Complete Course Listing

The Department of Russian offers a wide variety of fascinating courses in both English and Russian. From Tolstoy to Tsvetaeva and from Petrine Era-culture to Soviet culture, Bowdoin’s Russian department has it covered.

Russian Language Courses

RUS 1101-1102 - Elementary Russian I and IIkremlin-church.jpeg

Introduction to the Cyrillic writing system and to the fundamentals of the Russian language. Emphasis on the gradual acquisition of active language skills: speaking, understanding, reading and writing. Students will learn to introduce family members and explain what they do for a living; describe their room, possessions, city, and culinary preferences; discuss their daily activities and travels; talk about their studies and what languages they speak; ask simple questions, voice opinions, make invitations, and engage in basic everyday conversations. Authentic multimedia cultural materials (cartoons, songs, poems, videos) supplement the textbook and serve as a window onto the vibrant reality of Russian culture today. Conversation hour with native speaker.

RUS 2203-2204 - Intermediate Russian I and II

Continuation of Elementary Russian. Emphasis on the continuing acquisition of active language skills: speaking, understanding, reading and writing. Students will improve their facility in speaking and understanding normal conversational Russian and will read increasingly sophisticated texts on a variety of topics. Authentic multimedia cultural materials (cartoons, songs, poems, videos, websites, short stories, newspaper articles) supplement the textbook and serve as a window onto the vibrant reality of Russian culture today. Conversation hour with native speaker.

serebriakova.jpegRUS 3405-3406 - Advanced Russian I and II

Continuation of Intermediate Russian. Emphasis on the equal importance of speaking, understanding, reading, and writing for free and expressive communication in the Russian language. Course materials focus on topics in Russian literature, history, film, or culture to provide a broad conceptual base for students to practice and refine their language skills, improve their mastery of advanced grammar concepts, and expand their vocabulary. Course requirements include grammar practice, oral presentations, participation in class discussions, written compositions, and written and oral quizzes and tests. Conversation hour with native speaker.

RUS 4001-4002-4003 - Advanced Independent Study in Russian

As needed. On a literary or cultural topic by agreement with the supervising faculty member.

Russian Literature and Culture Courses (Taught in English) 

RUS 2117 - Dostoevsky or Tolstoy?

Compares two giants of Russian literature, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and explores their significance to Russian cultural history and European thought. Part I focuses on the aesthetic contributions and characteristic styles of both to nineteenth-century realism through examination of the novelists’ early work. Compares Dostoevsky’s fantastic realism with Tolstoy’s epic realism. Part II considers the role of religion in their mature work: in Dostoevsky's “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Diary of a Writer”; Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and “Resurrection.” Topics studied include gender dynamics in nineteenth-century literature, the convergence of autobiography and novel, and the novelist’s social role. (Same as GSWS 2217.)

st-basils-icon.jpegRUS 2217 - Anti-Heroes in Russian Literature from Pushkin to Chekhov

Nineteenth-century Russian literature abounds with figures whose nonconformity is a danger to themselves or perceived as a danger to their society. Through analysis of these anti-heroes in works from Pushkin to Chekhov, explores the historical, political, and social contexts for this literary trend, as well as the religious and social values underlying the unconventionality of such figures. Focuses on the strangest of Dostoevsky's characters, the epileptic hero of "The Idiot," as well as Tolstoy's bleeding-heart nobleman in "Resurrection," who spurns high society in exchange for redemption with a ruined maid-turned-prostitute.

RUS 2220 - Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature

Traces the development of Russian realism and the Russian novel in the context of contemporary intellectual history. Specific topics include the Russian response to Romanticism; the rejection of Romanticism in favor of the realistic exposure of Russia's social ills; Russian nationalism and literary Orientalism; the portrayal of women and their role in Russian society; the reflection of contemporary political controversies in Russian writing. Authors include Belinsky, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Lermontov, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Turgenev.

RUS 2221 - Soviet Worker Bees, Revolution, and Red Love in Russian Filmpskov.jpeg

An interdisciplinary examination of Russian culture that surveys the development of literary and visual arts from the 1900s through 2010s. Focuses on the themes of the individual vis-à-vis society and on gender politics, using literary and cinematic texts. Topics include the woman question in Russia, scientific utopias, eternal revolution, individual freedom versus collectivism, conflict between the intelligentsia and the common man, the new Soviet woman, nationalism, the thaw, stagnation of the 1970s, sexual liberation, and the search for post-Soviet identity. Exploring the evolution of literary genres (short story and novella) and film techniques in relation to sociopolitical and cultural developments, pays particular attention to questions of the interrelationship between arts, audience and critic, and the politics of form. Weekly film viewings. (Same as CINE 2221, GSWS 2510; fulfills the non-US cinema requirement for Cinema Studies minors.)

bread-salt.jpegRUS 2222 - Russian Cinema

Since Lenin declared cinema the most important art, Russian film often walks in the shadows of political change. Despite or because of this tension, Russian directors have created some of the finest cinema in the world. l Investigates Russia's innovations in film technique and ideological questions that result from rewriting history or representing Soviet reality in film; attention to film construction balanced with trends in Russia's cinematic tradition. Directors studied include Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, and Vertov. Topics covered include film genre (documentary, comedy, western) and gender and sexuality in a changing sociopolitical landscape. (Same as CINE 2601; fulfills the non-US cinema requirement for cinema studies minors.)

