History Student Conference – Tsarist Russia

A level History Student Conference on Tsarist Russia

On 27th November 2013 Post 16 History students attended an A level conference in Birmingham where they had the opportunity to listen to some of the top experts in their field. The conference was all about Tsarist Russia from 1881-1924, the topic students have to study in order to complete their A level coursework.

Professor Chris Read from Warwick University opened the proceedings with ‘Under pressure: how serious was the nature of opposition to Tsarism in Russia, 1881-1904?’ His lecture argued that the real Russian revolutionaries were the Tsars themselves who, by refusing to make any reforms, actually made the revolution more likely.

Professor Robert Service from Oxford University followed with ‘Tsarism on Trial: how far was Russia’s experiment in constitutional government 1906-1914 doomed from the start?’ As an author Professor Service is best known for his 2000, 2004, and 2009 biographies of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky, the latter winning the 2009 Duff Cooper prize, a literary prize awarded for the best work of history, biography or political science.

Dr Daniel Beer from Royal Holloway delivered a lecture entitled ‘An Untimely Demise: what was the significance of Stolypin’s career and death?’ in which he argued that Stolypin “the last, best hope for the Tsarist regime” presided over a period of uncontrollable change in Russian society during which 60,000 people were executed without trial giving rise to the phrase ‘a Stolypin necktie’ as a metaphor for the hangman’s noose.

Dr Chris Ward from Cambridge University tackled the question ‘The Man from Yanovka: how important was Trotsky to the Bolshevik cause 1917-1924?’ during which he gave an interesting personal insight into the importance of Trotsky and his role in the Bolshevik cause from 1917-1924.

‘The lectures were engaging but sometimes had too much information to remember. Professor Service was more concise, but was not as enthusiastic as I expected him to be. The lack of a PowerPoint presentation meant that some information was missed whilst noting down other material. Dr Chris Ward, apart from the fact that he looked like Dr Dowd, managed to narrow what he taught down to the essentials; the information that we must know about Leon Trotsky’. Emily O

‘I enjoyed Professor Service’s lecture the most. His argument that far from being a stubborn autocratic ruler, as many historians portray him, Tsar Nicholas II actually allowed concessions (e.g. the formation of trade unions in St. Petersburg and the establishment of the Duma, a sort of workers assembly) in order to resolve unhappiness across Russian society was informative and interesting’. Qamraan M

‘I liked Dr Ward’s lecture on Trotsky and I found his parallels between Cromwell, Napoleon and Trotsky interesting and helpful for my work. I wish that more of the lecturers had supplied hand-outs to accompany their power points’. Krzysztof T

By Mr. S. Jackson