Russian Revolution Thematic Essays







THEMATIC - Needs and Wants - Select two natural resources and/or products. Explain why they were needed, and how they impacted a civilization, empire and/or a reigion.  (Coal, Oil, Diamonds, Salt, Gold, Tea, Spices)

DBQ - Actions taken by the British Empire to control India, and the impact of their rule on the people and/or region.




THEMATIC - Imperialism - Select a country that engaged in imperialism, explain why they imperialized, and how imperialism affected the conquered and/or the conqueror. (Britain, Japan, France, Spain)

DBQ - Impact of Laws on society: Tukugawa Shogunate, Nazis, Republic of South Africa.


THEMATIC - Geography - Explain how two geographical obstacles were overcome by technology. (terrace farming,  caravel ships over the Atlantic, roads in the Andes, canals)

DBQ - Division of countries and its effect on people: Germany post WWII, Palestine, and British India.


THEMATIC - Belief Systems  - Explain two religions and show how they influenced society and/or a region. (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism)

DBQ - Problems caused by pollution and urbanization, and the degree to which these problems have been solved.




THEMATIC - Geography - choose two geographic conditions and show how they influenced social, political, and/or economic history of a country or region.  (Monsoons in India, Nile Floods, island isolation for Japan, Greek mountains separate each polis, ancient rivers).

DBQ - People who spoke about problems: Bartolome de Las Casas, Robespierre, and Gandhi.


THEMATIC - Belief System Movements - Explain a central principle of a belief system, and how that belief system spread and influenced a society or region. (Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, or other belief systems)

DBQ - Decline of Empires and the impact on society: Rome, Ottoman Empire, British.


THEMATIC - Movement of People and Goods - Explain how two groups or ideas moved from one place to another. Discuss how the movement influenced a group or society. (Religions, sugar, silk, salt, Columbian Exchange)

DBQ - Actions of people looking to increase power: Stalin, Pol Pot, Louis XIV.





THEMATIC - Human Rights - Choose 2 defenders of human rights, explain how they defended human rights, and the extent to which they were successful. (Gandhi's civil disobedience, Mandela ends apartheid, Locke promotes life, liberty, and property rights in the Enlightenment)  

DBQ - People changing environments (irrigation in Egypt, construction in Mesoamerica, coal mining in Great Britain) 



THEMATIC - Change - Individuals who Challenged Tradition - Choose two people who challenged tradition and evaluate the success of their challenge. (Gandhi and civil disobedience, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Lenin and Russian Revolution)

DBQ - Turning Points of the plague, Treaty of Nanjing, and assassination of Franz Ferdinand.



THEMATIC - Change - Leaders who brought change - Discuss how two leaders came to power, one policy or practice of each leader, and how that policy affected the people. (Gorbachev and Glasnost/Perestroika, Napoleon's Code,  William and Mary's Glorious Revolution and Bill of Rights)

DBQ - The global issues of armed conflict, disease, and child labor.







THEMATIC - Change - Collapse of Governments. Choose 2 government collapses and explain their circumstances and results. (Roman Empire leads to fragmented Europe, execution of Louis XVI ends the monarchy and eventually leads to the Reign of Terror, fall of the Shah leads to Iranian Revolution and rise of the Ayatollah, fall of Communism creates new nations and war in Eastern Europe)

DBQ - Effect of salt, cotton, and sugar on societies and regions.


THEMATIC - Change - Revolutions. Choose 2 Revolutions and explain their historical circumstances and effects. (French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Neolithic Revolution, Green Revolution)

DBQ - Technological advances by the Mongols (bow and stirrup), Spanish (caravel ships for exploration), and in India (railroads).


THEMATIC - Armed Conflict. Explain the circumstances of two armed conflicts and how they affected a country or specific group. (French Revolution, World War I, World War II, Sepoy Rebellion, Opium War)

DBQ - Economic development leads to change in Mexico, Botswana, and China.





THEMATIC - Individuals who developed or modified ideas. Explain the historical circumstances that led to the idea, an action taken because of this idea, and how the idea affected society. (Gandhi's civil disobedience, Martin Luther's 95 Theses, Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto).  

