STS.095 Russian Science, Society, and Culture

Vladimir Tatlin, Model for the 3rd International Tower, 1919-1920 (never built)

Spring 1999

Course syllabus

Lecturer Vyacheslav Gerovitch


This course examines several key episodes in the cultural history of Russian science from the time of Peter the Great to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia has adopted many forms of organization of science -- the Academy, universities, research institutes -- from Western Europe. Did science nevertheless develop differently in a specifically Russian sociopolitical and cultural context? Topics include the early attempts to implant Western science on the Russian soil in the eighteenth century, the radical political interpretation of current neurophysiological theories in the nihilist movement in the 1860s, the cultural adaptation of Darwinism in the late nineteenth century, the attempts to construct a distinct "proletarian science" in the early Soviet period, the Cultural Revolution, the games and rituals of Stalinist science, the controversies over quantum physics, genetics, and cybernetics, the roots of Soviet successes in the atomic project and the space program, informal networks and political dissent in the Soviet academic community. Readings include works by political, intellectual, and cultural historians, as well as primary documents, scientists' memoirs, and scientists' portraits in literature and science fiction. All readings are in English; supplementary readings in Russian, however, can be provided.


Every week, each student should submit a one-page informal "reaction paper" on the week's readings; this paper should present the student's reaction to the most interesting points in the readings and suggest questions for discussion. Each student is also required to give one or two oral presentations during the term. At the last session, each student should submit a 10-15-page research paper or a Web publishing project on a topic chosen by the student in consultation with the instructor. There will be no midterm or final exam. Final grades will be calculated as follows: attendance and class participation (20%), reaction papers (30%), oral presentation(s) (20%), and the final paper (30%).

Required books (available at the Coop and on Reserve):

Recommended books (available at the Coop and on Reserve):

Recommended Books (on Reserve):

Week 1. The Foundation and Russification of the Academy of Sciences

Week 2. The Rise of Universities: Neurophysiology and Nihilism

Week 3. The Controversy over Darwinism: Darwin without Malthus?

Week 4. The Russian Revolution and "Proletarian Science"

Week 5. The Cultural Revolution and the "Bolshevization" of Science

Week 6. Scientific and Cultural Orthodoxies under Stalin

Week 7. The Lysenko Affair

Week 8. Knowledge and Power: Negotiating Authority in Soviet Science

Week 9. Science and Cold War: The Atomic Project

Week 10. Science and Cold War: The Space Race

Week 11. The Institutional Culture of Soviet Science

Week 12. Scientists and Political Dissent

Week 13. Communications, Computers, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union