Urban Studies Moscow
Adrienne M. Harris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0047


According to the 2010 census, Moscow’s 11.5 million inhabitants make it the largest city in Europe. The city has the distinction of having gained capital status in the 16th century, losing it in the early 18th century, and regaining it after the Bolshevik Revolution in the early 20th century. In the 10th century, Eastern Slavs colonized the area; Moscow first appeared in written chronicles in 1147, when Prince Iurii Dolgorukii established the city on a forested bluff overlooking the confluence of the Moscow and Neglinnaia rivers. Although Mongols destroyed Moscow in 1237, during the period of Mongol hegemony known as the “Tatar Yoke” (1237–1480), Moscow flourished and the city replaced Kiev as the capital of East Slavdom, the state of Muscovy born in 1547. The cluster of cupolas in the Kremlin attest to Moscow’s role as a seat of ecclesiastical power: after the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453, Moscow gained new cultural significance as the self-proclaimed center of “true Christianity.” In 1712, Peter the Great transferred power to St. Petersburg and Moscow was demoted to a regional capital. During the imperial period, Moscow became an important industrial center that attracted migrants who would continually overwhelm city resources. The destruction resulting from Napoleon’s invasion in 1812 led to reconstruction. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the city emerged as the capital of the USSR and the global communist movement and, after the Second World War, as the capital of the socialist “second world.” One finds ample scholarship about Moscow during the Soviet period, as it served as an example for the rest of this “second world.” Publications have focused on attempts to alleviate housing shortages and sanitation problems; on the development of public transportation, most notably the Moscow metropolitan—the subway, which remains an architectural monument; on migration; and, considering the Soviet experience, on labor history and social movements—especially as Soviet planners aimed to create new and innovative solutions for the “new Soviet man and woman.” The scholarship reflects the fact that problems that challenged planners in the past continue into the present. One should be aware of the ideological nature of Soviet books, especially those published during the Stalin period when scholars were required to approach their work from a Marxist perspective in line with Soviet ideology. Additionally, sources about contemporary Moscow published two decades ago will be more out of date than a similarly-aged source on a city that did not experience a cataclysmic event such as the 1991 dissolution of the USSR.

General Overviews

Although not solely about Moscow, Riasanovsky and Steinberg 2018 provides the best overview of Moscow history. Perhaps only the historians of the Russian Academy of Sciences have attempted to capture the entire history of Moscow from its founding in the 12th century in one endeavor, publishing a massive six-volume (1952–1959), seven-book edition covering Moscow until the invasion of Nazi Germany in 1941 in the form of Istoriia Moskvy v shesti tomakh. In addition to being out of date, historians commenced this project at one of the most-ideologically rigid Soviet periods—the postwar Stalin years. Nothing comparable exists in English. Colton 1995 remains the most comprehensive one-volume general overview dedicated to Moscow, although most of the book concerns the 20th century. While the title indicates that the book is largely concerned with governance and Colton is a political scientist, the book also covers Moscow history and urban planning, in addition to local governance in depth. For a comparative study covering late-19th to early-20th-century history, see Ruble 2001. Murrell 2003 provides an accessible, one-volume illustrated history with a focus on architecture for students and travelers. The encyclopedia entry Harris 2019 serves as a short urban and cultural history of the city and concludes with a list of works (literature, cinema, and songs) that depict the city. Although outdated, Corona 2001 introduces the city to a juvenile audience. “Uznai Moskvu” (“Discover Moscow”) offers both searchable textual and visual, historical and contemporary information on the city. Leading American, Canadian, and British historians manage the Russian History Blog on which one can find multiple posts about Moscow. The English-language Moscow Times newspaper provides up-to-date information on Moscow events.

  • Akademiia nauk SSSR: Institut istorii. Istoriia Moskvy v shesti tomakh. 6 vols. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1952–1959.

    This massive six-volume (seven book) set produced by historians at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Institute of History, covers the history of Moscow from the 12th century through June 1941 from a Marxist perspective: Vol. 1: 12th-17th centuries; Vol. 2. 18th century; Vol. 3. 1800–1856; Vol. 4: 1860s-1880s; Vol. 5. 1890s-1916; Vol. 6. 1917–1941. It includes map, illustrations, and colored plates.

  • Colton, Timothy J. Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674283725

    After introducing Moscow’s history prior to the October 1917 revolution, this comprehensive volume details its urban development intertwined with its role as the capital of not just the Soviet Union, but the socialist second world in general. Colton discusses both the city’s development under Soviet general secretaries as well as housing, migration, and planning, and covers local governance in the city across different regimes. The final two chapters cover the capital and its institutions during perestroika and the post-Soviet period.

  • Corona, Laurel. Life in Moscow. The Way People Live series. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2001.

    Illustrated with black-and-white photographs of everyday life and Moscow landmarks, this book is an appropriate introduction to Moscow for a juvenile audience. It covers transportation, socioeconomic status, home life, education, careers, crime and law enforcement, and entertainment.

  • Discover Moscow.

    “Uznai Moskvu” or “Discover Moscow,” a searchable online Russian and English-language guide to Moscow, provides information on houses, routes, museums, monuments, and other places. The site includes maps, photographs—both historical and contemporary, and historical information on notable sites.

  • Harris, Adrienne. “Moscow.” In The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Studies. Edited by Anthony M. Orum, 1264–1271. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2019.

    A concise introduction appropriate for undergraduates. Although the article is focused primarily on history, it concludes with a short list of literature and films set in Moscow.

  • The Moscow Times.

    This English-language newspaper, having only recently moved to an all-digital format, began circulation in 1992 for an audience of primarily expats living in Moscow. It stopped publishing in print in 2017 and turned to an entirely digital format.

  • Murrell, Kathleen Berton. Moscow: An Illustrated History. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2003.

    This accessible history covers the history of Moscow from its settlement by Slavic tribes through the first post-Soviet decade. It includes a map, chronology, and black-and-white illustrations.

  • Riasanovsky, Nicholas V., and Mark D Steinberg. A History of Russia. 9th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    Although this authoritative history covers Russian history in general, there are several chapters dedicated solely to Moscow and the Muscovite state that provide the reader an excellent overview of Moscow history.

  • Ruble, Blair A. Second Metropolis: Pragmatic Pluralism in Gilded Age Chicago, Silver Age Moscow, and Meiji Osaka. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2001.

    In this excellent comparative study, the author compares Moscow, Chicago, and Osaka during a period (1870–1920) in which all three experienced robust industrial development, rapid population growth, and increases in both diversity and fragmentation. Three chapters cover Moscow’s development as an industrial center, the relatively successful education of Moscow workers, and the city’s housing ills. Ruble challenges Russian exceptionalism by highlighting similarities to other cities.

  • Russian History Blog.

    Leading Western scholars manage the English-language Russian History Blog on which one finds multiple posts related to Moscow.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.