DBQ - Transportation methods unify and/or control regions. (Railroads, canals, and roads).



THEMATIC - Geography promoting or limiting interactions. Choose two geographic features, and show how they either limited or promoted human interaction. (Island geography isolated Japan, Mountains isolated the Greek polis, Sahara Desert isolated North from Sub-Saharan Africa, Nile River and Mediterranean Sea increased interactions).

DBQ - Autocratic rule helped and hindered a ruler's country. Shi Huangdi, Peter the Great, and Louis XIV.



THEMATIC - New technology changing existing technology. Describe two innovations and their effects on society or the world. (Gunpowder, printing press, nuclear power, aqueducts).

DBQ - Protest movements and reactions of the government to such protests. Women's Rights in Britain, Anti-Apartheid in South Africa, and pro-democracy in China.





THEMATIC - Geographicalfeatures influencing history and development of history. Select 3 features. (Industrial Revolution in England, Japan's isolated island, fertile crescent of Mesopotamia)

DBQ - Heliocentrism, Marxism, and Natural Rights. Choose two and explain the idea, as well as the impact on society.



THEMATIC - Technology. Show the positive or negative effects of two innovations (astrolobe, nuclear weapons, satellites)

DBQ - Human Rights violations in Ukraine, Rwanda, and Cambodia.



THEMATIC - Change - Choose two global issues since WWII, and show how solutions to those issues. (Nuclear Weapons, Deforestation, Terrorism, AIDS, Pollution)

DBQ - Conquest of the Mongols, Ottomans, and Spanish. Explain the reasons for conquest, how it was achieved, and the impact.







THEMATIC - Culture and Intellectual Life. Choose two philosophers or leaders, and explain their impact. (Gandhi, Locke, Mao, Napoleon, Aristotle)

DBQ - Agrarian, Green, and Neolithic Revolution.  (Choose 2)


THEMATIC - Change. Choose any 2 individuals who changed the world and explain how. Explain the specific idea and how it influenced a group or region. (Locke, Bolivar, Marx, Mandela)

DBQ - Geography. Choose from deserts, monsoons, and cold climates.


THEMATIC- Select a Nationalistic movement, explain causes, events, and results. (WWI, WWII, Otto von Bismarck, Bolivar)

DBQ - Belief Systems and their impact on society.






THEMATIC - Geography as either a promoter or hindrance to cultural diffusion. Choose 2 examples. (Japan's isolated island, Greek polis affected by mountains, the New World across the Atlantic Ocean)

DBQ - Leonardo da Vinci, Toussaint L'Ouverture, or Mohandas K. Gandhi. Choose 2, and explain achievements and impact on society.


THEMATIC - Human Rights Violations. Choose 2 examples, explain the history and why rights were violated, then discuss actions taken to end the violation. (Holocaust, pogroms, apartheid, Tiananmen Square.)

DBQ - Economic and Social Changes during the Middle Ages, Globalization, or Industrial Revolution (choose 2)


THEMATIC - Belief Systems. Choose 2 and explain impact on society. (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism)

DBQ - Usage and control of waterways and its political or economic effects.





THEMATIC - Change - Describe non-political revolutions (Scientific, Neolithic, Industrial, etc). Discuss the change and impact on society.

DBQ - Russia under the rule of Peter the Great, Germany under Adolf Hitler,and China under the rule of Mao Zedong. Choose 2 and explain impact on society.


THEMATIC - Belief Systems. Choose 2 and explain the religion, and the influence on followers life. (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism)

DBQ - Genocide, Weapons of Mass Destruction, threats to the environment. Choose 2. Describe the problem, and attempts to end it.


THEMATIC - Geography ... Humans modifying lands or environment. Choose 2 (Berlin Wall, Great Wall of China are examples given.)

DBQ - Migrations ... Choose 2. Jews to Palestine and Israel, Hindus and Muslims between India and Pakistan, and Africans to the Americas. Describe impact.





THEMATIC - Human Rights Violations. Choose two groups who experienced human rights violations, and the extent to which it was resolved. (Holocaust, Tiananmen Square, Cambodia, pogroms)

DBQ - French Revolution. The causes and impact.




