Academic Department Introduction

Wellesley’s Russian Department was founded in the 1940s by famed author and critic Vladimir Nabokov. We teach Russian in the broader context of Russian society, culture, visual art, and music. Our innovative language courses make use of movies, music, and history. Numerous activities both inside and outside the classroom are designed to enrich students’ appreciation of the achievements and fascinating traditions of Russian civilization.

Learning goals

  • Converse fluently in Russian.

  • Comprehend important primary and secondary texts from the Russian literary tradition.

  • Discover and delineate the major themes of Russian literature and culture from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

Programs of Study

Russian major

Students express an understanding of Russian culture clearly and persuasively.

Course highlights

  • Survey of Russian fiction from the Age of Pushkin (1820s-1830s) to Tolstoy's mature work (1870s) focusing on the role of fiction in Russian history, contemporaneous critical reaction, literary movements in Russia, and echoes of Russian literary masterpieces in the other arts, especially film and music. Major works by Pushkin (Eugene Onegin, "The Queen of Spades"), Lermontov (A Hero of Our Time), Gogol (Dead Souls), Pavlova (A Double Life), Turgenev (Fathers and Children), Tolstoy (Anna Karenina), and Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment) will be read.
  • An examination of the artistic legacy of the great novelist, critic, lepidopterist, and founder of Wellesley College's Russian Department. Nabokov became one of the greatest novelists in both Russian and English literature. Students will read Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire, which were written in English, and Nabokov's English translations of two of his best Russian novels: The Defense and Invitation to a Beheading. The class will also discuss his utterly unique autobiography, Speak, Memory.

Research highlights

  • Students smile and discuss with each other in a classroom.

    Senior Lecturer Alla Epsteyn and co-author Maia Solovieva wrote a chapter, “Extracurricular Activities in Russian Language and Culture Programs: Challenges and Perspectives,” in The Art of Teaching Russian (2020), an edited volume on Russian language instruction combining the latest research, pedagogy, and practice.

  • A student in Severance Hall hides in a trash can, holding something above their head as another student passes by behind.

    Beware of House Slippers (2019) is a film written, acted, and produced by students in RUSS 306: Advanced Russian II. Set on the Wellesley campus, it imitates the stylistic and plot devices of the film Beware of the Car!, a 1966 comedy by Eldar Ryazanov.

  • Closeup of Russian words written on a chalkboard. A professor stands off to the side of the chalkboard.

    Shea McCarthy ’23 conducted an independent study of Natalia Rakhmanova’s 1976 Russian translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, paying particular attention to the translator’s methods for rendering the novel’s songs and riddles.


  • Internships (currently suspended)

    Our department offers three internship opportunities in Russia at Donors Forum, Carnegie Moscow Center, and Andrei Bely Memorial Apartment Museum.

  • Wintersession in Moscow (currently suspended)

    We usually offer а three-week Wintersession program in Moscow. As part of a unique course team-taught by the Russian Area Studies Program and the Environmental Studies Program, 12 students and two professors spend a month in Siberia studying the local culture and biology of Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest, deepest, and most voluminous lake.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

Russian, the eighth most commonly spoken language in the world, and considered a critical language by the U.S. State Department, can get you a job. American emissaries with a nuanced knowledge of the Russian language and cultural norms are urgently needed.

Recent Employers

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Department of Russian

Founders Hall
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Thomas Hodge
Department Chair
Katie Sango-Jackson
Academic Administrator