The Boundaries of Eurasia

Dividing Lands, Minds, and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century Siberia

in Sibirica
Henry Jennings Postgraduate Student, University of St Andrews, UK

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During the eighteenth century, Western European travelers enjoyed unprecedented access to Siberia and many of those who visited believed themselves to have observed a clear boundary between Europe and Asia. This article examines the books of eight such travelers and explores how they categorized those living in Siberia into one of two categories, European or Asian. These travelers interpreted their observations in ways that led them to conclude that a clear binary division existed in the region, separating the European Russian settlers and government from the Asiatic indigenous peoples. Presenting their work as new information, they reproduced older categorizations, repackaged within the scientific language of the Enlightenment.

There is a body of land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Arctic Circle. Spanning tens of millions of square miles, its mountains, forests, deserts, and steppes are inhabited by many ethnic and religious groups, speaking an array of languages. We call this place Eurasia, and the details of its division have been in debate for millennia.1 As Martin W. Lewis and Kären E. Wigen detail, by the end of the seventeenth century, the rivers Don, Ob’, and even Yenisey had all been suggested as dividing Europe and Asia, but it was the Swedish officer and prisoner of war Philipp Johann von Strahlenberg who drew the line that stuck, along the Ural Mountains.2 His encyclopedic description of Siberia was published in 1730 after thirteen years of being exiled in and around the region, and his chosen border (simultaneously suggested by Vasilii Tatishchev) would eventually become the commonly accepted line between Asia and Europe.3

Strahlenberg's deliberations belong to the eighteenth-century boom in travel literature, which both reflected and inspired the Enlightenment fascination in the non-European world. The Russian Empire's expansion into Siberia offered unprecedented access to Europeans, and the region's new presence in European academia excited debate about the physical division of Eurasia within Russian territory.4 Two decades after Strahlenberg's claim was published, L'Abbé Chappe d'Auteroche, a French astronomer who chronicled his journey to observe the transit of Venus at Tobol'sk, also drew the line dividing Europe from Asia along the Urals (along with some rather arbitrarily chosen rivers “in the way M. de Stralenberg has determined them”).5

John Bell, a Scottish doctor who accompanied Russian embassies to Persia and China, and John Parkinson, a clergyman and Oxford don who escorted a young English aristocrat on a northern Grand Tour, both placed Siberia's beginning at the Urals.6 While Bell wrote “that geographers generally agree” that Asia and Europe were divided by a line between the mouths of the Don and the Ob’, Parkinson believed himself to be entering Asia at “the government of Casan” (making the line somewhere in the region of the Volga).7 John Ledyard, an American explorer who had taken part in Captain Cook's final expedition, separated the concepts of Siberia and Asia, noting the “natural boundary” of the “Geographical termination of Russia and commencement of Siberia” to be as far east as the river Yenisey, but considering himself to be back in Europe only upon arriving in Prussia.8 Jean-Baptiste-Barthélemy de Lesseps, focusing most of his attention on the lands and peoples east of the Volga, did little more than name the cities he passed through in Europe and western Russia, treating the Volga as the dividing line of interest, if not explicitly of continents.9

The contention concerned not just the placement of these boundaries but also their meaning. For Strahlenberg, the Urals were the “visible Marks” of a border, separating continents through their sheer bulk, seconded by Auteroche, who stated that “this boundary, fixed by nature, leaves no uncertainty behind it.”10 Bell's Don-Ob’ line was based on academic consensus rather than observation, while Parkinson's borders appear to follow local government boundaries rather than a natural structure. Ledyard used two methods: separating Russia and Siberia at the Yenisey appears to be an error founded on administrative lines, the text's editor noting that the Yenisey at that time served as the rough border between eastern and western Siberia.11 His division of Europe and Asia relied on different criteria, that of “Asiatic & European manners,” Prussia being the start of Europe because there Ledyard claimed to find European characteristics, including “Firmness, Intelligence, &, thank God, Cheerfulness, & above [all] Honesty.”12