THEMATIC - Political Change. Choose 1 example and explain why a government wanted change, how they changed, and the result. (Meiji Restoration, 5 Year Plan, Rise of Fascism, etc)

DBQ - Manorialism, Mercantilism, Communism. Choose 2 of these economic systems.


THEMATIC - Political Systems. Explain 2 systems and how they changed the world. (Communism, Monarchy, Direct Democracy, etc)

DBQ - Natural Resources helped or hindered societies. Coal, water, diamonds, oil.





THEMATIC - Change / Philosophers. Choose two philosophers or leaders and explain how they changed one nation. (Bismarck, Lenin, Gandhi, Locke, etc)

DBQ - Discuss imperialism from the point of view of both the imperialist, and the colonized.


THEMATIC - Conflict. Explain one conflict, its causes, opposing groups, and resolution. (French Revolution, WWI, WWII, Apartheid, Crusades)

DBQ - Positive and Negative effects of the Industrial Revolution.


THEMATIC - Trade Routes. Discuss 2, and explain the positive or negative effects. (OPEC, EU, Silk Roads, Trans Sahara Trade)

DBQ - The Cold War affecting other nations around the world (Europe, Asia, Latin America).





THEMATIC - Change / 20th Century. Choose 2 20th Century political events, explain them, and show their impact on society. (Rise and Fall of Communism, Cultural Revolution, End of apartheid, Berlin Wall construction or dismantling, etc)

DBQ - Conquest of the Mongols, Spanish, and French. Choose 2. Show the political, social, and/or economic impacts of their conquests.




THEMATIC - Global Problems. Explain causes of a global problem, and ways it has affected a nation or region. (Desertification, spread of disease, deforestation, overpopulation, etc)

DBQ - Causes and outcomes of Wars.


THEMATIC - Change / Leaders. Choose two leaders who created change. Explain the situation, how change occurred, and how it affected society. (Gandhi, Bolivar, Lenin, Napoleon, Mao Zedong)

DBQ - Printing Press, Steam Power, Atomic Bomb. Explain how technology changed the world. Choose 2.





THEMATIC - Change (Individuals) Choose two historical figures, explain their ideas, and how they positively or negatively affected the world. (Gandhi, Bolivar, Stalin, Locke, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Gutenberg, Mandela, Mao, Aristotle)

DBQ - Neolithic Revolution, Scientific Revolution, Green Revolution. Choose two and explain the changes resulting from them.



THEMATIC - Turning Points. Choose two turning point events, explain them, and explain their impact. (French Revolution, WWI, WWII, Renaissance, Crusades)

DBQ - British Imperialism. Discuss the causes, and negative effects.


THEMATIC - Economic Systems. Identify one society and one economic system used in that society. Give two features of that system, and show its impact on the society. (Industrial Revolution in England, Communism in the USSR.)

DBQ - World Epidemics. Describe why they spread, and the impact on a society or societies.




THEMATIC - Change, Revolutions. Choose a revolution. Give the causes, effects, and changes that resulted. (French Revolution, Russian, Iranian)

DBQ - Geographic features affecting Japan and England.


THEMATIC - Conflict. Choose 2 ethnic, cultural, religious, or political conflicts. Show the causes and effects. (Crusades, Holocaust, Tiananmen Square Massacre)

DBQ - Neolithic Revolution, Age of Exploration, Fall of Communism. Choose 2 and explain why its a turning point, and if that turning point was positive or negative.


THEMATIC - Geography Physical and Human. Choose one society before 1500 AD, and explain how it was influenced by a geographic feature. (Mountains in Greece, Monsoons in Asia, Ganges River in India, Nile in Egypt, Fertile Crescent) Do the same for a people after 1500 AD. (England is an island, the Industrial Revolution began there. Russia could not be invaded by Napoleon or Hitler.)

DBQ - Nationalism and a positive or negative influence around the world.




THEMATIC - Geography. Choose 2 nations or regions and show how geography affected their history. (river valleys of Egypt or Mesopotamia, Monsoons or Himalaya Mountains in Asia)

DBQ - Economic changes to society.



