Author:Nathaniel Knight (Seton Hall University)
Paper short abstract:
The Ethnographic Division of the Russian Geographical Society was the first institution in Russia specifically dedicated to ethnography as a discipline. Ethnographers in the Geographical Society defined the theoretical and practical parameters of distinctive tradition in the human sciences.
Paper long abstract:
From its establishment in 1845 and in the decades that followed, the Ethnographic Division of the Russian Geographical Society played a key role in the establishment of a distinctive Russian tradition of ethnographic research. The Geographical Society facilitated the convergence of diverse disciplinary traditions around the key concept of narodnost'-- the totality of features endowing a population with a distinct ethnic identity. Ethnography drew on a tradition of geographical exploration extending back into the eighteenth century that defined peoples as objects of scientific description. It incorporated the study of folklore and mythology, languages and dialects, material culture, and the interconnections between ethnic communities and the natural environment. The Ethnographical Division organized expeditions staffed by professional scholars to locations throughout the Russian empire, while also relying heavily on surveys drawing on the expertise of local informants. The writing produced and published by the Ethnographic Division tended to be rich in detailed description and poor in theoretical abstraction. Whether studying eastern Slavic peasants or the numerous non-Russian peoples of the Empire, mid-nineteenth century ethnographers tended to avoid hierarchical schemes of civilization progress as well as racially informed methodologies that placed organic limits on the capacities of peoples and individuals to develop.
The proposed paper will outline the constituent elements that informed the work of the Ethnographic Division and describe how these elements came together into a distinct scholarly tradition through the expeditions, surveys and publications carried out by the Geographical Society in its first two and a half decades.
The role of learned societies and associations in the creation and building of European anthropology [History of Anthropology Network]