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Dmitry V. Arzyutov

What do we know about the fieldwork of the ethnographers/ anthropologists of the North? How did they organize their research and what ideas have they left behind in their now archived field notes? Historians of anthropology along with anthropologists attempt to find answers to these questions through the analysis of field notes, diaries, letters, and reports, as well as published and unpublished works from the fieldworkers of the past. Despite the thousands of field notes and multiple narratives about how pre-Soviet and Soviet anthropologists heroically conducted their research in “uncivilized conditions” in remote areas, and how they were captured by ideologies of evolutionism, Soviet modernization and development, we still know little about their field research as a practice. This issue titled, “Beyond the Anthropological Texts: History and Theory of Fieldworking in the North” aims to start a discussion on the history and ethnography of ethnographic fieldworking in the North and Siberia.

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Dmitry V. Arzyutov and Sergei A. Kan

The conceptualization of the “field” in early Soviet ethnography had its own dynamics and elaborations within the discursive arenas of the Leningrad ethnographic school. Beginning with the prehistory of the idea of the field among the Enlightenment naturalists and travelers, we turn toward a description of long-term expeditions of the first generation of Soviet ethnographers of the North. Comparing field diaries, photographs, questionnaires, lectures, and textbooks, we consider the patterns and flexibility in the concept of the field in the first half of the twentieth century. We conclude with a discussion of how post–World War II Soviet anthropologists departed from the ideas of participant observation and long-term fieldworking prominent in earlier conceptualizations of fieldwork in Soviet ethnography.