Why did democracy fail to take root in Russia in 1917?
Second edition. February 2020.

In the spring of 1917, millions of Russian people poured into the streets and clamored for “revolution,” a word that meant different things to different people at the time. The Russian Revolution focuses on the political, social, and economic conditions that led to the fall of the tsar and explores the competing political ideologies that contested Russia’s future in 1917.

Using primary sources, maps, readings, and a simulation, students explore the historical opportunities that allowed Lenin and the Bolsheviks to take power.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


The Geography and People of the Russian Empire

Using maps and contemporary photographs, students consider how geography affected the governance of the Russian Empire and formulate questions about Russian history.

Peasant Life in the Russian Empire

Through investigation of statistics, photographs, and a painting, students explore the role of peasants in the Russian Empire.

The October Manifesto and Russia's New Fundamental Laws

Students examine the Russian Fundamental Laws of 1906 and their impact on the tsar’s rule and then consider the relationship between the law and power.

Women, War, and Revolution

After assessing primary source documents representing perspectives of women in Russia about World War I, students consider the question of what it means to be a revolutionary.

The Choices Role Play

Drawing on primary sources, students work cooperatively and take on the roles of the Constitutional Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, and undecided citizens to consider the political options debated in the Spring of 1917.

A Country in Turmoil: Two Experiences of Uncertainty

Students analyze two young women’s memoirs to identify the role political uncertainty played in ordinary people’s lives and responses to the events of the Russian Revolution.

Three Representations of Lenin

Students examine three political cartoons of Lenin, place them in their historical context, and then consider the role of ideology in the interpretation of history.


Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Althaus, Frank, Mark Sutcliffe, and Nina Sampson. Eyewitness 1917: The Russian Revolution as It Happened. London: Fontanka, 2019.

Chamberlin, William Henry. The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1935.

Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy; The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1996.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Structure of Soviet History: Essay and Documents. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Ulam, Adam. The Bolsheviks. New York: MacMillan, 1965.

An excellent collection of primary sources (including documents, images, audio, video) from the Soviet era.
More than two thousand color photographs of Imperial Russia taken between 1905 and 1915.
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