David Truman's Home Page
During 2010 I am teaching four classes at the University of the Third Age (U3A) in Brisbane.   The "third age" is the age of active retirement [after childhood, and work and family responsibilities] - nothing to do with "new age".

The classes are
* Beginning Russian
* Russian more advanced
* Russian history and culture,  and
* Russian literature (in translation).

2010 will be the seventh year I've been teaching at U3A.  I find it a real joy to have enthusiastic students who are there because they want to be there!

Me with some of my lovely students who came
with me on a Cultural Tour of Russia in 2006.

The course I give in RUSSIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE stretches over two years.   The history and culture of a country as large as Russia and as complex, and with such a long history as a nation, certainly needs more than just a one-year course.

we began right  back at the beginning :  with the geography of the country;  Russia before the Russians - the procession of nomad and barbarian invasions before the coming of the Slavs;  the establishment of the first Russian state, its battles with its neighbours.  

During 2009 we covered this material:

First Term

1  Russian Origins

2  The Birth of Rus':  The Pagan Period to 988

3  The Conversion of Rus’

4  The Khazarian state AND The Glory of Kievan Rus’

5  The Fall of Kievan Rus’  AND  Forest, Steppe and River in Russian history

6  The Mongols - a short history

7  The Appanage Period, 1240 TO 1500:  Novgorod, the Lithuanian-Russian state, and The North East

8  The Rise of Muscovy, part 1:  1147-1389  plus  Iliterary work Tale of Events beyond the Don [Zadonshchina]

9  The Rise of Muscovy, part 2: Moscow gathers the Russian lands, 1389-1533; plus  Timur of Samarkand

10  Ivan the Terrible, 1533-1584

11  The Cossacks

Second Term

DVD:  Ivan the Terrible (Eisenstein), part 1

12  The Coming of Serfdom;  Instability after Ivan the Terrible:  The Time of Troubles, 1598-1613

13  The Early Romanovs, 1613-1682

14  The Church Schism, 1653-56

15  Autobiography of Archpriest Avvakum (leader of the 'Old Believers' in the Church schism), c.1673-75 

16  The Conquest of Siberia

17 The Russian Icon

18  Peter the Great

19  Imperial Russia: six rulers from 1725-1762

20  Catherine the Great, 1762-1796

Third Term

21  Alexander Radishchev:  A Journey from Petersburg to Moscow (1790)

22  Songs of Ancient Heroes - Byliny :  Russian National Heroic Epics of the Ninth to Thirteenth Centuries

23  Paul I and Alexander I, 1796-1825

24  Nicholas I and the Start of Russia’s Culture War

25  Nicholas I as the Gendarme Of Europe

26  Introduction to Russian Literature, #1

27  Alexander II, 1855-1881:  Tsar Liberator

28  The Russian Intelligentsia, 1812-1881

29  Russian 19th century art, part 1;   Chekhov:  Peasants  (longish story)

Slide presentation on Russian art to end of 19th century

Fourth Term

Dostoyevsky:  The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov - #1

Dostoyevsky:  The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov - #2

30 Konstantin Pobedonostsev:  extracts from Reflections of a Russian statesman

31 The Twilight of Imperial Russia : Counter-Reforms and reaction under Alexander III and Nicholas I

32 The Russian Intelligentsia #2 – 1881 -1918

32A Some characteristics and beliefs of the Russian intelligentsia

32B Samuel Huntington on Russia as a “torn country”

DVD on St Petersburg

Bunin:  Antonov Apples  (short story)

Folk Tale:  Prince Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf

The late 19th century and early 20th century in Russia saw  a tremendous explosion of cultural creativity, and the permanent placement of Russia in the consciousness of the outside world.  

In 2010 we will continue with the tail end of the 19th century – music, art, ballet, literature – and into the 20th century, through the “Silver Age”, Symbolism, Futurism and other intellectual movements, through the Revolution, the Civil War, early communism, socialist realism, the Stalin period, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and the twilight of the Soviet state, through the collapse of communism and up to the present day.   We  will also consider more generally the Russian 'national character'.

