The Construction of Soviet Ethnography and “The Peoples of Siberia”

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The multi-generation book project "The Peoples of Siberia" enabled a group of Leningrad-based scholars to reshape their museum into a Soviet ethnographic community. This article analyses the face-to-face performances, the legalistic stenographic documentation, the collective crafting of a single authoritative style, and a unique temporal frame as an important background to understand a hallmark volume in Siberian studies. The authors argue that the published volume indexes nearly thirty years of scholarly debates as much as it indexes the peoples it represents. The article concludes with a critical discussion of how this volume was translated and received by a Euro-American readership influencing the perception of Siberian peoples internationally. It also links the volume to contemporary post-Soviet publication projects which seem to retrace the same path. The article is based on extensive archival work and references collections recently discovered and which are presented for publication here for the first time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-209
Number of pages27
JournalHistory and Anthropology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

We would like to share our thanks to a great number of people who helped assemble the archival material for this article and who commented upon earlier drafts and conceptions of this complex topic. First and foremost we would like to thank our colleague Sergei Alymov who drew not only our attention to many important manuscripts in the Archive of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow but who has provided invaluable support and commentary as this article was written. Without his help many parts of this story would remain obscure. We are eternally grateful to Joshua Smith who identified and reported on the correspondence archive regarding the translation of the English volume at the University of Chicago as part of his ongoing research on Sol Tax. Further we would like to thank Daria Tereshina and Natalia Komelina for the great number of hours they spent transcribing and scanning certain archives. A special thanks goes to Jeff Kochan who helped us focus in on the sociology of science literature. Finally we would like to thank the Economic and Social Research Council for the standard research grant ES/K006428/1 “Etnos and the Peoples of the North” without which this article could not be written.


  • History of Anthropology
  • Soviet Ethnography
  • Politics of Identity
  • Russian Federation
  • Siberia


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