ostrowski, ‘“Moscow the Third Rome” as Historical Ghost,’ in Sarah T. Brooks (ed.), Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557): Perspectives on Late Byzantine Art and Culture (New Haven, 2006), 170-9.
Ivan Strenski, ‘Moscow, Third Rome, and the Uses of Ressentiment,’ in Hugh Urban and Greg Johnson (edd.), Irreverance and the Sacred: Critical Studies in the History of Religions (Oxford, 2018), 42–57.
Mid-Term Essay Due


Lecture 09 (11 Mar): A Tsar is Born: Ivan the Terrible and the Centralisation of Power
‘Moscow and the Court of Ivan the Terrible in 1553’ (Source Book, no. 46).
Michael Cherniavsky, ‘Ivan the Terrible as Renaissance Prince,’ Slavic Review 27.2 (1968): 195-211.
Maureen Perrie and Andrei Pavlov, Ivan the Terrible (London, 2014), ch. ‘Reformers and Reforms.’


Lecture 10 (18 Mar): The Time of Troubles
‘A Letter from the False Dmitrii to Boris Godunov, 1604’ (Source Book, no. 55).
Chester S.L. Dunning, A Short History of Russia’s First Civil War: The Time of Troubles and the Founding of the Romanov Dynasty (Philadelphia, 2004), ch. 1: ‘A Comparative Approach to the Problem of the Origins of the Civil War.’
Maureen Perrie, Pretenders and Popular Monarchism in Early Modern Russia: The False Tsars of the Time of Troubles (Cambridge, 1995), ‘Conclusion.’


Lecture 11 (25 Mar): Church and State in the Seventeenth Century
Nikon, Replies of the Humble Nicon, trans. William Palmer (London, 1871), 122-34: “Reply to the Twentieth Question.”
Ihor Ševčenko, “Intellectual Repercussions of the Council of Florence,” Church History 24.4 (1955): 291-323.
Maureen Perrie, “The Old Believers and Praying for the Tsar in Seventeenth-Century Russia,” The Slavonic and East European Review 94.2 (2016): 243-58.


(1 Apr) Reading Week
No lecture or tutorial


Lecture 12 (8 Apr): Eastward Expansion
‘Russian Conquest and Exploitation of Siberia’ (Source Book, no. 53).
Brian J. Boeck, Imperial Boundaries: Cossack Communities and Empire-Building in the Age of Peter the Great (Cambridge, 2009), ch. 1: ‘Beyond Borders, between Worlds: Russian Empire and the Making of the Don Steppe Frontier.’
Valerie Kivelson, Cartographies of Tsardom: The Land and its Meanings in Seventeenth-Century Russia (Ithaca, NY, 2006), ch. 7: ‘“Myriad, Countless Foreigners.” Siberia’s Human Geography and Muscovite Conceptions of Empire.’


Lecture 13 (15 Apr): Among the Great Powers: The Reforms of Peter the Great
Alexander Kamenskii, ‘The Petrine Reforms and Their Impact,’ in Peter the Great and the West: New Perspectives (London, 2001), 29-36.
Paul Bushkowitz, Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671-1725 (Cambridge, 2001), ch. 1: ‘Tsar and Boyars: Structures and Values.’


(8 May) Final Essay Due

Assessment & Assignments

Assessment Overview

Your performance in the course will be assessed on the cumulative basis of different types of assignment (described in more detail below) and your attendance. Note that there will not be an exam component. The weighting of the different factors is as follows:

Final Essay 30%
Mid-term Essay
Reading Summaries
Tutorial Participation

Your final letter grade will be determined by your overall course percentage. You will not be graded on a curve. Grades will be assigned according to the following set thresholds:

A 90% C+ 65%
A- 85% C 60%
B+ 80% C- 55%
B 75% D 50%
B- 70% F >50%


Grade Descriptions

A Exceptional: Exceeds expectations. Demonstrates impressive historical knowledge, analytical ability, clarity of expression, and a firm grasp of course material.

A- Strong: Has most of the qualities of an A-grade submission but has some minor problems or areas for improvement.

B (+/-) Good: Shows a solid understanding of historical detail and course material. Has some flaws in writing or argumentation and may contain minor historical errors or misunderstandings.

C (+/-) Satisfactory: Demonstrates an acceptable level of knowledge but suffers from lack of clarity, misunderstandings, historical errors, or weak argumentation.

D Unsatisfactory: Achieves the minimum passing grade but fails to meet most expectations of historical knowledge, understanding of course material, and quality of argumentation.

F Failed: Does not meet basic expectations of knowledge, understanding, and/or timeliness in submission.


Reading Summaries

After each lecture, you will complete that week’s readings and then write a short summary (max. 500 words) describing the content of what you have read, including both primary sources and secondary literature. This is a simple but useful reading comprehension exercise that will help to develop your skills in analysing and explaining complex texts in a short space. The summaries will also come in useful in tutorial discussion. You should hand in your reading summary to me in hard copy at the next week’s lecture (so the reading summary for lecture 5 should be submitted in lecture 6, for example).

For primary sources, you should focus on briefly describing who the author was and what they were writing about. For secondary literature, you should describe both the content of the reading (what it is about) and the author’s central argument. Sample reading summaries will be available on the course Blackboard site to give you a clear idea of what to aim for.



