Moscow: Culture, History, Politics

The capital of Russia, Moscow is a major player on the world stage and the largest city in Europe. This seminar will explore its political, historical and cultural dimensions.

Moscow, Russia: June 10 - July 22

Application Deadline: February 13, 2017

About the Seminar

This seminar explores the history, culture and politics of Moscow, a metropolis of 12 million that is at once the capital of the Russian Federation and a state of its own, distinct from the rest of the country and the world. Moscow is Russia, even as it stands apart. Its distance from St. Petersburg and Europe has always proved a benefit rather than a hindrance in the construction of Russianness. The ancient but newly rebuilt center includes Baroque churches, cottages, and mansions from the imperial era mixed in with the monuments of the seven decades of Soviet rule. Yet the city has never been isolated from world events: It bore the brunt of Napoleon and repelled the Nazis. Its inhabitants suffered the bubonic plague as well as the horrors of the Stalinist purges. Now it is controlled by oligarchs under the thumb of Vladimir Putin and a political class seemingly intent on restoring Moscow — and thus Russia — to international predominance.

This seminar begins, fittingly, with the construction of the Kremlin, the citadel at the heart of Moscow along a brackish bend in the river. We then proceed chronologically from the 17th-century to the present, exploring the city’s outsized contribution to religious and philosophical thought, literature and music while tracing the physical and political history of the capital. Our primary sources are the streets themselves, the essential texts for the course. But we will also make excursions to famous museums and theaters, the estates of the novelist Leo Tolstoy and composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the imposing Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Stalin’s wartime bunker, the Kremlin, and, for contrast, visit the palaces of the former imperial capital of St. Petersburg.


Simon Morrison is a professor of music, who specializes in 20th-century music, particularly Russian, Soviet and French music, with special interests in dance, cinema, aesthetics, and historically informed performance based on primary sources. Morrison is the author of Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement (California, 2002) and The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years (Oxford, 2009) as well as editor of Prokofiev and His World (Princeton, 2008) and, with Klara Moricz, Funeral Games: In Honor of Arthur Vincent Lourié (Oxford, 2014).

Seminar Manager

Susan Bindig can be reached at or by calling 609-258-5437.

Distribution Requirements

The seminar fulfills the HA (Historical Analysis) requirement and the requirements for the certificate in Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.

Costs and Financial Aid

Program Fee: $4,000 (includes all housing, required course excursions, and related academic expenses). Additional instructional costs (books and materials, required immunizations) will vary, but students should budget up to $200 for these expenses. Roundtrip airfare and airport transportation is estimated at $1,100, meals at $1,000 and personal expenses at $1,000.

PIIRS provides generous funding to students admitted to the Global Seminars who receive term financial aid. Possibilities for additional financial support may be available through the Student Activities Funding Engine (SAFE). Princeton Subsidized Student Loans, available from the Office of Financial Aid, are also highly recommended over charging costs to a credit card. Please consult Financing Options for Students and Parents 2016–17, specifically pages 1–2 and Table 3, and contact the Office of Financial Aid for more information

To ensure a place in the seminar, a $500 nonrefundable deposit will be charged to participants’ accounts on April 1; the balance of the course fee will be charged to accounts on May 15.

NB: Students who accept a place in a Global Seminar and then, before the seminar begins, withdraw or cannot participate because they are no longer enrolled at Princeton will lose the nonrefundable deposit and any unrecoverable costs. There are no refunds after the start of the program.

The Fish Benoist Family Global Seminar. PIIRS Global Seminars are made possible in part by the generous contributions of alumni and friends and ongoing efforts of the Office of Development.