Several broad themes in Russian history are identified in this section:
(a) Russia is a transitional region between eastern and western civilizations – Asia and Europe. One broad theme in its history is competing influences of Asia and Europe on the rise of the Russian state, in terms of its culture, government, and economy.
(b) Autocracy and authoritarianism are long-standing traits of Russian politics and government. Alternative arrangements are rare and usually do not last long.
(c) Strong class distinctions are another long-standing trait in Russian culture and politics.
In an essay, using relevant events and characteristics of Kievan Rus and Muscovy, define and analyze these three Russian themes.
Notes to the essay question:
1. This question can be answered through the documents linked to this section, and you should use and cite them. The textbook will also greatly help. However, I encourage additional, online research. It’s not required, but it is recommended.
2. On the competing infuences of Asia and Europe in Kievan Rus and Muscovy, it’s a bit of an “easter egg hunt” – but the eggs are twenty feet around, so they’re easy to find. Here’s one, for example: What religion became the primary institution of faith in Russia? Was it an eastern religion, such as Hinduism, Buddhism or Confucianism? Or a western religion, such as Islam or Christianity? Here’s another example: What people invaded Russia, destroyed Kievan Rus, and sponsored the rise of Muscovy? The first example is indicative of the influence of western civilization, while the second example is indicative of the influence of eastern civilization. A big part of your task in this essay is to make sense of the fact that Russia was a product of both influences.
3. Autocracy and authoritarianism…. This one’s pretty straightforward. Prince Oleg and Ivan the Terrible are your touchstones here; both are prime examples of autocratic authoritarians – just as both exemplify the cruelty, irrationality and destructiveness often found in Russian rule and politics.
4. On class distinctions, the earliest example is the distinction between the native Slav populations and the foreign Varangian Vikings who became their leaders. An exploration and analysis of two other areas can wrap this part of the essay up: the creation of formal classes during the late Rurik and early Romanov dynasties (the peasants, merchants, boyars [aristocracy], and church officials), and the recreation of the peasant class as serfs – a condition of near-slavery.
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