In a course catalog, "Special Topics" can often be a way to quickly seize upon a professor's expertise to address fast-changing and highly topical topics. The UNLV history department has done just that to respond to student interest in the unfolding Russian invasion in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Crisis & Its Historical Roots
The five-week, 1-credit course (officially titled HIST 279 - The News in Historical Perspective) began March 4 to explore the historical relationship between Ukraine and Russia with a lens toward understanding how and why today's conflict occurred. Central to the conflict is the imperial character of Russia's political formations and conception of the nation over the centuries, and Ukraine's place within those formations.
Who’s taking it
Mostly undergraduate students who are interested in this region and/or the problem of war and conflict.
Who’s teaching it
Paul Werth is a professor of history and former chair of the department of history. He is an expert on the Russian Empire and the USSR from the 18th century to the present; imperial rule and religious toleration; and the history of Russia’s borders and territory. He is the author of 1837: Russia’s Quiet Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2021), and his teaching encompasses modern Europe, Russia and Eurasia, religion, World War I and international history.
How it works
The course is taught both in person and via RebelFlex. Students enrolled in the RebelFlex section join remotely for each class, and all students interact with the professor and their classmates in real time using Webex or similar technology.
The reading list
The anchor for the course is Serhii Plokhii’s Lost Kingdom (2017), which traces Russia’s imperial development with specific reference to Ukraine across five centuries. Articles, maps, and video materials supplement that reading.
What students might be surprised to learn
The degree to which the history of these two countries, separate in modern times only since 1991, is deeply intertwined. Indeed, the history of one is not comprehensible without the history of the other.
What excites Werth the most about this class
"The opportunity to engage directly with a problem of immediate global significance, and to reveal that the history of this region is exceptionally intriguing," Werth says. "It is characterized by tremendous ethnic and religious diversity, cultural connections, and, at times, violent conflict."
What even laypeople should know from this course
The course demonstrates the centrality of history to understanding the present conflict. "Indeed, historical claims stand at the center of Vladimir Putin’s justification for the invasion, and those claims need to be confronted and assessed," Werth says.
Where do students go next
Students might take up courses on contemporary international relations, the diplomatic history of Europe, or the history of Russia and Eurasia. They will also be in a better position to consume news in a more informed way. The course may induce some to pursue a career in diplomacy or foreign service.