Russian Empire Primary Source Activities | World History



This engaging primary source activity will teach your students about different parts of the Russian Empire with a focus on Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and the institution of serfdom. It’s a great resource for every World History class! Students will read some primary sources involving Peter the Great (written by a French historian in the early 1700s), a decree from Catherine the Great herself, and a Bolshevik historians analysis of how the emancipation of serfs led to the 1917 Russian Revolution. Great opportunity to practice historical thinking skills.

Additionally, this source has two pages of background information that is very useful in understanding the Russian Empire.

This activity is relevant to geopolitical events in the 21st century.

There is ZERO prep needed. Just print or load the activity to your Learning Management System (LMS). The activity includes a PDF and Google Docs version.

Choose the version that works best for your class!

Materials include

  1. Three primary sources from the Russian Empire time period
  2. Three pages of questions for the three primary sources

The first primary source is about Peter the Great’s reforms in Russia to westernize the country. It is written by Jean Rousset de Missy, and he details the new fashion requirements of Peter the Great. The second one is a decree from Catherine the Great showing how strict she was with the serfs while she was trying to be “enlightened” during the Enlightenment Era. The last one is a Bolshevik’s analysis on how the emancipation of serfs led to the Russian Revolution.

How to use this activity

There are many ways to use this activity. You can use it as an in-class activity or give it to students for homework. You can do one, two, or all three primary sources depending on how much time you want to spend on Russian history. If you do this activity in class, you can read the primary sources together or put the students into groups, then answer the questions that follow.

Students will be able to…

  • Have an understanding of the Russian Empire
  • A little context to better analyze the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine (this source is not about the invasion, but understanding the Russian Empire could help students analyze what is happening)
  • Think like a historian
  • Read, comprehend, and analyze primary sources
  • Improve vocabulary


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