Ethnographic studies of Northeast Siberian peoples in the Russian Empire c.1890-1917,
their political context, and their international significance
Late imperial Russia encompassed a diverse, multi-ethnic population. In Siberia and other
regions, over a hundred different ethnic groups could be distinguished by their unique
culture, linguistic background and social organisation. They were deemed ‘aliens’
(inorodtsy) and divided into settled, semi-nomadic and ‘wandering’ groups. The 'aliens'
exhibited varying degrees of Russification, but they all posed a challenge to Russian
national identity, and to the unity and order within the empire. A crucial tool in the empire’s
quest for understanding its diverse subjects was ethnography. Ethnographic knowledge was produced by individuals including imperial officials, voluntary scholars, missionaries, and exiled revolutionaries who re-invented themselves as key experts on Siberian indigenous cultures. The research activities of the political exiles form the central focus of this dissertation. Their work is especially interesting as they had a near-monopoly on the study of Northeast regions. Indeed, few officials or other travellers reached these most distant and inhospitable territories of the empire.
This thesis therefore aims to investigate the exiles’ studies of Northeast Siberian ethnic groups c. 1890-1917 against the backdrop of the Russian political context, and the international landscape of anthropological research. It is motivated by three key research questions. First, how did Russian imperial authorities influence, and benefit from, ethnographic research? Secondly, what were ethnographic expeditions like from the point of view of less visible actors, especially the indigenous people? Lastly, how did anthropology in Western states, notably US, shape research in Russia and vice versa?
Supervisors: Chris Manias & Stephen Lovell
I have always had a strong interest in the human sciences, including neurobiology, psychology, anthropology and history. I graduated from the University of Cambridge (Trinity College) with BA in Natural Sciences and MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science. Beginning with my MPhil, I have specialised in history of anthropology in the Russian Empire.
In my research, I try to shed light on the fascinating behind-the-scenes of scientific fieldwork. Using little-known expedition diaries and correspondence alongside governmental and published sources, I investigate how ethnography was shaped by diverse actors including researchers, governmental authorities, wealthy philanthropists, and indigenous people. Therefore, I am part of a growing community of STM historians interested in the complexity of science-in-the-making as well as less visible actors’ contributions to science.
Conference paper: ‘Researchers and research subjects in late imperial Russian ethnography’ at HSS Utrecht, 2019
Conference paper: ‘The art of diplomacy’: political exiles, imperial authorities and indigenous people in Northeast Siberian ethnography, Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) History of Arctic Anthropology Conference, London, February 2020
Blog entry for the Royal Society: https://blogs.royalsociety.org/history-of-science/2015/10/12/drawing/ (2015)
Grants, Awards, and Prizes:
Hans Rausing Studentship at CHoSTM (2017-2020)