Notes on Riasanovsky Textbook

There are several reasons why I selected Riasanovsky's History of Russia as the textbook for HIS 241 and HIS 242.  I looked at a lot of available texts before making my decision.

First, the text can be used for both HIS 241 and 242.  In other words, you buy one book, and you can use it for two courses.  That is a great value.

Second, Riasanovsky has repeatedly updated the text since its first appearance a long time ago, way back in 1963.  For the current edition, Riasanovsky added Mark Steinberg as a co-author which has helped with the addition of material on the recent post-Soviet history of Russia.

Third, I used this text when I was a teaching assistant at the University of Virginia for Professor Walter Sablinsky's course on the history of imperial Russia (also HIS 241).  The book has always been considered the "standard" history of pre-1917 Russia; it has been less respected for the Soviet period but still considered as one of the best.  The book is not without its problems and difficulties--I recognize that--but I think that you will find none that reflect a more accomplished and nuanced grasp of the essentials of Russian history than what Riasanovsky has written.

Fourth, Nicholas Riasanovsky is one of the foremost historians of Russia (in the world), and he (along with Martin Malia) has trained an entire generation and a half of historians from his position in the department of history at the University of California, Berkeley--My advisor, Walter Sablinsky at the University of Virginia, studied under Riasanovsky and helped with the first edition of the textbook--Riasanovsky made Cal Berkeley one of THE centers of Russian studies in the United States.  There is a very short faculty biography on the web, but I wish that there was more available.  Professor Riasanovsky has also provided some reflections on his career as a historian of Russia (*.pdf or *.doc format available).

Blue Bar

Professor Blois adds:

I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Evans’ appraisal of the Riasanovsky textbook.  It is both highly regarded and very durable.  As I look back on my training and career as a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, it is the Riasanovsky textbook that is the longest-running thread.

When I took my very first undergraduate course in Russian history, in 1966, I was assigned the first edition of this text.  When, as a grad student, I was a teaching assistant in a similar course in 1970-71, the book was again the primary assigned reading for all students.  In 1973, when I wrote the University of North Carolina’s extension division correspondence course in Russian history since 1861, I again chose Riasanovsky (second edition).  By the time I was offering my own courses in Russian history at NVCC in the 1970s and 1980s, I assigned the third and fourth editions.  For the course in which you are enrolled, we now employ the seventh (!) edition of Riasanovsky.

In the early 1970s, our Graduate Student History Society brought several noteworthy and memorable Russian history scholars to UNC’s Chapel Hill campus for presentations.  These included James Billington (now Librarian of Congress), Sir Isaiah Berlin, Marc Raeff, and… Nicholas Riasanovsky.  I am certain his no-nonsense approach has had a very deep impact on both Dr. Evans and myself, especially his inclination to hold his own interpretation of events and personalities to a minimum while scrupulously presenting the sound, scholarly interpretations of others.  And his other books, especially those on Nicholas I and Peter the Great, remain on my shelves as models of scholarship and sources of information.  Riasanovsky’s is a book you should plan to keep in your personal library, far beyond this introduction to the history of Russia.


See the list of some of Riasanovsky's books:

  • Russia and the West in the Teaching of the Slavophiles: A Study of Romantic Ideology (1952).
  • Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 1825-1855 (1959)
  • A History of Russia (1963)
  • The Teaching of Charles Fourier (1969)
  • A Parting of Ways: Government and the Educated Public in Russia; 1801-1855 (1976)
  • The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought (1985)
  • The Emergence of Romanticism (1992)

ps.  Alexander V. Riasanovsky, the brother of Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, is also an accomplished historian of Russia, at the University of Pennsylvania.


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