Dr. Peter B. Brown

  • Adjunct Faculty I

My Philosophy…and a Little History

From my high-school days until well into college, I aspired to become a public high-school teacher. Inspiring high school teachers fed my desire to learn and to communicate what I knew as well as to innovate and encourage.

I have lived in different parts of this country (West Coast, mid-West, Northeast) and in different Western and Eastern European countries and in the former Soviet Union. I have acquired over many years considerable insight and experience in teaching and interacting with students of an enormous variety of national and international and language backgrounds. I bring to my teaching a profound awareness of diversity and how establishing close rapport with students is key for successful teaching and learning.

For nearly three years when I was an undergraduate, I was an on-site, weekly tutor of a Latino high-school student. Working one-on-one with him was a valuable experience and an enriching one to see a student develop academically and broaden his scope. A decade later, while living in Poland, for half a year I taught English as a second language to numerous students, all of whom were at different levels of English-language proficiency and whom I tutored individually. In both situations my knowledge of Spanish and Polish helped considerably. In between these time periods I spent one year as an exchange doctoral student at Moscow State University during the Soviet period. I observed at close hand the intensity and dedication of Russian professors as they engaged with their students. I have experienced firsthand what it means to live abroad in countries where the language is not one’s native tongue. All of these experiences contributed significantly to my philosophical and experiential growth as a teacher.

Prior to coming to RIC, I taught Russian, Soviet, Eastern European, and Early Modern European social history at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Islamic Civilization, Modern China, Latin American history, and Soviet history at George Williams College, Downers Grove, Illinois; Western Civilization at Loyola University, Chicago; and Eastern Slavic and Russian history to 1861 at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut.

A native Southern Californian, I received my B.A. at Stanford University. I then worked in the industrial tool and sheet metal business for a couple of years before moving to South Side Chicago. I received my M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. There, I wrote my internationally recognized doctoral dissertation, “The Evolution of Early Modern Russian Bureaucracy: the Chancellery System from Ivan III to Peter the Great, 1478-1725,” which has been cited scores of times in the scholarly works of others. I have published over forty articles and book chapters; edited and co-edited ten volumes on Russian, Soviet, and Finno-Ugric studies; and presented over one hundred papers at national and international conferences and some ten papers at RIC. I have several book-length manuscripts near completion concerning Early Modern unfree labor in Eurasia and the Americas, Muscovite Russian (pre-1700) government administration and the military, and the inclusion of the Finnic and Ugric peoples of Central and Northern Russia into the Russian state.

Over the decades I have attended many national and international conferences. I was President of the Finno-Ugric Studies Association of Canada from 2008 to 2014. During that time I built up our roster from over fifty to two hundred, and organized three conferences that featured participants from North America, Western and Eastern Europe, the Eastern Baltic states, Russia, and Australia.


Ph.D., University of Chicago, History.
M.A., University of Chicago, History. 
B.A., Stanford University, History.

Selected Publications

Studies and Essays on the Soviet and Eastern European Economies by Arcadius Kahan. Edited by Peter B. Brown. 2 vols. Newtonville, Mass: Oriental Research Partners. Vol. 1 (published works), 1991. Vol. 2 (unpublished works), 1994.

“Muscovite Arithmetic in Seventeenth-Century Russian Civilization: Is It Not Time to Discard the ‘Backwardness’ Label,” Russian History 39, no. 4 (2012): 393-459.

“Towards a Psychohistory of Peter the Great: Trauma, Modeling, and Coping in Peter’s Personality,” Festschrift for Richard Hellie, University of Chicago. 2 parts. Edited by Lawrence Langer and Peter B. Brown. Idyllwild, Calif.: Charles Schlacks, Jr. Published as a special edition in Russian History, 35, nos. 1-2 (Spring-Summer 2008): 19-44.

“Bureaucratic Administration in Seventeenth-Century Russia,” Modernization of Muscovy (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), 57-78.

"Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich: Military Command Style and Legacy to Russian Military History," in The Military and Society in Russia 1450-1917 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), pp. 119-45.


History 103 Multiple Voices: Europe in the World To 1600

History 104 Multiple Voices: Europe in the World Since 1600

History 207 History Through Numbers (AQSR)

History 275 Russia from Beginning to End (Connections Category)

History 311, The Origins of Russia to 1700
Early Russian history is a whirlwind of encounters with the origins of peoples on the Eastern European plain, the Vikings, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the steppe peoples and Mongols, the growth of Moscow, distinctively non- European developments, the creation of the enduring service state model, the tsars (Oi! Ivan the Terrible), unique cultural and gender practices, and warfare and diplomacy. Early Russian history constructed a distinctive “Russian Road” in World Civilization and is a platform for (re-) examining European, Asian, and world history in general. The pathway to understanding contemporary Russia is through older Russian history.

