Reed College Catalog


The course offerings of the Russian department are designed to meet the twofold objective of providing training in the Russian language and achieving a critical appreciation of Russia’s literary tradition from its beginnings to the present. By following the prescribed course of studies, the student majoring in Russian will have acquired the active and passive language skills required for undertaking senior thesis research in the original.

The language courses, from the introductory through the advanced levels, are taught in Russian and offer supplementary drill opportunities through the language laboratory and weekly conversation sections with a native speaker. In the second year, students continue their study of grammar and consolidate their active and passive language skills with reading, discussion, and written commentary on Russian lyrical poetry and texts on Russian cultural history. The third-year level offers extensive reading of the Russian short story, writing, and oral exercises, while continuing formal language training.

The literature offerings, organized by period and genre, survey the development of Russian poetry and prose from the Middle Ages to the present. A three-semester sequence (Russian 371, 372, 373) covers the most important prose texts produced within the thousand-year history of Russian letters, while a two-semester sequence (Russian 354, 355) examines the main figures and movements in 19th and 20th century poetry.

In addition to these survey courses, the department offers a number of seminars on specialized topics, the content of which varies from year to year, as well as the opportunity for independent study by special arrangement with the instructor. Seminar topics in the past have included the critical theory and practice of the Russian Formalists and Structuralists; terror and the sublime in Russian literature; Russian masculinity; art of political discourse; and literature, film, and society since Glasnost.  A unique dimension of the Reed program in Russian is represented by offerings in the literature, film and theater of East and Central European Jews.

Independent study topics have ranged from introductory Old Church Slavonic to Russian comix. With the exception of the two-semester poetry sequence, which is limited to students with a reading knowledge of Russian, the literature offerings are open to non-Russian majors. Russian majors as well as students who need Russian literature credit for classes taught in English are required to read texts in the original and to attend an additional weekly discussion section.

Majors are expected to broaden their general background and to enhance their critical skills by pursuing work in the humanities, other literatures, philosophy, history, and the fine arts. The junior qualifying examination in Russian is given to majors at the end of their third year or, with prior consultation with the faculty, at the start of the senior year. The written exam tests the student’s preparation in language and seeks to establish the breadth and depth of experience in Russian literature through a series of broadly conceived essay questions.

Of special interest to first- and second-year students who may not wish to major in Russian are the three courses in the survey sequence that are offered in English translation, as well as the one-semester, 200-level course in the Russian short story, which is offered on alternate years.

The Russian House on campus provides a focal point for extracurricular programs in Russian. Besides housing a small community of Russian majors, the Russian House hosts social gatherings, sponsors visiting lecturers or Russian guests, and helps organize the annual Russian film series. Every year a native Russian language scholar is in residence.

The Russian Old Believer community in nearby Woodburn, Oregon, and a growing number of Russian immigrants in Portland provide opportunities for students to acquaint themselves firsthand with native speakers. Arrangements can be made for Reed students to provide English lessons in exchange for Russian conversation practice.

Study Abroad

Direct exposure to the native cultural setting is indispensable to a thorough mastery of any language, and the Russian faculty strongly encourages Russian majors to apply to the semester or academic year programs at any one of the four sites (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yaroslavl, Voronezh) administered by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR); at the Pushkin Institute, through Middlebury College; at the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg, through Bard College; or in the National Theater Institute of Moscow exchange program. Students interested in participating are advised to discuss their plans with the faculty during the semester before application. Transfer credit may also be arranged for participation in a number of other excellent exchange programs in Moscow and St. Petersburg, including summer programs. In addition, students wishing to accelerate their study of the language may enroll in any number of intensive summer programs in the United States.

Requirements for the Major

Exclusive of work needed to meet general college and divisional requirements:

Two semesters of advanced Russian language; Russian 371, 372, 373.
At least one more semester course in Russian poetry and one semester in other upper-division literature offerings.
Russian 470 (thesis).

Recommended but not required:

Humanities 210 or 220 in the sophomore year.
Courses in English or other literature, philosophy, or history that may be relevant to the chosen area of concentration of the individual student.

Russian 120 - First-Year Russian

Full course for one year. Essentials of grammar and readings in simplified texts. The course is conducted in Russian as much as possible. Conference.

Russian 220 - Second-Year Russian

Full course for one year. Readings, systematic grammar review, verbal drill, and writing of simple prose. The course is conducted in Russian and is intended for students interested in active use of the language. Prerequisite: Russian 120 or placement based on results of the Russian language exam. Conference.

