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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.

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The Russian Novel: Revolution Terror Resistance: RUSS 014

What does a culture look like after it undergoes a series of revolutions—sexual, political, linguistic—in short succession? To answer this question, this course surveys literature from the last days of the Russian Empire, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and the turbulent present of the Post-Soviet World.

Together, we will consider how literary authors grapple with catastrophic upheaval, from the rapid construction of industrial socialism, to Stalin’s purges, World War II, the Gulag labor camps, and the Russian war on Ukraine in 2014 and the present. We will encounter fantastic, tragic, and absurd tales from a wild century: a battle of values in the early USSR between a rebel and a sausage maker; the joys and tribulations of post-revolutionary sexual liberation; a surreal night of drunkenness on the Moscow Metro; a lifetime in Soviet Central Asia recounted as astronauts make contact with a utopian society in a distant galaxy.

All are welcome. Taught in translation. No previous knowledge of Russian language or culture required. Humanities. Writing course.

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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

Russian Table meets on Mondays in Sharples room 209. This is a chance not only to speak Russian and perhaps to chat about Russian foodways, but also to meet the other students who know or study Russian, and a shifting mix of faculty who speak or work on the language and culture - native speakers are welcome to attend!

Russian Table

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