RUS 2224 - Novelizing Nationalism: Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky

Russia is a massive country, and it is no surprise that its novels are equally as large. The masterpieces of 19th-century Russian literature not only attempted to represent the vastness of the nation but also strove to elevate, enlighten, and transform their readers’ souls. For this reason, one of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s characters even suggested that “beauty will save the world.” At the same time, what Nikolai Gogol called “the wide, ranging sweep of the Russian character” demanded that “other nations step aside”; as a result of Russia’s global ambitions, the lower classes, women, and other races and ethnicities have often been marginalized. This course will interrogate the tension between the majesty of the Russian novel and the rise of Russian nationalism by analyzing Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba and Dead Souls, Leo Tolstoy’s The Cossacks, War and Peace (excerpts), and Anna Karenina, and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov. (Fulfills Humanities, IP.)


RUS 2225 - Lev Tolstoy, His Life and Work

Introduces the important works of Lev Tolstoy. Focuses on the artistic, moral, and philosophical concerns of the author within the context of a selection of his short stories and novels, as well as theoretical, religious, and political texts. By focusing on autobiographical themes traced from his fictionalized autobiography Childhood through A Confession, develops an understanding of the interconnectedness of the life and art of one of the greatest novelists in Russian literary canon.

RUS 2240 - One Thousand Years of Russian Culture

Winston Churchill famously called Russia “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” This introduction to the mysteries of Russian culture from medieval times to the present includes the study of Russian art, music, architecture, dance, cinema, folk culture, and literature. Explores the ways in which Russians define themselves and their place in the world, and how they express their cultural uniqueness as well as their ties to both East and West. Literary readings will range from the ancient historical chronicles to short works by such classic Russian authors as Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoy, as well as works by several contemporary authors. (Fulfills Humanities, IP.)

RUS 2242 - Hipsters, Rebels, and Rock Stars in Russian Literature and Culture

Images of dandies, fops, and rebels have resurfaced in Russian art and literature during periods of major political and cultural change creating a striking counter-narrative to established social norms and shaping new currents of thought. Examines the development of the figure of the outsider in Russian literature, film, visual art, and music from Romanticism to the present. Focus on this ambiguous, counter-cultural “hipster” in turn maps out the imperial, totalitarian, and capitalist mainstreams. Texts include some of the great Russian classics by authors such as Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Turgenev in conversation with cinematic works from the late twentieth century. (Fulfills Humanities, IP, ESD.)

kitchen-slavery.jpegRUS 2245 - Rebels, Workers, Mothers, Dreamers: Women in Russian Art and Literature Since the Age of Revolution

Although the Russian cultural tradition has long been male-dominated, this paradigm began to shift with the advent of brilliant women writers and artists just prior to the Russian Revolution. Since the collapse of the USSR, women have again emerged as leaders in the tumultuous post-Soviet cultural scene, even overshadowing their male counterparts. This course explores the work of female Russian writers, artists, and filmmakers against a backdrop of revolutionary change, from the turn of the 20th century to the present. Themes include representations of masculinity and femininity in extremis; artistic responses to social, political and moral questions; and women's artistry as cultural subversion. (Same as GSWS 2249; fulfills Humanities, IP, ESD.)

RUS 2310 - Modernity and Barbarism

All forms of modernity are acts of violence. The creation of the new entails the destruction of the old. But in Russia, whose cultural development has proceeded in fits and starts, the tension between dreams of the future and the weight of the past is especially pronounced. This course explores artistic and literary reactions to the paradoxes of modern life, from the building of St. Petersburg to Putin’s Russia, in four units: Making Russia Modern (the everyman in the imperial capital, emancipation of the serfs, and early stages of capitalism), Modernism and the Avant Garde (the metropolis, machines, and the mass destruction of war and revolution), Modernization and the Five-Year Plan (the industrial revolution, utopian town planning, and class war), and Modernity Now (art and cinema of post-Soviet Russia). Works by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Eisenstein, Gogol, Malevich, Marx, Mayakovsky, Popova, Pushkin, Rodchenko, Stepanova, Tolstoy.


