The Ruling Families of Rus'


Wednesday, March 24, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:15pm


YouTube (public); Zoom (registration required)

Donald Ostrowski, Lecturer in History at the Extension School, Harvard University
Christian Raffensperger, Professor and Chair of History, Wittenberg University and Associate of the Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University

Register for the Zoom session (space is limited) or watch live on YouTube.




Donald Ostrowski and Christian Raffensperger will present their current book project, which focuses on the families that ruled Rus'

Dynasties are one of the main ways that we understand, and structure, history. For instance, the lead up to the first World War is often discussed through the lens of the Hohenzollerns, the Romanovs, and the Hapsburgs; their actions and interactions. And while this can be a useful tool for understanding relationships, it can also be deceptive as it elides personal agency, family loyalty (separate from, but within dynasty) and especially the important role that women play in history. All of this is particularly true for the medieval period where, generally, dynasties are post-facto constructs designed to lend historical legitimacy to their cause.

If dynasties are then difficult to discuss in the medieval world, where does this leave us? The answer is with families. Families are the building blocks of dynasties and it is through studying families – fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and spouses of both – that we are able to better understand the human face of history. Families, in turn, are part of more extended kin entities that we call clans, which themselves can comprise multiple families which may, or may not, always share the same overarching objectives.

Utilizing a focus on family, grounded in the inclusion of women in history, this forthcoming book tells the stories of ruling families in Rus’ from the eleventh through the sixteenth century. Each chapter will discuss the core marital relationship of the father and mother, and then the children, their lives, and their marriages. Through this focus on individuals within families, the story of Rus’ – from Novgorod in the north to Kyiv in the south, with Moscow in the east, and Vladimir-Volhynia in the west – and how those individuals interacted with one another, but also with people from throughout medieval Europe will be told. This story will include princesses from England, Queens in France, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere, Byzantine emperors, Polovtsian rulers, Mongol khans, and many more. In this way, it will be demonstrated that the history of Rus’, and especially the history of its ruling families, is a microcosm of medieval Europe.

About the Speakers

Donald OstrowskiDonald Ostrowski is a Lecturer in History at the Harvard University Extension School, where he has taught for forty years. He has numerous publications including three monographs, the most recent being Who Wrote That? Authorship Controversies from Moses to Sholokhov (2020), and six co-edited collections of articles. His edition of The Povest’ vremennykh let: An Interlinear Collation (HURI, 2003) received the Early Slavic Studies Association Award for Distinguished Scholarship.

Christian RaffenspergerChristian Raffensperger is professor and chair of History at Wittenberg University. He is the author of several books including Reimagining Europe: Kievan Rus’ and the Medieval World and Conflict, Bargaining, and Kinship Networks in Medieval Eastern Europe. The larger goal of his work is to demonstrate the interconnectivity of medieval Europe and to break down the barrier between eastern and western Europe created and perpetuated in the historiography.

Moderator: Michael Flier, Oleksandr Potebnja Professor of Ukrainian Philology, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

Watch on YouTube


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