University Honors ProgramUniversity of Cincinnati

University Honors Program

Russia's 1812: History and Myth in Tolstoy's War and Peace (15HIST399H)

Honors Seminar with Study Tour to Moscow, Russia

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is one of the greatest novels of all time.  It’s also perhaps the defining work of modern Russian culture.  Through the novel, we watch one of the pivotal moments of Russian history unfold – Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.  And we see the country’s response to this immense crisis in an evocative interweaving of personal stories and experiences that capture Tolstoy’s views of life and death, courage and weakness, grace and selfishness, divine will and individual action.   Tolstoy was born in 1828 and began publishing his novel in the 1860s, but the power of the work was so great at the time that his contemporaries read it as if it were a true chronicle of events, and this is still the case today.  It’s almost impossible to understand the happenings and emotions of 1812 – and some would say even modern Russia itself – without engaging with this novel.  Tolstoy’s genius allowed him to transform memory into fiction and then fiction back into history again.

This course is designed to explore the meaning of Russia’s war with Napoleon through Tolstoy’s novel, paying equal attention to the historical context of the time and to Tolstoy’s historical interpretation of the war.   Though he engaged universal themes, Tolstoy wrote War and Peace as a kind of national epic – an attempt to explain Russian history.  In this respect, it is a perfect vehicle for helping us to think about key issues of the country’s modern experience: the relationship between nation and empire, freedom and autocracy, religion and power, culture and politics, and between the country’s diverse social classes, in particular the nobility and the peasantry. 

At the same time, the novel is also a rich expression of cultural memory, so we will also pay attention to the way in which the novel exposes all the problems of memory as a part of the historical process.  How does memory work?  How does it shape understandings of history?  Is there such a thing as national memory?  And what is – or should be – the relationship between history and myth?

Study Tour

In the hope of bringing the history of 1812 and Tolstoy’s masterwork to life, we will conclude our course with an nine-day study trip to Russia where we will visit sites related to 1812 and to Tolstoy’s life, including Moscow, Smolensk, the battlefield (now historical park) of Borodino, Tula, and Yasnaya Poliana, Tolstoy’s rural estate near Tula in central Russia where the author wrote his great novel and pondered the workings of history and faith, romantic love, national attachment, divine will and individual responsibility. 

Travel dates are expected to be Friday, March 18 - Friday, March 25, 2011.


Costs are currently expected to be $2600-2900 per student (not including most meals or ISIC card). University Honors will provide each participant with an $800 grant to offset these costs, making the actual expected costs about $1800-2200 (not including meals, ISIC card or passport). Students must be in good standing with University Honors to receive the grant. Expected costs will be updated as final travel plans are made and are highly contingent upon airfare.

Students are required to purchase an ISIC (International Student Identity Card) from UC International for $22. This is not included in the total expected cost.

Participants can apply for grants from UC International. You must have a current FAFSA on file to be eligible for a grant from UC International. 


All participants must have a valid passport. Passport must be valid for 6 months after travel. Passport costs are the responsibility of the student. If you do not already have a passport, or if your passport will not be valid for the required time period, begin the application/renewal process as soon as possible.


Students must apply to participate in this course. Complete the application and submit it to Debbie Brawn at Application deadline was Thursday, October 7. We are keeping a waiting list. Applications can still be submitted after the deadline; students will be placed on the waiting list.

UC students who are not in the University Honors Program may apply to participate, provided the student has a cumulative university GPA of 3.4 or above. Priority is given to University Honors students, but we are sometimes able to offer spaces to other students as well. A waiting list will be maintained.


Contact Dr. Willard Sunderland ( or Debbie Brawn (

Russia trip
Moscow trip
image of Tolstoy
Moscow trip- subway map