Related disciplines

The goal of the Russian language classes at Sarah Lawrence College is to teach students to speak, comprehend, read, and write a fascinating language with a logic very different from that of English. Oral proficiency is the focus of the first-year class, culminating in end-of-semester projects where students, in small groups, write and film skits. In the second-year course, reading is also emphasized. We include short stories and poetry, as well as texts paired with films. Topics, texts, and authors covered in the advanced class vary widely, and student input is strongly encouraged. Past syllabi have included works by authors such as Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Tsvetaeva, Bulgakov, and Pelevin, as well as films. Student work in class and conference is also supplemented by weekly meetings with the language assistant and by a variety of extracurricular activities, including a weekly Russian Table, Russian opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and excursions to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn’s “Little Odessa.”

Students of Russian are strongly encouraged to spend a semester or, ideally, a year abroad. Sarah Lawrence students regularly attend a variety of programs, including: Middlebury College’s School in Russia, with sites in Moscow, Irkutsk, and Yaroslavl; Bard College’s program at the Smolny Institute in St. Petersburg; the Moscow Art Theatre School Semester through Connecticut College; ACTR in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Vladimir; and CIEE.

The Russian program also offers courses taught in translation as part of the literature curriculum. Recent literature courses include: The Literatures of Russian and African American Soul: Pushkin and Blackness, Serfs and Slaves, Black Americans and Red Russia; Dostoevsky and the West; The 19th-Century Russian Novel; and Intertextuality in the 20th-Century Russian Novel. More generally, students of Russian also pursue their interest in Russia and Eastern Europe in many other areas of the College. Conference work always may be directed toward the student’s field of interest. Courses focusing either entirely or in part on Russia and/or Eastern Europe are regularly offered in a number of disciplines, including history, film history, dance history, and philosophy.

2020-2021 Courses


Beginning Russian

Open, Seminar—Year

Successful language learning involves both creativity and a certain amount of rote learning—memorization gives the student the basis to then extrapolate, improvise, and have fun with the language—and this course will lay equal emphasis on both. At the end of the course, students will know the fundamentals of Russian grammar and will be able to use those fundamentals to read, write, and, above all, speak Russian on an elementary level. Our four hours of class each week will be spent actively using what we know in pair and group activities, dialogues, discussions, etc. Twice-weekly written homework, serving both to reinforce old and introduce new material, will be required. At the end of each semester, we will formalize the principle of rigorous but creative communication that underlies all of our work through small-group video projects. Students are also required to attend weekly meetings with the Russian assistant; attendance at Russian Table is strongly encouraged.


Intermediate Russian

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: one year of college-level Russian or the equivalent

At the end of this course, students should feel that they have a fairly sophisticated grasp of Russian and the ability to communicate in Russian in any situation. After the first year of studying the language, students will have learned the bulk of Russian grammar; this course will emphasize grammar review, vocabulary accumulation, and regular oral practice. Class time will center on the spoken language, and students will be expected to participate actively in discussions based on new vocabulary. Regular written homework will be required, along with weekly conversation classes with the Russian assistant; attendance at Russian Table is strongly encouraged. Conference work will focus on the written language. Students will be asked to read short texts by the author(s) of their choice, with the aim of appreciating a very different culture and/or literature while learning to read independently, accurately, and with as little recourse to the dictionary as possible.


Europe’s Civil War: 1914–1945

Open, Lecture—Fall

In 1909 Norman Angell wrote The Great Illusion, a book that went on to become a bestseller. Its premise: Industrialized countries had become so interconnected that war between them did not make sense and would not happen anymore. Five years later, Europe’s industrialized countries were at war with each other. The Great War, as it was called then, lasted from 1914 until 1918 and would change the course of the 20th century. But Angell was not entirely wrong. Precisely because European economies were so interconnected, the war and its aftermath were particularly devastating. After 1918, they were entangled through an additional layer of massive loss of life, devastation, and the resulting resentment and hostility from which Europe struggled to extricate itself until 1945. This period now is sometimes called “Europe’s civil war.” Not all of this, however, was war. Beyond earnest struggles for a new peacetime order, much of what we consider modern, from entertainment to consumption but also new modes of politics, has its origins in this period. The course will investigate the cultural, social, economic, and military causes and reverberations of the conflict, from the war itself to the revolutions that followed it, the enfranchisement of women and expansion of democratic government, but also the rise of Communism and Fascism and ultimately war again from 1939 to 1945. The impact of these developments was not contained to Europe alone but, rather, extended to the rest of the world—not least, the United States. In this course, we will look, on occasion, beyond the continent’s border. Through a variety of sources to be read and discussed in the group conferences, students will also be introduced to the craft of history. Making use of the rich online collections created in the wake of the centennial of World War I and 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II, we will read diary entries and private letters, government documents and poetry. We will watch movies and investigate (pop)cultural memory of the period. We will discuss the importance of smell and sound, of technology and medicine, for shaping and advancing history. In order to have sufficient time for discussions, the course meets for weekly 90-minute lectures, which will include a Q&A session following the lecture itself and weekly 90-minute group conferences.


The Music of Russia

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course may also be taken as a semester-long component.

This course will survey the great contributions of Russian composers to Western music, from the first half of the 19th century to the end of the Soviet era and beyond. We will study these works in the context of the important historical events and intellectual movements that galvanized Russian artists: the desire to find the appropriate expression of Russian identity, the ambivalence toward the achievements of Western Europe, the ideals of civic responsibility, the aestheticism of the later 19th century, the Russian Revolution, and the repressions of Soviet society. Composers to be studied include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky. No prior music courses or knowledge of music theory required.