Russian 266 - Russian Short Fiction

Full course for one semester. Intended for lower-division students, this course is devoted to close readings of short stories and novellas by such 19th- and 20th-century writers as Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Babel, Bulgakov, Nabokov, Askyonov, and Tolstaya. Our approach is twofold. First, we attempt “open” readings, taking our texts as representatives of a single tradition in which later works are engaged in a dialogue with their predecessors. Second, we use the readings as test cases for a variety of critical approaches. Meets English departmental requirement for 200-level genre courses. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Russian 300 - Advanced Russian: Language, Style, and Culture

Full course for one semester. This course is designed to meet the needs of students striving to reach an advanced level of competency in reading, speaking, listening, and writing in Russian. The course expands and deepens the student's understanding of expressive nuances of Russian through a study of select lexical, morphological, syntactical, and rhetorical features and through an examination of their contextual usage in appropriate target texts—nonfiction research literature, belles-lettristic, and mass media—and corresponding cultural matrices. Case study materials include neoclassical, romantic, realistic, and modernist poetic and prose texts: scholarly texts, journalism, "pulp" fictions, and Russian "rap" lyrics. Course assignments include grammar review, structured composition exercises, and oral presentations. Reading, writing, and discussion are conducted in Russian, though theoretical materials will include English-language sources. Prerequisite: Russian 220, or equivalent proficiency (placement based on the Russian language examination). This advanced language course is applicable to the Group D requirement. Conference.

Russian 340 - Jewish Modernisms: Eastern Europe and Beyond

Full course for one semester. This course examines artistic and ideological links between European literary modernism and the formation of the modern Jewish literary tradition in Russian, German, Hebrew, Yiddish, and other languages. We investigate the connection that has been described as central to the question of Jewish self-fashioning in the 20th century by Benjamin Harshav and other important scholars. We begin by analyzing manifestoes of various modernist movements, particularly in the Russian tradition, and proceed with analyzing verse and narratives produced by Jewish writers in Eastern and Central Europe and later in the Land of Israel and the United States. We ask whether these writings amount to a single corpus of Jewish modernism, or whether it is more productive to speak of Jewish “modernisms” as disparate movements that reflected, to a large extent, various respective European traditions. Readings from Jabotinsky, Ehrenburg, Grossman, Babel, Mandelshtam, I.B. Singer, J. Glatstein, U.Z. Greenberg, I. Manger, and others. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Lecture-conference. Cross-listed as Literature 340. Not offered 2009-10.

Russian 354 - Seminar in 19th Century Russian Poetry

Full course for one semester. Drawing largely on works from the Golden Age of Russian poetry, this course investigates a variable set of topics, which may range from the elegiac tradition to narrative poetic genres, from the philosophical ode to the romance; it includes study of the distinctive features of neoclassical, baroque, preromantic, and romantic poetics. In any given year, students may expect to encounter the works of Derzhavin, Karamzin, Zhukovsky, Pushkin, Baratynskii, Batiushkov, Lermontov, Tiutchev, Nekrasov, and Fet. Collateral readings include works on versification, genre, and literary history. Prerequisite: two years of Russian or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Russian 355 - 20th-Century Russian Poetry

Full course for one semester. An introduction to modern Russian poetry and poetics, this course traces the main developments in Russian poetry over the last 100 years, devoting detailed study and analysis to varying key figures. In any given year the object of study may be a single poet’s work (such as Osip Mandelstam), a genre (such as the sonnet or the epic), a cycle (such as the “Hamlet cycle" or the “St. Petersburg cycle”), or a poetic movement (such as Acmeism). The aim of the course is to acquaint students with the range of achievement in that area of 20th-century literature that Russians consider to be the most important part of their literary culture. Frequent written assignments. Conducted in Russian. Prerequisite: at least two years of Russian or consent of the instructor. Conference. Not offered 2009-10.

Russian 366 - "The Literature of Destruction”: Narratives of Apocalypse in Modern Jewish and Russian Literary Traditions

Full course for one semester. The Holocaust of European Jewry in World War II and the construction of the totalitarian Gulag system in the Soviet Union invite a comparative investigation. In this course, literary responses to the Holocaust and the Gulag are studied in the context of Russian and Jewish apocalyptic and messianic literary traditions, which linked national catastrophes with the end of time. Considering the sacred significance that both Russian and Jewish civilizations ascribe to the literary word, as well as the place which the written responses to catastrophe hold in the two traditions, the seminar analyzes the central features of Russian and Jewish texts of destruction by reading biblical texts, excerpts from old Russian epics, and major works of modern/Modernist Russian and Jewish prose, poetry, and drama. Lecture and conference. Cross-listed as Literature 366.