THEMATIC - Geography. Human activity has altered the land. Show the change to the environment and how it helped or hindered society. (Irrigation, terrace farming, canal systems, use of nuclear power.)

DBQ - Human rights violations after WWII.


THEMATIC - Change. Choose two individuals who brought about change, and explain the effects of that change. (Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Locke.)

DBQ - Mass movement of people. Political, economic, and social implications. 




THEMATIC - Economic change. Show how industrialization affected 1 nation. Show 2 ways that it led to changes for workers. Show how workers, reformers, or the government responded to these changes.

DBQ - French, Chinese, and Iranian Revolutions. Choose 2, and show the causes, results, and degree of success.


THEMATIC - Geography. Select 1 geographic feature and how it affected the development of a society. (Fertile crescent, Japan isolated on an island, natural harbors of England, etc)

DBQ - Industrialization leading to environmental problems.


THEMATIC - Turning Points. Show 2 turning points in history. Show the causes and impacts. (French Revolution, Neolithic Revolution, WWI)

DBQ - Women in society. Social or political impacts on women in different societies.



These Russian Revolution essay questions have been written and compiled by Alpha History authors, for use by teachers and students. They can also be used for short-answer questions and other research or revision tasks. If you would like to contribute a question to this page, please contact Alpha History:

Russia before 1905

1. Explain the challenges and difficulties faced by the tsarist government of Russia between the mid-1800s and 1905. How did tsarism respond to these challenges?

2. Discuss the relationship between the tsarist hierarchy, the Russian nobility and the powerful land-owning class. How did the actions of these groups contribute to the development of revolutionary sentiment?

3. On what basis did tsarism claim authority to rule Russia? What people or groups both reinforced and disseminated the idea of tsarist authority?

4. According to historian Orlando Figes, tsarism was held up by “unstable pillars”. Discuss the meaning and the validity of Figes’ analogy.

5. Compare Russia’s economy in the late 1800s to the economies of Britain, France and Germany. Why did Russia’s economic development fail to match that of her powerful European neighbours?

6. To what extent did the leadership and policies of Tsar Alexander III lay the groundwork for revolutions in Russia in 1905 and 1917?

7. Discuss the ideas, composition and methods of revolutionary movements in late 19th century Russia. To what extent were these movements able to reform or moderate tsarism?

8. Many writers considered Russia’s peasantry to be the most logical source of revolutionary energy. To what extent was this true? What obstacles were there to a ‘peasant revolution’ in Russia?

9. Explain how the program of economic modernisation championed by Sergei Witte contributed to revolutionary sentiment in Russia.

10. Evaluate Nicholas II’s fitness to rule as tsar, giving close attention to this personal qualities and his political and religious beliefs.

Revolutionary and reform movements

1. Describe the ideas and methods adopted by Russian revolutionary movements in the 50 years prior to 1905.

2. With reference to three specific groups, explain why 19th century Russian revolutionary groups were unable to overthrow, reform or moderate tsarism.

3. Why did the Russian Social Democratic Party (or SDs) split in 1903? What were the short-term and long-term ramifications of this split, both for the party and for Russia?

4. According to Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), what were the requirements for a successful revolutionary and a successful revolutionary party?

5. Discuss how the Bolshevik and Menshevik parties each attempted to foment change between 1905 and February 1917. Which group was more successful and why?

6. Discuss the size, composition and policy platform of the Socialist Revolutionary party. What role did this party play in opposing tsarism before and during the 1905 Revolution?

7. Examine the composition and policy positions of the liberal movement in early 1900s Russia. Who belonged to liberal groups and what system of government did they desire?

8. How did the formation, expansion and treatment of Russia’s industrial workforce contribute to a growth in revolutionary sentiment?

9. Evaluate the role played by the Bolshevik party and its individual members in both the 1905 and February 1917 revolutions.

10. It is often said that the Bolsheviks were a party formed in Lenin’s own image. To what extent is this statement true?

The 1905 Revolution

1. Explain how the tsar’s commitment to a war with Japan in 1904 would eventually weaken his authority and threaten his regime.

