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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3390 The Soviet Sixties: Politics and Society in the USSR, 1953-1968

40 creditsClass Size: 16

Module manager: Robert Hornsby

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

In many ways the decade and a half which followed Stalin’s death in 1953 saw the Soviet regime reach its apex, before commencing upon a long decline that culminated in eventual collapse at the end of 1991. For much of this period, the Soviet Union at least seemed to be a genuine challenger to the USA in terms of its global prestige and its apparently promising future. Living standards, education levels and the list of overseas friends and allies kept on growing. While there were plenty of important continuities with the Stalin era – most notably with the continuing monopoly on power enjoyed by the Communist Party – this was in many ways a time in which a new incarnation of the Soviet system came into being. Families moved out of dingy communal flats and into private apartments, young people fell in love with the Beatles and blue jeans, the denunciation of Stalin prompted a revival of utopian thinking about communism, and mass state terror was eschewed as a primary means of social control. Nonetheless, repression of political dissidents continued (albeit on a much reduced scale) and KGB penetration of society deepened. The invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) which bookended the period in question told of clear limits to reform. This was also a period of sharp contrasts and abrupt changes. Some great artists (like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) were introduced to the world, while others (like Boris Pasternak) were hounded mercilessly. Millions were released from Stalin’s Gulag, yet dozens were massacred at public demonstrations in Novocherkassk and Tbilisi. Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, and Nikita Khrushchev pounded the rostrum with his shoe at the UN General Assembly. Adopting a broadly chronological structure, and utilising primary source materials like official documents, films and propaganda posters, students will learn about how the Soviet system and the lives of Soviet citizens changed between the end of mass terror and the onset of terminal stagnation.


The objectives of this module are to examine the emergence and evolution of the late Soviet system. This includes the way in which the political authorities managed a transition away from overt rule by terror, the ways in which the Soviet side competed in the Cold War, and attempts to create the ‘new Soviet man’ who would eventually live under communism.
Students will also learn about important historical legacies stemming the period in question. This includes the ways in which key events from the period inform contemporary political, social, and cultural debates in and about Russia and other former Soviet republics today (such as popular attitudes toward Stalin and the highly contentious transfer of Crimea from Russian to Ukrainian ownership in 1954).

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module, students will be able to:
Demonstrate an informed understanding of the social, cultural and political history of the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s.
Demonstrate a sophisticated knowledge of the relevant historiography, including the most recent developments in the field.
Critically analyse and interpret a variety of primary sources relating to this historical period, including official documents, the press, literature, photographs, film, and testimony.
Construct and express historically rigorous arguments effectively, whether in written form or orally, using both primary and secondary sources.


Seminar 1. Introduction/Stalin’s transformation of the USSR

Seminar 2. The Second World War and post-War Stalinism

Seminar 3. The succession struggle and the first ‘thaw’

Seminar 4. Emptying the Gulag

Seminar 5. Starting afresh: the Virgin Lands campaign

Seminar 6. ‘We need to talk about Stalin’: the Secret Speech and de-Stalinization

Seminar 7. The Hungarian Revolution and the Moscow World Youth Festival

Seminar 8. Winning new friends in Africa, Asia and Latin America

Seminar 9. ‘Cosmo-mania’: the Soviet Union in the space race

Seminar 10. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Soviet-US rivalry

Seminar 11. The structure of Soviet power

Seminar 12. Women in Soviet politics and society

Seminar 13. Changing the guard: from Khrushchev to Brezhnev

Seminar 13. Official mass culture: cinema, literature, sport and tourism

Seminar 14. Unofficial mass culture: ‘rock on ribs’ and Radio Liberty

Seminar 15. ‘The New Class’: the rise and rise of the nomenklatura

Seminar 16. Consumerism, labour and life at home

Seminar 17. The birth of the Soviet human rights movement

Seminar 18. The regime’s repressive apparatus

Seminar 19. Nationalities questions and the ‘friendship of peoples’

Seminar 21. The Prague Spring and the death of the Soviet Sixties

Seminar 22. The arrival of stagnation and the long 1970s

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Film Screenings52.0010.00
Private study hours342.00
Total Contact hours58.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

Students will prepare for each seminar by reading a range of secondary texts and primary sources, as directed. They will also be expected to undertake further, self-directed reading for each class. Students will additionally produce five short seminar essays (worth a combined value of 10%), research and write a 4,000 word assessed essay (40%) and prepare for the final examination (50%).

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Participation in class discussion
Essay consultations and workshops
Evaluation of written assessments
Feedback on written work
Regular pastoral sessions

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4,000 words due Monday of Exam week 2 semester 140.00
Project5 x 500 word seminar essays10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Online Time-Limited assessment48 hr 00 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)50.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:25:08


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