RUS 2315/GSWS 2315. Love, Sex, and Desire in Russian Literature and Culture

Russian culture is rich with depictions of the fundamental human experiences of love, sex, and desire. And while these depictions have often been subject to various forms of censorship, they have just as often served as expressions of dissent against rigid social, political, and artistic norms. This course explores the ideological and aesthetic significance of such themes as romance, lust, yearning, sexual violence, adultery, prostitution, religious passion, poetic inspiration, unrequited love, celibacy, gender identity, sexuality, masturbation, pornography, body image, sexual frustration, castration, and witchcraft in Russian literature and the arts from medieval times to the present day. Not only do the works studied inscribe “difference” on the bodies of their subjects, but Russia also functions as a social “other” against which students examine their own cultural assumptions. Authors may include Avvakum, Bulgakov, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Nabokov, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Tsvetaeva, Turgenev, Zamyatin. Taught in English.

RUS 2410 - Post-Soviet Russian Cinema

Newly freed from censorship, Russian filmmakers in the quarter-century between 1990 and 2015 created compelling portraits of a society in transition. Their films reassess traumatic periods in Soviet history; grapple with formerly taboo social problems such as alcoholism, anti-Semitism, and sexual violence; explore the breakdown of the Soviet system; and critique the darker aspects of today’s Russia, often through the lens of gender or sexuality—specifically addressing subjects such as machismo, absent fathers, rape, cross-dressing, and birthing. Central themes are the rapid evolution of post-Soviet Russian society, the emergence of new types of social differences and disparities and the reinvention of old ones, and the changing nature of social roles within the post-Soviet social fabric. (Same as CINE 2602, GSWS 2410; fulfills the non-US cinema requirement for cinema studies minors; also fulfills Humanities, ESD, VPA.)

RUS 2447 - Nature and the Environment in Russian Culture

levitan-bells.jpegIntroduces students to major works of Russian/Soviet/post-Soviet literature (by authors such as Pushkin, Turgenev, Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, Alexievich, and others), supplemented by films and visual art, within the thematic context of a focus on nature and the environment in the Russian geographic and cultural space. Topics include the role of nature in the Russian Romantic sublime; artistic constructions of the exotic in Russia’s borderlands (Georgia, Mongolia); representations of the peasant village; feminization of the land and related metaphors of violent conquest; testaments to the instrumentalization of nature (St. Petersburg, Belomor Canal, Gulag); and the cultural legacy of environmental decay and disaster (pollution, Chernobyl). (Same as ENVS 2460; fulfills Humanities, IP.)

 Russian Literature and Culture Courses (Taught in Russian)

RUS 3099 - Words that Scorch the Heart: Readings from Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature


The nineteenth century is referred to as the golden age of Russian literature with good cause. During this period figures such as Dostoevsky, Gogol, Pushkin, and Tolstoy laid the foundation of the modern Russian literary canon and brought Russian literature to the world stage. These writers fomented rebellion, challenged the status quo, and dared to tell the truth in a repressive and conformist society. As a result, many of them became prophets, pariahs, or both. Students will read and analyze important works of poetry and short prose from this era, paying attention to the texts' social and cultural context, the specifics of their construction as works of verbal art, and the nuances conveyed by their creators' linguistic choices. All primary texts, discussions, and presentations will be in Russian, as will the majority of writing assignments. Emphasis on vocabulary development, stylistics, and the ability to articulate sophisticated arguments in both oral and written Russian. (Fulfills Humanities, IP.)

RUS 3100 - My Beautiful, Pitiful Epoch: Readings from Modern Russian Literature

Russia has experienced a number of staggering transformations since the close of the nineteenth century, and these dramatic upheavals are mirrored in its national literature. This course will serve as an introduction to the evolution of Russian literature from the turn of the twentieth century, through the Revolution and the Soviet decades, to the contemporary post-Soviet period. Students will read and analyze important works of poetry and short prose from this era of radical change and experimentation, paying attention to the texts' social and cultural context, the specifics of their construction as works of verbal art, and the nuances conveyed by their creators' linguistic choices. All primary texts, discussions, and presentations will be in Russian, as will the majority of writing assignments. Emphasis on vocabulary development, stylistics, and the ability to articulate sophisticated arguments in both oral and written Russian.


RUS 3201 - Pushkin

Introduction to the lyric verse, narrative poetry, drama, fairytales and prose of Alexander Pushkin, the Father of Russian Literature. Students will gain an appreciation for Pushkin's extraordinary literary imagination and innovativeness, and for the complexity that underlies the seeming simplicity of his works. Attention to Pushkin's evolving understanding of his role as Russia's national poet, including such themes as the beauty of the Russian countryside, the poet's sacred calling, political repression and the dream of civic freedom, the dialectic between chance and fate, St. Petersburg and the specter of revolution, poet as historian, inspiration and eroticism, poet vs. tsar, and the subversive power of art. All primary texts, discussions, and presentations and most writing assignments will be in Russian. Emphasis on learning to read and appreciate complex literary texts, vocabulary development, and the ability to articulate sophisticated arguments in both oral and written Russian.

Honors Thesis

RUS 4050-4051 - Honors Project in Russian

Supervised by a Russian department faculty member or another affiliated faculty member with permission. A substantial, year-long research project on a topic of the student's choosing. Normally written in English but must include Russian-language primary and/or secondary sources.