Dr. Karl Qualls, History

Re-imagining course on Modern Russian History

Course Syllabus: HIST 254

Following the 2013 Valley and Ridge workshops, Karl Qualls fundamentally revised his course on modern Russian history (History 254, Russia: Quest for the Modern). This course focuses primarily on Soviet history. Soviet ideology assumed that humans progressed to ever higher stages of development. This meant that the 1917 Revolution sought to bring equality to the people, harness Russia’s vast natural resources to improve productivity and standards of living, and overcome the problems of capitalism through central economic planning. We know now that these revolutionary dreams were not fulfilled.

Conversations during Valley and Ridge prompted Prof. Qualls to re-imagine the course as one focused on economic, political, and environmental sustainability. Much of the course content merely had to be more explicitly tied to ideas of sustainability, but several new topics and readings are now central to the course. Students will study “ecocide” in the Soviet Union or how and why rapid industrialization in the twentieth century left the Aral Sea desiccated, led to the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, and poisoned whole regions of the country with pesticides, herbicides, and industrial pollution. New units on the disappearance of indigenous cultures, the prominence of unequal distribution of goods that led to black market economics, and the monopolization of political power will also be included.

The semester’s assignments highlight the prominence of sustainability issues in the newly redesigned course. Most blog posts will reflect on sustainability readings and discussions. The semester-long “class sourcing” projects will research a topic of sustainability in twentieth-century Russian and then, through open-source publication, present these ideas to the wider world.