It amazes me that even professional art teachers and historians typically know next to nothing about Russian art, except the 20th century futurists like Malevich and avant-garde like Kandinsky.   Russian art of 'the Itinerants' (from the 1860s to near the turn of the century)
contains some astonishingly beautiful scenes of Russian nature, as well as realistic paintings of the life of the ordinary people - some of which are powerful social comment.  Toward the end of the century some artists draw imaginatively on Russian history (especially Surikov), mythology (Victor Vasnetsov) and religion (Nesterov).   'The World of Art' movement in the early 1900s to the Revolution placed greatest emphasis on beauty and the artists of this group created some wonderful treasures.

I have three prints of paintings by 'Itinerant' artists in my living room.  I bought two of the prints at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and had them framed here.

'Moscow Courtyard' by Vasily Polenov (1878);  'The rooks have come' by Aleksei Savrasov  (1871); and 'Morning in the pine forest' by Ivan Shishkin (1889)

The Itinerants painted Russian nature and the Russian people, but their work later transitions into impressionism and symbolism.

Victor Vasnetsov's "Bogatyri" (Knights) evokes the heroes of 10th and 11th century Kievan Rus'.

Victor Vasnetsov: Bogatyri (1898)
The following picture was painted in 1916 by one of the leading lights of the "World of Art".

Kustodiev:  Maslenitsa (Shrove Tuesday).  1916

Futurist and cubist art from around the time of the Revolution is also full of vitality and originality.

Arkhip Lentulov:  St Basil's Cathedral.  1913

Some Russian handicrafts

The RUSSIAN LITERATURE course was a new one in 2009 - by demand from my History and Culture students last year!  It has proved not only quite popular, but also very rewarding for me.  Russia has produced one of the world's greatest literatures, exploring not only national issues but "grand narratives" of universal relevance.   During 2009 we covered:

* an overview of Russian literature, its key themes and social and political significance,  and

* a selective look at the biographies and works of nine writers including


Pushkin (The Bronze Horseman, The Queen of Spades, some of Yevgeny Onegin),


Lermontov (A Hero of our Time),


Gogol (The Government Inspector, The Overcoat, The Nose, Dead Souls),


Turgenev ( The Diary of a Superfluous Man , Rudin, Fathers and Sons, On the Eve) ,


Goncharov (Oblomov),


Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment then later, a discussion of the issues raised by the Grand inquisitor chapter of The Karamazov Brothers),


Tolstoy (The Cossacks, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Anna Karenina, then later, Resurrection),


Chekhov (The Lady with the Dog, some other short stories, The Seagull, his early novel The Shooting Party, the longish story Peasants, and Uncle Vanya),  then


Gorky (Childhood, 26 men and a girl).


In 2010 we will begin with Andrei Bely’s novel Petersburg and some poems by Aleksandr Blok, some stories and novellas by Ivan Bunin, and then through other 20th century writers including  Yevgeny Zamyatin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Mikhail Sholokhov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


This course also will take a good two years to go through  a selection of the wealth of writers worth reading, through the 19th and 20th centuries.   We could devote a whole year's course to the works of just a couple of individual great writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy - and for that matter, Solzhenitsyn.

RUSSIAN LANGUAGE, during 2009 I offered only a class for more advanced students.   In 2010 I'll be taking a Beginning Russian class as well.

I'm a great enthusiast for the Russian language, as well as Russian history and culture and literature.   Russian is a wonderfully expressive, flexible, nuanced, huge language (reputedly with the second largest vocabulary, after English).  Turgenev (1818-1883) said it all in this immortal passage in one of his letters:

“In days of doubts, in days of depressing reflections on the fates of my homeland,  you alone are my support and strength, o great, mighty, just and free Russian language!   Were it not for you -- how could I not but fall into despair at the sight of all that is happening at home?   But it is impossible not to believe that such a language was given to a great people.   Take care of our language, our wonderful Russian language - it is a treasure, it is a property handed down to us by our forefathers!   Treat this mighty tool with respect:  in skilled hands it is capable of miracles." 

Here it is in Russian:


"Во дни сомнений, во дни тягостных раздумий о судьбах моей Родины, - ты один мне поддержка и опора, о великий, могучий, правдивый и свободный русский язык!   Не будь тебя - как не впасть в отчаяние при виде всего, что свершается дома?   Но нельзя не верить, чтобы такой язык не был дан великому народу.   Берегите наш язык, наш прекрасный русский язык - это клад, это достояние, переданное нам нашими предшественниками!   Обращайтесь почтительно с этим могущественным орудием: в руках умелых оно в состоянии свершать чудеса."

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