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Russian skyline

Department Overview

The Russian program at Swarthmore College aims to give students the key to the nation that Winston Churchill in 1939 called “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  Historically, the Russian people have made enormous contributions to world culture in music, literature, the arts, film, engineering and the sciences. With its sheer size and wealth of natural resources, today’s increasingly aggressive and powerful Russia is an important global player, for better or worse, making the study of Russia’s language and culture of continuing strategic importance.

It may surprise you to learn that Russian is the sixth most widely-spoken language in the world, with more than 275 million speakers. Russian serves as the lingua franca for much of Central Asia, and is still widely spoken in other former republics of the Soviet Union. Over 3 million persons claiming Russian heritage live in the United States. Today you can hear Russian spoken in a number of large American cities, including New York and right here in Northeast Philadelphia!

Students of Russian can take advantage of a rich environment for language study, including intensive introductory language courses, language tables, multimedia resources, and opportunities for study abroad. Our rigorous four-year language sequence is designed to bring students at minimum to an ACTFL- rated level of Advanced in all four modalities (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). This prepares our students for potential participation in the prestigious Flagship Program. One of only four such programs in the nation, this year-long post-graduation program is designed to bring students up to the ACTFL-rated Superior level proficiency, allowing them to fully function in the professional sphere. The Flagship Program is an extraordinary opportunity for Swarthmore students; you can find more information on the Flagship Program here.

Our content courses in literature and culture are taught in English and span the history of Russia, ranging from the medieval era through Russia’s Golden Age of the nineteenth century and on to the Soviet and Post-Soviet Era. We also offer interdisciplinary courses such as Nature and Industry in Russia and The Muslim in Russia. Students of Russian language can take a Russian-language attachment to any of our literature-in-translation courses and read selections of works in the original Russian. Additionally, courses from the History Department support our program.

The small size of the Russian section means a great deal of one-on-one attention for our students as well as flexibility in our offerings. So join us and be one of the few who have the key to the enigma that is Russia!

Moscow State University by night

Moscow State University by night (Charles Aprile '18)

Mayakovskaya Station in Moscow

Mayakovskaya Station in Moscow (Charles Aprile '18)

The Victor Tsoi Wall in Moscow's Arbat District

The Victor Tsoi Wall in Moscow's Arbat District (Charles Aprile '18)

Tian Shan Mountains in Spring, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Tian Shan Mountains in Spring, Almaty, Kazakhstan (Irina Bukharin '18)

Green Bazaar, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Green Bazaar, Almaty, Kazakhstan (Irina Bukharin '18)

Chapel under construction in Poporechnoe, Kazakhstan

Chapel under construction in Poporechnoe, Kazakhstan (Irina Bukharin '18)

Astana, Kazakhstan (Irina Bukharin '18)

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty, Kazakhstan (Irina Bukharin '18)

Moscow State University by night (Charles Aprile '18)

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Russian Studies in the Age of Putin

Friday, February 22, 2019

Presentations: 11:00 a.m. - 4:20 p.m. (Join us when you can, and leave when you must.)
Keynote Lecture: 5-6 p.m.
Intercultural Center, Sproul Hall 201, The Dome
Free and open to the public. Refreshments provided throughout the day.

What does the study of Russia have to offer today? What does the field present to Tri-Co students? Have a burning question about the Russian world? 

This symposium, sponsored by the Tri-Co Mellon Faculty Forum, will explore the current state of Russian Studies in light of recent global developments. Faculty from the three campuses will speak about topics including empire studies, the Soviet economy, contemporary Russian cinema, language study, and discourses of heroic resistance in a banal time, among other subjects. Come learn what Russian-affiliated faculty are currently studying and how it can fit into your life!

11:00 a.m — 12:20 p.m.
Vladimir Kontorovich (HC): The Loneliness of the Specialist on the Soviet Economy 

Tim Harte (BMC): Is Tarkovsky Relevant Today?: The Challenges of Teaching Soviet Cinema in Our Contemporary World

Bella Grigoryan (BMC): Onegin Again

1:25 — 2:45 p.m.

Linda Gerstein (HC): Post-Revolutionary Blues: Trying to Teach “Heroic Resistance” in a Banal Time

Robert Weinberg (SC): The Empire Strikes Back: Decentering the Teaching of Russian and Soviet History

David Harrison (SC): A Siberian Perspective

3:00 — 4:20 p.m.

Sibelan Forrester (SC): Evolving New Topics in Teaching Russian at a Small Liberal Arts College

Irina Walsh (BMC): Learning Russian in the US and Abroad

Irina Bukharin ‘18 (SC): Using Russian to Combat Illicit Networks

5 p.m.
Keynote Speaker 
Eliot Borenstein (NYU)

“Queer Plots against Russia, or Tolerance as a Social Disease”

What do gay pride parades have to do with conspiracies to destroy Russia? How has the word for “tolerance” become a term of abuse? In  this talk, we will hear how homophobia and fears of “political correctness” are used to reinforce the sense that Russia is surrounded by enemies.

For more information, please contact José Vergara (jvergar1).

Why Study Russian?

1. Russian is the language of the largest country on the planet, spanning 11 time zones across Europe and Asia.
2. With over 270 million speakers worldwide, Russian is the 6th most widely spoken language on the planet.
3. Russian remains the lingua franca of central Asia, and is one of only six official languages at the UN.
4. Russian is designated a Critical Language by the State Department, which means more funding to study the language and more opportunities in the public sector.
5. Russian culture! It's the language of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Tarkovsky, Eisenstein, Maleevich, Kandinsky, Chagall...and so many others!

Russian Language Table

Mondays from noon - 2 pm in Sharples Room 209. 

Native speakers are welcome to attend!

Russian Table

Choose a Language Program