Aspects of Soviet Life

Course Material 2024/25
This Advanced Topic paper focuses on life inside the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the 1980s. It is not
concerned with geopolitics or foreign policy, but instead explores how people lived, worked, relaxed and
formed relationships; how cultural forms were created; and how politics determined the course of people’s
lives and sometimes destroyed them. It is interested in classic questions that have long preoccupied
historians. Did Stalin betray the revolution? What kind of empire was the Soviet Union? What was
totalitarianism? How far did Khrushchev de-Stalinize the Soviet Union? How ‘normal’ was life in the USSR?
Was the USSR conservative as well as revolutionary? How did censorship work in practice? Was ‘stagnation’
a reasonable description of the Brezhnev era? Was Gorbachev’s perestroika bound to fail? It deals too with
recent empirical and conceptual developments that have greatly enriched the field of Soviet history,
concerning race, nationality, sexuality, gender, materiality, space, the non-Russian republics, the study of the
1970s and 1980s, and the complex of approaches associated with the scholarship of decolonization.
Running through the course too is the question of how Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February
2022 has changed the way that we study the Soviet past — and even whether the Soviet Union remains a
legitimate and feasible object of historical enquiry.
Section notice

This material is intended for current students but will be interesting to prospective students. It is indicative only.