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The Peoples of Northern Russia Through the Eyes of Russian Writer and Ethnographer S. V. Maksimov

Natalya Gramatchikova

Keywords: colonial discourse; ethnography; Karels; northern Russia; Pomors; Samoyeds; shamanism; Zyrians

Abstract

Mid-nineteenth-century Russian ethnography used fiction, artistry and education to enlighten the masses. Maksimov’s One Year in the North became one of the first examples of this new style of ethnography. Maksimov constructs ‘cultural masks’ regarding northern people (Samoyeds, Lapps, Karels, Zyrians). His impressions are developed out of long traditions and personal characterisations, such as: ‘little brothers’, blacksmiths, tricksters, ‘friends of deer and dogs’. The most interesting positions on his ‘evolutionary ladder’ are the first and the last, which belong to the Samoyeds and the Zyrians. Samoyeds find themselves partly outside the human space, but they are most diverse in the aspect of artistry. Zyrians, on the other hand, constitute a concern to their well-being. Maksimov’s biases are typical for this period of ethnographic development. Although Maksimov appreciates the spoken word, his colonial discourse replaced it by repulsion for Finno- Ugric languages. Artistry in the text of ‘ethnographic fiction’ enriches scientific discourse.

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