Atlanta Course Info

Russian History and Literature Through the 20th Century   Registration Info

Robert Miller '67 LAW  

Wednesdays, October 4 - November 8, 7:00 - 8:30 pm

Location: All Saints Episcopal Church, 634 West Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA


Course Description: 

This course will explore the interactions among Russian literature and the fraught and often painful history endured by the Russian people in the 20th century. The class will seek to find explanations and themes that could be useful to understand and explain motivating forces which shape the Russian nation and people of today. 

Professor Miller will select from his considerable collection of Russian histories and literary works a focused sample of readings for the class, so as to provide a background of understanding and a starting point for discussion and informed analysis. This is not an easy task, as Winston Churchill famously noted in 1939, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…” Most stop the quote at that point, but Churchill continued, “…but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” 

Why Russia?

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Russia’s industrial development lagged at least 30 to 40 years behind Western Europe and America. Its agricultural productivity lagged the West by at least 100 years. Russia’s large peasant population was freed—to some extent—from virtual slavery only in 1861. But the illiteracy rate in the countryside was at least 80% at the outbreak of World War I in 1914.  Under both the Tsars and the Soviets, governance was by means of a cruel, creaky, rigid bureaucracy.

By every socio-economic measurement, the Russia of the 19th and early 20th centuries was a backwater—talked about, thought about and allowed to participate in world affairs because of its large population, its natural resources and its enormous land mass and for no other reason.

And yet; and yet. Look at what this governance backwater has produced. In ballet, Russia has given us Balanchine, Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. In literature, Russia has given us Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn.

In art and music, it gave us Chagall, Horowitz, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.

Most of us know little about Russian science other than the names Pavlov and Sakharov. An American physics professor, in the 1970’s and 1980’s would frequently go to the Soviet Union—Leningrad or Moscow—for physics conferences. When asked “Why Russia?”; he said, “ in my field of plasma and atomic beam physics, they are the best.”

The Russian-born and trained physicist, George Gamow in 1948 first proposed the Big Bang theory. At Los Alamos, a Russian, George Kistiakowsky, a Harvard chemistry professor who had served in the White Army during the Russian Civil War, made the implosion theory work.

In Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak describes Russia like this: “This vast expanse is Russia…famed far and wide, martyred, stubborn, extravagant, crazy, irresponsible, adored, Russia with her eternally splendid, and disastrous, and unpredictable adventures.”

The contrast between backward, dark, cruel Russia and the amazing people it produces long ago made me want to learn more, to try to figure it out.

I am still working on that project.


 Syllabus: TBD

Week 1- Oct 4:

Week 2- Oct 11: 

Week 3- Oct 18: 

Week 4- Oct 25: 

Week 5- Nov 1: 

Week 6- Nov 8: 


Registration Info

Robert Miller '67

Bob Miller graduated from the University of Georgia, Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a major in history. At Yale Law School he was awarded the John Currier Gallagher Prize. After Yale graduation, he practiced law in Atlanta for 31 years, focusing on health law. After retiring in 1998, he has served a director of numerous healthcare organizations, including Grady Memorial Hospital. He taught at Emory Law School for 15 years and has authored several articles on health law issues.

Since his retirement from his law practice, in a modest pursuit of the Renaissance Man, he has studied and taught for college alumni and church groups courses in two unrelated fields—western medieval church history and 20th century Russian history and literature.