I will ask you to write two papers during the course: a mid-term essay (1,000–1,500 words), due on 4th March, and a final essay (2,000–2,500 words), due on 8th May. I will assign the topic of the mid-term essay in week 2.

You will be free to choose the subject of the final essay for yourself (as long as it relates to the course). Once you have an idea of what you would like to write about, you will meet with me to discuss it and come up with an essay title. In order to make sure that you have time to plan and write the essay, you should arrange to meet with me before 27th March.

The essays should be written to academic standards with a central thesis, reference to primary sources and secondary literature, and appropriate citations in footnotes. You are free to follow any accepted academic citation style such as Chicago, Harvard, or MLA. If you are not sure about how to write citations, I recommend looking at the Chicago Manual of Style quick citation guide:

If you have any questions about either of the essays, let me know and I will be happy to answer them.


Attendance and Absences

You are expected to attend all lectures and tutorial sessions. This will comprise 10% of your overall course grade. If you have a valid reason for being absent from a lecture or tutorial (such as a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, or similar), please contact me as soon as possible to ask for permission.

Assignment Submission, Extensions, and Lateness Penalties

You will be expected to submit your essays by 11:59pm on the dates specified in the course schedule below by uploading it to the relevant section of the Blackboard course website along with a signed declaration of academic honesty from VeriGuide.

Scheduling conflicts and unforeseen circumstances can sometimes make it difficult to meet deadlines. If you are unable to submit your work on time, please contact me as soon as possible and I will be happy to grant you an extension if you have a legitimate reason to require one.

If you fail to submit work on time and I have not granted you an extension, you will incur a daily lateness penalty of 1 percentage point. For example, if you submit your mid-term essay (worth 20%) 3 days after the deadline, you will lose 3 of the 20% available for that assignment; if you submit it 5 days late, you will lose 5 of the 20%, etc. I will not accept any further submissions after 7 days have passed unless I have granted special permission.


Plagiarism and Academic Ethics

Studying at the university level requires a high standard of professionalism and honesty in your academic work and personal conduct. This falls under the broad category of academic ethics, a matter that the History Department at CUHK takes very seriously. I expect you all to behave in an honest and respectful manner in class and in your assignments. Unethical behaviour, including plagiarism, will not be tolerated. You can find more information on university policy at

If you are unsure about the definition of plagiarism or academic ethics, feel free to come to me and I will be happy to discuss it with you in more detail.


In addition to regular lectures, there were also be a total of four tutorial sessions during the semester. These will serve as opportunities for open discussion of the assigned readings and how they relate to the major themes of the course. They will also be a chance to discuss course assignments (particularly the two essays) and for you to ask any questions that you might have. Remember that active participation in tutorial discussions is expected and will be 20% of your overall course grade.

We will arrange the time and location of tutorial sessions at the beginning of the semester.


Each week you will be assigned approximately 50–60 pages of reading, comprised of both primary sources and academic literature, that will explore important aspects of that lecture’s theme. All readings will be posted on the Blackboard course website in advance; you will not need to acquire any of them yourself. Many of the primary source readings will be taken from Basil Dmytryshyn, Medieval Russia: A Source Book, 850-1700, 3rd ed. (Fort Worth, 1991), though you do not need to buy this.

If you are interested in reading more widely in the subject, I can recommend the following (non-compulsory) books, most of which are available in the university or college libraries at CUHK or online:

  • Paul Bushkowitz, A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge, 2011).
  • Ferdinand Feldbrugge, Law in Medieval Russia (Leiden, 2008).
  • Lindsey Hughes, Russia in the Age of Peter the Great (New Haven, 1998).
  • Nancy S. Kollmann, The Russian Empire 1450–1801 (Oxford, 2017).
  • John Meyendorff, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia: A Study of Byzantino-Russian Relations in the Fourteenth Century (Crestwood, NY, 1989).
  • James R. Millar (ed.), Encyclopedia of Russian History (New York, 2004).
  • Maureen Perrie, The Image of Ivan the Terrible in Russian Folklore (Cambridge, 2002).
  • Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, 3rd ed. (London, 1997).
  • Charles E. Ziegler, The History of Russia, 2nd ed. (Santa Barbara, CA, 2009).
Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at

With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of these policies, regulations, guidelines and procedures.

  • In the case of group projects, all members of the group should be asked to sign the declaration, each of whom is responsible and liable to disciplinary actions, irrespective of whether he/she has signed the declaration and whether he/she has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the problematic contents.
  • For assignments in the form of a computer-generated document that is principally text-based and submitted via VeriGuide, the statement, in the form of a receipt, will be issued by the system upon students’ uploading of the soft copy of the assignment.

Assignments without the properly signed declaration will not be graded by teachers.

Only the final version of the assignment should be submitted via VeriGuide.

The submission of a piece of work, or a part of a piece of work, for more than one purpose (e.g. to satisfy the requirements in two different courses) without declaration to this effect shall be regarded as having committed undeclared multiple submissions. It is common and acceptable to reuse a turn of phrase or a sentence or two from one’s own work; but wholesale reuse is problematic. In any case, agreement from the course teacher(s) concerned should be obtained prior to the submission of the piece of work.

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