ECON 490: Soviet and Post-Soviet Economic History

Link to course syllabus:



Reader requirements: One of the following: (1) professional experience in empirical economics, history, or international business–and interest in USSR economic/business history; or (2) diplomatic, economic, or business experience with former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe during the Cold War or transition era. In addition, especially desired are volunteers with the following: knowledge of econometrics, fluency in Russian, Ukrainian, or other Soviet language, personal experience with the Cold War, familiarity with conventions of Western academic writing practices.


  1. Course Information
  2. Schedule
  3. Giving Feedback

Course Information

Instructor: Prof. Charles Becker

This course traces economic factors leading to the downfall of the Russian Empire and the rise of the USSR, followed by an assessment of the decline and aftermath of the USSR. Particular attention is devoted to the NEP period, earlier Soviet economic models, the famine of the 1930s, the impact of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), industrialization and urbanization, Soviet planning, and declining productivity growth and life expectancy in the in the 1970s and 1980s. The course then explores the economic consequences of the USSR’s collapse as well as the nature of recovery in various countries that followed. The course concludes with an overview of formal political economy models. Students will be encouraged to explore census data, household surveys, and other data sources.

Student Writing Assignment

What are students writing pertaining to the Reader Project? 1.)Literature review and research project proposal; 2.) Empirical research paper
For whom? Economists, historians who may not have a background in Soviet/Cold War history
Where would such writing typically be found? Scientific journals, as article in an edited volume on Soviet and post-Soviet economic issues; honors thesis
Why would someone usually read it? Scholarly interest, research


Schedule for Student – Reader Interactions

Deadlines pertaining to the Duke Reader Project:

An informal introductory meeting between the student and the reader should be scheduled no later than September 15th. 

Interaction #1: Literature Review and Project Proposal

  • Students need to submit a literature review and a research project proposal to reader after September 18, or after professor has approved the project, whichever occurs earlier.
  •  Students should discuss sources relation to each other and as related to their own research question/interests. Paragraphs should hang together around a single idea, but not one paragraph per source.

Interaction #2: Research Paper

  • The research paper is expected to be a journal article-type research paper that could be developed into or submitted as an honors thesis. It should be 15-30 pages in length plus tables, on a topic of the student’s choice, but subject to instructor approval. The paper is expected to involve [a] original empirical or theoretical research, or [b] a comprehensive survey a topic, and provide policy analysis in light of recent data and research. Due on November 26th. Meeting with the reader should take place ideally before Thanksgiving.
  • Organization (should follow IMRD format, student will explain if unclear): logical, focused; each section appropriate in length
  • Validity of claims/conclusions: keeping claims limited within scope of evidence
  • Readability: vocabulary, coherence, definitions, etc. make sense for target audience 
  • Meaningful discussion of limitations of work

Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is the activity around which the entire project is designed. You may have considerable professional experience giving feedback on writing — whether to colleagues, employees, or other contexts — or perhaps this is an fairly novel experience. Given the aims and nature of the Reader Project, we are hoping that our volunteers engage with student writing in a particular way–one that is quite different from what is conventionally done in other contexts.

The primary aim of the project is to help students really understand what it means to write for readers, rather than as a school assignment. Think about the following when you give feedback, whether in writing or in real time:

  • Respond as a reader rather than as an editor. (They can get basic editorial help from others.) Focus on sharing your reactions to the draft as a user of such writing. What are you thinking as you read? More