Literature 366 Description

Russian 371 - Russian Literature from Its Beginnings through Gogol

Full course for one semester. Intended to introduce the Russian modes of prose writing in relation to their Western European models, this course seeks to map the specificities of Russian premodern literary culture. The nature of narrative is studied with respect to medieval literary conventions versus modern literary conventions. The 18th century is examined in terms of the imitative nature of the narrative that perpetually looks back to the Western European world through the epistolary novel, travelers’ tales, adventure tales, and the sentimental novel. The 19th-century readings of novellas by Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol emphasize narrative techniques as they are rooted in the conventions of “someone else’s voice” and in the narrator’s worldview conveyed from an estranged position. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Lecture-discussion. Cross-listed as Literature 371.

Literature 371 Description

Russian 372 - 19th-Century Russian Fiction

Full course for one semester. This survey of Russian fiction, including works by Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Leskov, and Chekhov, studies the development of thematic and generic conventions and the emergence of Realism in its multiple forms. Readings in English. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Conference. Cross-listed as Literature 372.

Literature 372 Description

Russian 373 - Modern Russian Literature from Chekhov to the Present

Full course for one semester. Survey of the modern Russian and Soviet short story and novel, exploring the evolution of these genres in relation to historical and cultural developments and considering a variety of critical approaches. Readings include the prose of Chekhov, Gorkij, Belyj, Babel, Olesha, Pasternak, Bulgakov, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, and Trifonov. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Lecture-conference. Cross-listed as Literature 373. Not offered 2009-10.

Literature 373 Description

Russian 388 - The Soviet Experience

Full course for one semester. The course explores Soviet history, literature, and culture from a specific perspective: reviewing society's efforts to organize lives and experience as reflected in literature and the arts. Topics include conceptions of time and space (reforms of calendar, organization of industrial time, city and house planning, communal living); family, sexuality, and gender; Stalinist terror and forms of resistance to terror; and the revision of historical experience. In addition to selected literary texts, the course examines architectural designs, legal codes, personal letters, diaries, memoirs, and art. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Lecture-conference. Cross-listed as Literature 388. Not offered 2009-10.

Literature 388 Description

Russian 389 - Postcommunist Russian Literature, Film, and Society

Full course for one semester. The course will begin with a consideration of the political, economic, and cultural background against which the current developments in Russia are taking place. We will then explore recent literary texts and other artistic productions with a view to what they reveal concerning such themes as the new nationalisms, constructions of gender, and the confrontation with the Soviet and Russian past. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Conference. Cross listed as Literature 389.

Literature 389 Description

Russian 405 - Special Topics in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature: Gogol and Dostoevsky

Full course for one semester. This course examines representative works by Nikolai Gogol and Feodor Dostoevsky, studying them as closed literary systems on the one hand, and as specimens of developing narrative techniques of the novel as rooted in conventions of voice, genre, and ideology. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century critical responses are consulted. The first half of the semester is devoted to Gogol's fiction and relevant critical essays, while the second half of the semester focuses on selected novellas and novels of Dostoevsky. Conference. Cross-listed as Literature 405.

Literature 405 Description

Russian 408 - Russian Decadent and Symbolist Culture in a European Context

Full course for one semester. The course investigates Russian Decadent and Symbolist literature in a broad European context. We study the philosophical foundations of Decadent culture (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Solov’ev); the preoccupation with “degeneration,” common in the European science of the fin-de-siècle (Krafft-Ebing, Weininger);  “aestheticism” (J.K. Huysmans, Oscar Wilde); and interpretations of sexuality (André Gide, Thomas Mann). The Russian component of the reading includes the works of Zinaida Gippius, Viacheslav Ivanov, Fedor Sologub, Mikhail Kuzmin, Evdokiia Nagrodskaia, Aleksandr Blok, and Andrei Bely. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Conference. Cross-listed as Literature 408. Not offered 2009-10.

