Vladimir Klavdeevich Arsen'ev is one of the best-known figures of the Russian Far East, and yet the scholarly literature—particularly in English—on his historical significance is surprisingly thin. Literary scholars, drawn by Arsen'ev's famous novel Dersu Uzala, and cinema scholars, intrigued by Akira Kurosawa's masterful film adaptation of that work, have most critically engaged with the Russian polymath's work (Arsen'ev was, after all, a military officer, an explorer, an author, an ethnographer, a bureaucrat, and more). Much more rarely have scholars assessed Arsen'ev's important role as an actor in and commentator on Russian colonization in the Far East. This special collection of articles in Sibirica makes a start at that assessment, identifying several areas where a study of Arsen'ev's life and writings can illuminate important aspects of the region's early twentieth-century history.
Ryan Tucker Jones
Ryan Tucker Jones
This article examines the contributions the famous Far Eastern writer Vladimir Arsen'ev made to the development of the Russian/Soviet whaling industry in the 1920s. During that time Arsen'ev worked as a “specialist for marine mammal hunting” for Dal'rybokhota. He studied the whales of the Russian Far East and helped craft the Far Eastern Republic's policy toward its subjects who wanted to start whaling. As someone with a deep knowledge of imperial-era environmental destruction and conservation, Arsen'ev helped develop measures designed to protect the region's Indigenous people and fur-bearing animals while strengthening Russian sovereignty. He also advocated the wholesale slaughter of killer whales and ultimately failed to restrain destructive commercial whaling. However, in addition to adding a new chapter to Arsen'ev's biography, his ideas about whales and whaling help us better understand the Far East's environment history and especially the way imperial-era ideas around conservation survived into the Soviet period.