2. Was the petition drafted by Georgi Gapon and the Putilov workers in early 1905 a simple list of grievances about working conditions? Or was it an incitement to political revolution?

3. Explain the impact of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ shootings of 1905, both on public perceptions of tsarism and on the revolutionary movement in Russia.

4. One historian described the 1905 Revolution as “a revolution with five arms but no head”. To what extent was this true and how did it affect the outcomes of the revolution?

5. Examine the tsar’s responses to the 1905 Revolution and the growing demands for an elected Duma. What do they reveal about his commitment to reform?

6. What was contained in the October Manifesto and what impact did this document have on the progress of the 1905 Revolution?

7. Compare and evaluate the contribution of the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries to the 1905 Revolution.

8. Leon Trotsky described the events of 1905 as a “dress rehearsal” for the revolutions of 1917. What lessons do you think were learned by the Russian revolutionaries from 1905?

9. Explain how tsarist chief minister Piotr Stolypin responded to the events of 1905. How successful were these responses in reestablishing tsarist authority?

10. Explore the activities and the role of the first three Dumas between 1906 and 1912. To what extent were these bodies effective or influential?

The February Revolution

1. Examine the effectiveness and popularity of the tsarist government between 1912 and 1914. How and why did the outbreak of World War I impact on tsarist authority?

2. Discuss the actions of Grigori Rasputin between 1905 and 1916. How did Rasputin contribute to revolutionary sentiment in the build-up to February 1917?

3. Discuss the role played by the fourth Duma and its Provisional Committee in the development of the February Revolution and the overthrow of tsarism.

4. To what extent was Russia’s entry into World War I a product of tsarist mismanagement? Did Nicholas II contribute to his own doom – or was he a victim of circumstance?

5. Evaluate the argument that the tsar’s decision to take personal command of the army in 1915 marked the beginning of the end for his regime.

6. Describe the political, economic and social impact that World War I had on Russia and its people, with a particular focus on the year 1916.

7. Explain how errors of judgement and mismanagement by the tsar and tsarina in February 1917 contributed to the overthrow of tsarism.

8. Discuss the role of propaganda and public perception in bringing down tsarism in February 1917. Refer to at least three specific pieces of propaganda.

9. The February Revolution is often described as a “leaderless” revolution. Was this really the case? Which people and groups were responsible for the revolution?

10. According to one historian, “tsarism collapsed with a whimper”. Evaluate this statement, referring specifically to the actions of the tsar and his advisors.

The Provisional Government and October Revolution

1. Discuss the composition, support and political legitimacy of the Provisional Government in March 1917. Did this government have a greater mandate to rule than the tsarist regime it replaced?

2. Examine the political career and rise to prominence of Alexander Kerensky. To what extent was Kerensky a socialist, both before 1917 and during his service in the Provisional Government?

3. What challenge did the formation of the Petrograd Soviet and the issuing of its Order Number One pose to the Provisional Government?

4. Explain how and why the German government backed Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917. How was this perceived by Lenin’s opponents?

5. How did Lenin’s April 1917 speech at Finland Stand and the publication of his April Thesis shortly after radically transform the situation in Russia?

6. Give reasons for the political instability of the Provisional Government through the middle of 1917. What were the eventual outcomes of this instability?

7. Referring to specific conditions, policies and events, explain Kerensky’s statement that the Provisional Government had “authority without power” while the Petrograd Soviet had “power without authority”.

8. Explain how the ‘July Days’ and the Kornilov affair each affected the Bolsheviks and their position.

9. Describe the role of the Military Revolutionary Committee in overthrowing the Provisional Government.

10. Evaluate the ideas and actions of Leon Trotsky in 1917, comparing Trotsky’s contribution to the October Revolution with that of Lenin.

11. Was the overthrow of the Provisional Government in October 1917 a Bolshevik-engineered coup or a popular revolution?

12. Why has the Bolshevik capture of the Winter Palace become an iconic moment of the Russian Revolution? Is the significance of this event justified?

The Bolsheviks in power

1. To what extent was the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 supported by non-Bolshevik socialists and ordinary Russians?