History 312, Russia from Peter to Lenin
1700 to 1917 encompasses Peter the Great and the 1917 Russian Revolutions. Imperial Russia and its many nationalities underwent wrenching challenges and inaugurated momentous changes. The government thrust itself into European, Asian, and even North American affairs to an unprecedented extent. As the “first developing nation,” the Russian state expanded its selective borrowing from the West and became a model for later Japan, China, and yet other non-Western societies. Despite superficial cultural Westernization and brushes with the Enlightenment, the contradictions of serfdom, a parasitic noble class, and autocracy remained, and Russia continued on its divergent trajectory. They set the stage for the revolutionary movement and the Bolshevik Party’s eventual triumph.

History 313, The Soviet Union and After
The October 1917 Russian Revolution established the rule of Lenin and his Bolsheviks and an alternative civilization. The fascinating history of the Lenin-Stalin regime and its transformative events (Civil War, Stalin Revolution, World War II) are the focus of this course as well as the record of Stalin’s successors. Within three generations from Lenin’s seizure of power, the Soviet Union, despite having attained super-power status, collapsed in 1991. Why did this happen? How should we understand the post-Soviet regimes in Russia and in the other former Soviet republics and their role in Eurasia and the world? What is the impact of the ongoing Russo- Ukrainian War upon the two belligerents and the world?

History 361. Reading Seminar in History (now retired)

History 521. Topics in Comparative History. Graduate Seminar

History 561. Graduate Seminar in History

History 562. Graduate Reading Seminar

My undergraduate and graduate seminars address such topics as comparative Eastern and Western European Medieval and Early Modern social histories; comparative serf and slave systems in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Americas; the relationships among environment, ecology, nutrition, populations, and social systems from late Medieval times into the nineteenth century; the social history of Early Modern Europe; methodologies and the historiography of comparative historical investigation; themes in Soviet and post-Soviet history from 1917 to the present; gender and sexual identities in Russia from 1861 to the 2000s; popular culture in the early Soviet period; the economic history of the U.S.S.R.; the World War II experience in Soviet life and culture; comparative Eurasian totalitarian regimes; Joseph Stalin; Nikita Khrushchev; the “new” Russia since 1991; culture and gender in post-1991 Russia; the Balkans from 1945 to the present; and comparative Soviet and Chinese Communist experiences.

Directed Reading Courses

History 389. History Matters III: Senior Research Project
History 390 Directed Study
History 491, 492 Independent Study (Undergraduate Honors)
History 571. Graduate Reading Course in History

Additional Information

Teaching Fields at Rhode Island College

I am a specialist in Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian history, and have wide-ranging interests in other international histories and in methodologies. I reflect these interests in a broad spectrum of undergraduate and graduate courses that I teach at Rhode Island College. My History 200- and 300-level courses on Russian Civilization encompass the cultures, histories, and other developments of the peoples inhabiting the land area of the former Soviet Union, from approximately 3,500 B.C.E. into the third millennium A.D. My courses utilize art and architecture, diplomacy, economics, law, literature, military affairs, politics, religion, women's and gender studies, and other disciplines to assist our investigations. I teach also 100-level GedEd history courses and graduate seminars.

Russia--Soviet, Imperial, and Pre-Petrine (Kievan and Appanage Rusʹ, Muscovite Russia)
Central and Eastern Europe
Europe--Medieval and Modern, Social, Economic, Demographic, Political History
Western Civilization, China Under Mao
World History
Historiography, Methodology, and Source Criticism
Comparative and Social History

Researching for the Historical Community

Basic Research Fields
Early Modern Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, and Lithuanian Social,
Administrative, Military, and Political History to 1750.
Northern Rus', Russia, 800-1500.
International Unfree Labor Systems, 1400s-1800s.
Quantitative Historical Research.
Comparative Medieval and Early Modern European History.
Finno-Ugric Studies, the Eastern Baltic, and the Russian Arctic.
Language, Historical Linguistics, Culture, Ethnic Studies.

Most Recent Research Fields
Lithuanian and Polish political history, late 1800s to 1940.
Reassessment of European Marxist criticisms of the Soviet Union, 1920s-1960s.