Literature 408 Description

Russian 410 - Topics in Russian Culture: The Art of Political Discourse

Full course for one semester. All modern states and political movements, whether liberal-democratic or authoritarian, elitist or populist, agrarian or industrial, speak the language of mass persuasion. The seven decades that formed the lifespan of the Soviet state saw the aggressive development of forms of mass communication aimed at shaping and controlling public opinion, popular support, and nonoppositioin. This seminar studies a range of Soviet propaganda media, from Agitprop, worker poetry, labor novel, factography, to the labor camp "conversion" tale and the propaganda poster, with particular attention to didactic, tropes, and myths designed to insure social cohesion and promote participation in the life of the nation. We explore the theoretical bases of Soviet propaganda in political theory, Russian theology, Marxist-Leninist ideology, and Russian modernism. One component of the course focuses on researching and documenting the Cooley Gallery's archival collection of late USSR propaganda posters and preparing materials for exhibition. Conference. Students taking the course for Russian credit meet in extra sessions. Cross-listed as Literature 410. Not offered 2009-10.

Russian 419 - Horror and Sublime in Russian Culture

Full course for one semester. This course examines the emergence, meanings, and functions of the concept of “horror” and the aesthetic category of the sublime in modern (i.e., post-Petrine) Russian literature and art. We proceed from the premise that these categories enter Russian discourse as a consequence and symptom of Westernization and, as elements of “high” culture, are constitutive of a secular morality. We investigate how under the influence of Western philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic ideas, Russian writers and artists map and remap the realms of the acceptable and the unacceptable in Russian reality, framing the latter as the “horrible” both in tradition and in innovation. Finally, we study the ways in which they adapt the Western aesthetic category of the sublime to the task of insinuating exposés and critiques of the “horrid” into the discourse of repressive regimes. Our theoretical framework draws on canonical Western theories of the sublime. Primary texts include Radishchev, Karamzin, Pushkin, Gogol, Herzen, Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Leskov, Chekhov, Garshin, Bely, Babel, Bulgakov, Nabokov, Evgeniia Ginzburg, Lidiia Ginzburg, Shalamov; paintings of the Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers), and 20th-century documentary photographers. Students who take the course for Russian credit meet for an additional weekly session to read parts of the texts in the original. Prerequisite for Russian credit: at least four semesters of Russian language. Conference. Cross-listed as Literature 419. Not offered 2009-10.

Russian 425 - 20th-Century Russian Jewish Literature and Culture: Text, Canvas, Screen

Full course for one semester. This course examines the problem of Jewish literature and the Jewish artist in the 20th century through investigating the Russian Jewish literary, artistic, and intellectual imagination since the early 1900s. While the Russian Jewish 20th-century artists felt themselves to be completely in and of the Russian tradition, shaping and revising it, their understanding of this tradition and the role of the Russian writer was challenged and complicated both by their sense of their Jewishness, and the overall project of modern Jewish artistic self-fashioning. We examine how these artists creatively approached their Jewishness and conceived of their place in Russian (and Soviet) literature and culture. We ask whether the Russian Jewish texts can be seen as forming a separate tradition and scrutinize various methodologies of defining a literary text in a non-Jewish language as Jewish. We pay close attention to ideological, historic, cultural, linguistic, and aesthetic contexts of the discourses involved: Russian modernist, Hebrew and Yiddish modernist, Soviet, dissident, and post-Soviet. Readings from Jabotinsky, Knut, Dubnow, Mandelshtam, Bagritsky, Babel, Ehrenburg, Grossman, Gorenshtein, Slutsky, and others. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Lecture-conference. Cross-listed as Literature 425. Not offered 2009-10.

Literature 425 Description

Russian 435 - Introduction to Russian Film

Full course for one semester. The course provides an introduction to the history and poetics of Russian film from the perspectives of Russian cultural contexts and the development of cinema as an artistic medium. While studying the masterpieces of Russian film, we pay special attention to silent cinema, from Bauer and Protazanov to Kuleshov, Pudovkin, Vertov, and Dovzhenko. Sergei Eisenstein’s films are considered in detail, as are those by Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Paradzhanov, and Nikita Mikhalkov. The readings focus on film theory and film history. Prerequisite: students who wish to take the course for Russian credit must have completed Russian 220 or obtain the consent of the instructor. Conference. Cross-listed as Literature 435. Not offered 2009-10.

Literature 435 Description

Russian 470 - Thesis

One-half or full course for one year.

Russian 481 - Independent Study

One-half or full course for one semester. Prerequisite: approval of instructor and division.