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.

Russian 2021-2022 Courses

Beginning Russian

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

To learn another language is to open yourself to another worldview, both as you gain entry into another culture and as your own sense of self is transformed. In another language, you are still you; but the tools that you use to create and express that identity do change. As English speakers find themselves in Russia and learning Russian, they first need to come to terms with an often complicated grammar. We will tackle that aspect of our work through a degree of analytical thought, a great deal of memorization, and the timely completion of our often lengthy, biweekly homework assignments. Even as I encourage students to reflect on the very different means of expression that Russian offers, I also ask that they engage in basic—but fully functional—conversational Russian at every point along the way. Our four hours of class each week will be devoted to actively using what we know in pair and group activities, role play, dialogues, skits, songs, etc. As a final project at the end of each semester, students will create their own video skits. In addition to class, students are required to meet weekly with the Russian assistant; attendance at our weekly Russian Table is strongly encouraged.


Intermediate Russian

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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.


Being Totalitarian: Making Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Soviet Union

Open, Seminar—Fall

The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, in power from 1922 until 1945, famously declared that he wanted to create “the fascist man.” Adolf Hitler in Germany and Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union had similar aspirations to reshape not only the political structure of their states but also to alter the very being of their citizens. In different ways and to different degrees, class, age, race, and gender—Mussolini did not accidentally speak of the “fascist man”—were crucial to this new kind of being. In this course, we will look into the ideologies and practices that formed the basis of “being totalitarian,” as well as the resistance to them. Bigger and smaller acts of resistance to those regimes’ claims on their citizens meant that their totalitarian aspirations were never quite achieved. In light of the increased frequency with which the terms “fascist” and “totalitarian” are being used in today’s political debates, the course—in its comparative approach and focus on the construction and practice of totalitarianism—will offer students tools to approach these terms in all of their complexity. The course will provide new perspectives on both the past and the present. Together, we will read political programs and speeches, diaries, letters, and memoirs. We will look at school books and propaganda posters and watch movies. We will also engage with the long historiography on these three regimes. Scholarly debates on the nature of fascism and totalitarianism have their own history and politics, which have shaped our use of the two terms as much as the history of the three states themselves. Being Totalitarian will thus be a simultaneous study of both history and historiography.


The Music of Russia

Open, Large Lecture—Spring

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 is required.