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Methodology & Capstone Seminars

All graduate and undergraduate students in the REES program are required to take the two-semester Capstone Seminar. The seminar introduces students to key issues in Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies and to the different disciplinary and theoretical approaches that scholars use in their study of the region. The first semester of the seminar also serves as a workshop in writing and researching techniques, helping students to sharpen their skills before they begin the extended research paper required in the second semester. Below is an outline of how the course is usually structured. Specific assignments and readings vary from one semester to another and will be stated on the instructor's syllabus.

Semester I — REES 492/898

Semester I of the REES Seminar is offered to students in their first semester of the MA program as well as BA students in their penultimate semester. The aims of the course are to:

  • Introduce students to current methodological and interpretative issues in Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies by reading a wide sampling of recent scholarly literature;
  • Distinguish the different disciplinary fields in Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, their theoretical and methodological underpinnings, and the questions that scholars in the disciplines address;
  • Give students in-depth training in research and writing techniques;
  • Provide students a thorough introduction to the Slavic collections in Watson Library and appropriate databases.


A range of books that offer a survey of the scholarly literature in Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies are assigned. In addition, three texts on research and writing are required each semester:

  • Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, Joseph Williams, The Craft of Research(Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995)
  • Strunk and White, The Elements of Style (4th ed., 1999)
  • Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (6th ed., Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996)


In-class participation. The class meets once a week and attendance at all class sessions is mandatory. Students engage in a variety of activities during the sessions: discussions of the assigned readings, critiques of papers, and in-class writing assignments. The success of the course depends upon the involvement of all students; therefore, students are expected to be prepared for each class and to be actively involved.

Bibliographic Essay. For their final assignment, students research and write an 8- to 10-page bibliographic essay dealing with a focused topic (each student must clear the topic of his or her essay with the instructor). The aims of this assignment are to familiarize students with resources available in the KU Libraries' Slavic Collection and the Libraries' databases, and to introduce them to the body of literature, across the disciplines, on a single subject in the field.

For students who take Semester II of the seminar and write their research papers in the spring, the bibliographic essay is an important first step for the larger research project. Students who do not take the second part of the seminar in the spring but already have a planned topic in mind may also use this assignment as preparation for their later research.

NOTE: While students need not have a topic for the research paper determined by the beginning or end of Semester I, they must have a clear idea of a topic in mind when they begin Semester II in their last semester of the program. Students are expected to consult with the Seminar instructor as well as other faculty during the course of their program in order to determine an appropriate research topic. At the start of Semester II, students work immediately to identify sources and compile a firm bibliography for their research project.



Among the topics discussed and readings that have been assigned in this course are:

  • What are Russia and Eastern Europe?
    • Timothy Garton Ash, "The Puzzle of Central Europe," New York Review of Books, 18 March 1999, 18-23.
    • Daniel Chirot, "Returning to reality: Culture, Modernisation, and Various Eastern Europes," Eurozine.com 
    • Iver B Neumann, "Russia as Central Europe's Constituting Other," East European Politics and Societies 7 (Spring 1993): 349-69.
    • Caedmon Staddon and David Turnock, "Environmental Geographies of Post-Socialist Transition," conclusion to East Central Europe and the Former Soviet Union, 231-46.
    • Jeno Szucs, "The Three Historical Regions of Europe: An Outline," Acta Historica Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae 29(1983): 131-84.
    • Maria Todorova, "The Balkans: From Invention to Discovery," Slavic Review 53:2 (Summer 1994): 453-82.
  • History: Debating Communism
    • Golfo Alexopoulos, "Portrait of a Con Artist as a Man," in Slavic Review 57:4 (Winter 1998): 774-90.
    • Sheila Fitzpatrick, "Introduction" to Stalinism: New Directions, 1-14.
    • Stephen E. Hanson, Time and Revolution: Marxism and the Design of Soviet Institutions.
    • Martin Malia, "Clio in Tauris: American Historiography on Russia," in Anthony Mohlo and Gordon S. Woods, eds., Imagined Histories: America Historians Interpret the Past, 415-33.
    • Robert Thurston, "Fear and Belief in the USSR's 'Great Terror': Response to Arrest, 1934-1939"; Robert Conquest, "What is Terror?"; Thurston, "On Desk-Bound Parochialism, Commonsense Perspectives, and Lousy Evidence: A Reply to Robert Conquest," all in Slavic Review 45:2 (Summer 1986): 213-44.
  • Politics of Post-Communism
    • Thomas F. Remington, "The Evolution of Executive-Legislative Relations in Russia since 1993," in Slavic Review 59:3 (Fall 2000): 500-520.
    • Janine Wedel, Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe, 1989-1999 (updated ed., St. Martin's 2001)
  • Post-Communism as a Social, Economic and Cultural Experience
    • Judit Bodnár, "Assembling the Square: Social Transformation in Public Space and the Broken Mirage of the Second Economy in Postsocialist Budapest," in Slavic Review 57:3 (Fall 1998): 489-515.
    • Eric Gordy, "The Destruction of Musical Alternatives," chap. 4 in The Culture of Power in Serbia, 103-164.
    • Katherine Verdery, "Dead Bodies Animate the Study of Politics," chap. 1 in The Political Lives of Dead Bodies, 22-53.
  • Literature and the Arts: High Art and Pop Culture
    • Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox," in Russian Thinkers, 22-82.
    • Leon Lowder, "The Crystal Café: Bulgarian Democratic Rock and Roll after 1989," in John C. Micgiel, ed. The Transformations of 1989-1999: Triumph or Tragedy? 243-63.
    • Richard Taylor, "Singing on the Steppes for Stalin: Ivan Pyr'ev and the Kolkhoz Musical in Soviet Cinema," in Slavic Review 58:1 (Spring 1999): 143-59.
  • Religion and Philosophy: Searching for Identity
    • Isaiah Berlin, "Tolstoy and Enlightenment," in Russian Thinkers, 238-60.
    • James Billington, "Background," part I of The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, 1-43.
    • Roumen Daskalov, "Modern Bulgarian Society and Culture through the Mirror of Bai Ganio," in Slavic Review 60:3 (Fall 2001): 530-49.
    • Jaroslav Hrytsak, "History of Names: A Case of Constructing National Historical Memory in Galicia, 1830-1930s," in Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 48:2 (2001): 163-77.

Semester II — REES 496/899

The aims of Semester II of the REES Seminar are straightforward. Students in the course:

  • Identify an original research topic, and
  • Independently research and write a serious and extended research project of publishable quality, using both English- and foreign-language resources.

After the initial class meeting, students prepare a working bibliography and an outline of their planned paper. While the independent writing exercise tests self-discipline and the ability to work without constant faculty supervision, it does not need to be accomplished alone. Students should consult the instructor and faculty mentors at any point that they feel the need for additional guidance. Students should also feel free to consult with each other. Everyone's research topic is different, but the problems (writer's block, getting in gear, developing a compelling argument, figuring out footnotes, etc.) are similar. Comparing progress with other class members or reading and critiquing each other's drafts can be useful.

Students should complete their penultimate drafts by the middle of the semester and prepare to defend them in a formal presentation of approximately 25 minutes. The presentation is not a summary of the research process and a synopsis of the paper; rather, it offers an organized presentation of the paper's subject, the principal arguments and supporting evidence, and the relation of the research problem to the greater body of scholarship on the region.

The instructor and other students (both Semester I and II) read the paper closely before the presentation. After the presentation, the entire class participates in a 30-minute critique and discussion, addressing format, methodology, content, and conclusions.


  • Session 1: Semester I and II students meet together for the first hour only to discuss syllabus and procedure.
  • Session 3: Submit working bibliography and outline of the project.
  • Sessions 4-7: No class meetings. During this period, each student is responsible for producing a complete draft of his or her research paper.
  • Sessions 8-11: Paper presentations. Submit 3 copies of the paper to the REES office at least ten days before the presentation.
  • Sessions 12-15: Revise papers into final form. Attend class to hear individual presentations of preliminary proposals and critique by the class.
  • DATE OF FINAL: SUBMIT FINAL VERSION OF SEMINAR PAPERS. Graduating MA students post their capstone papers on Blackboard as part of their MA Portfolios and defend it orally with other parts of the portfolio during 13-15 weeks of the final semester of the MA program.


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