2. Describe the system of government developed in the weeks following the October Revolution. To what extent did the Bolsheviks honour Lenin’s demand for “all power to the Soviets”?

3. Explain the policy of “state capitalism”, articulated by Lenin during the first months of Bolshevik rule. What was this policy intended to achieve?

4. Referring to specific Bolshevik policies from 1917 and 1918, evaluate the extent to which Lenin and his government were able to deliver “peace, bread and land” to the Russian people.

5. Discuss the formation, sitting and closure of the Constituent Assembly in December 1917 and January 1918. Why did Lenin permit elections for this body, only to close it almost immediately?

6. Was the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk a victory or a defeat for the Bolshevik government? What were the short-term and long-term impacts of this treaty, both for the Bolshevik movement and for the Russian people>

7. Describe the Bolshevik policy of war communism. What was it intended to achieve and how successful was it?

8. Explain the conditions and causes that led to the Red Terror of 1918. Was the Terror a response to circumstances – or were the Bolsheviks destined to call on terror as a means of ruling Russia?

9. Why was Trotsky’s leadership as war commissar critical to the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War? Identify and discuss five major contributions Trotsky made to the war effort.

10. Which groups or regions opposed the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War? Compare their political objectives, as well as their success in opposing the Bolshevik regime.

Crisis and consolidation

1. To what extent was the Great Famine of 1921 caused by Bolshevik policies? How did the Bolshevik regime respond to this catastrophe?

2. Discuss reasons for the formation and activities of the Workers’ Opposition. How did Lenin and the Bolshevik hierarchy respond to factionalism in the party?

3. Explain the reasons for the outbreak of the anti-Bolshevik uprising at Kronstadt in early 1921. What impact did this rebellion have on the Bolshevik regime?

4. Was the New Economic Policy, passed by Lenin and his government in 1921, a “strategic retreat” – or a sign that their revolution had failed?

5. In 1921 Lenin called for party unity and an end to factionalism. Discuss the impact that events like Kronstadt and the NEP had on unity within the Bolshevik movement.

6. “The Bolsheviks were successful revolutionaries but failures at political leadership and economic management.” Discuss the validity of this statement.

7. Lenin once likened revolutions to locomotives that must be driven fast but kept “on the rails”. Did the Bolshevik revolution lose direction because it attempted to move too quickly?

8. How did the Bolsheviks respond to Lenin’s withdrawal from public life in 1922-23? Why was there a crisis of leadership in the party during this period?

9. Many considered Leon Trotsky to be Lenin’s natural successor as leader of the party and the Soviet Union. Discuss at least three reasons why Trotsky did not assume the party leadership.

10. Explain Joseph Stalin’s career and contribution to the revolution up to and including 1922. How did Stalin ascend to the leadership of the party?

Evaluating the revolution

1. According to some historians, in any revolution the revolutionaries always resort to the same ideas and methods as the old regime. To what extent is this true of the Russian Revolution>

2. Discuss three reasons why democratic government failed to take root in Russia between 1905 and 1918.

3. “War made revolution possible but made rebuilding society impossible”. Referring to three different wars, discuss the relationship between war and revolution in Russia between 1905 and 1921.

4. “Women played an essential role in both the revolutions of 1917 and the development of the new Soviet state.” To what extent is this statement true?

5. The historian Orlando Figes called one of his Russian Revolution text A People’s Tragedy. How and why was the revolution a “tragedy” for the people of Russia?

6. The Russian peasantry was an “immovable mountain” when it came to change, claimed one writer. How did Russia’s peasants respond – or fail to respond – to reform and revolution?

7. “The Russian Revolution transformed Russia from a backward agrarian empire into a modern industrial state.” To what extent is this statement correct?

8. Was the Russian Revolution evidence that communism does not work in practice? Or did the Russian context make socialism impossible to achieve? Discuss.

9. What were the implications of Stalin’s leadership for the people of Russia? How did Stalin transform the Soviet Union in the first decade of his rule?

10. How different were Stalin’s ideology and methods from those of Lenin? Did Stalin take the Communist Party down a new path – or did he continue and expand what Lenin had started?

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