Yet, as is clear in the way Ledyard distinguished between the European and the Asiatic, these travelers did not just separate the land of Eurasia but also sought to categorize its people. As Edward Said argued, the eighteenth-century growth of travel literature and of institutions for the study of the Orient brought the non-European world “into sharper and more extended focus.”13 Although Said's Orient lies to the south of Siberia, his argument that “the Orient was almost a European invention” that was “converted from the personal, sometimes garbled testimony of intrepid voyagers and residents into impersonal definition by a whole array of scientific workers” is of value here.14 The application of Said's work to the Russian Empire in Asia has certainly been contested, but this study's focus on Western European accounts is well within Said's scope.15 Larry Wolff applied Said's ideas to Eastern Europe in his theory of Euro-Orientalism, arguing that the eighteenth-century construction of Eastern Europe by Western Europeans was “an intellectual project of demi-Orientalism.”16 While Ezequiel Adamovsky noted a lack of “supporting institutions” for Euro-Orientalism until after World War I, Wolff's work offers insight into the construction of European others during the eighteenth century.17 The work of Alexander Etkind is significant here; his argument that the “internal” nature of Russian colonization made its conception different from Western equivalents a reminder of the differences between Russian imperialism and the more studied models of more Western empires.18 These works demonstrate the importance of critically examining Western travel literature in the context of empire and give some idea of what that can reveal about the development of Western understandings of the non-Western world.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

The Russian Empire at the end of the eighteenth century. Map based on data from Gilbert, The Dent Atlas of Russian History (London: J.M. Dent, 1993).

Citation: Sibirica 21, 1; 10.3167/sib.2022.210104

Russian control of Siberia was achieved through both conquest and settlement, and by the eighteenth century, the region was home to a growing Russian population which, as Mark Bassin argued, along with Siberia's “territorial contiguity with the metropolis … made it possible to see the territories beyond the Urals as a continuation or extension of the zone of Russian culture and society.”19 To fully distinguish between the European and Asiatic that seemingly mixed in Siberia, these travelers sought to divide the people into their proper continental categories, confidently and explicitly supporting a binary division of Eurasia. Yet the details they reported show a different story of a complex, diverse region of many interlocking relationships.

Alongside the travelers noted above, this article examines the works of John Rickman, a sailor who visited the far eastern peninsula of Kamchatka with Cook's expedition, and the Hungarian Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, who was captured in 1769 while fighting for Poland and exiled to Kamchatka, where he led a revolt and escape by sea.20 To better understand the interpretations of outsiders, new to both Siberia and Russia, this article explores books written by Western Europeans (and in Ledyard's case, the broader Western European sphere) who were not long-term inhabitants of Russia. The choice of texts has also been restricted somewhat by the author's linguistic limitations.


All the travelers examined made use of the Russian state's classification of its subjects, dividing the inhabitants of Siberia into the legal categories of Christian and foreigner.21 Faith was used to denote whole peoples, with Bell distinguishing between the “Mahometan” and “idolatrous” Tatars, while statements such as “the Mahometans likewise have some learning; but the Tzerimish and Tzowash have none” made no distinction between religious or ethnic identities.22 This approach to identity could also be used to distinguish between Christians alone, with Parkinson writing that the majority of Siberia's governors were “Germans and Germans of the Protestant religion,” in his view because “the Empress might have more confidence in them than in the Russians.”23

Originating from Western Europe and America, and thus identifying with a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations, these travelers found a great deal of fault in the practices of the Russian Orthodox Church. While Strahlenberg acknowledged the Christianity of those within the “Greek Church,” he also lambasted them for superstitious practices, including “[t]he Adoration of the Images of so many Saints (69); Reading Mass for the Deceased; The sumptuous Garments of the Clergy,” along with the “Offering of Candles” and “Burning Frankincense before Images.”24 Parkinson claimed that followers of the Orthodox Church were “almost as superstitious as in the Roman Catholic,” dedicated to ceremonies, festivals, and feasts, “but as to Morality, that is wholly out of the question.”25 He claimed that “in low life the women are all whores” while those “in high life” were equally immoral but “observe some kind of decency and keep up appearances.”26 Auteroche also saw Orthodox Christianity as largely performative, with believers strictly keeping fasts “although they should at the same time be engaged in the most criminal pursuits,” and writing that “morality is less to be met with among the Russians, than among the Pagans,” for which he blamed the poorly educated clergy.27 Lesseps opined that his guides’ refusal to travel on a Sunday until given alcohol demonstrated their lack of genuine belief.28

Orthodox icons drew particular ridicule. Lesseps observed that the Kamchadals were “as emulous of furnishing their chambers [with icons], as the majority of our celebrated connoisseurs are of displaying their magnificent paintings,” while Ledyard described them as “images … which I should take for a kind of Household Gods.”29 Later, noting the value of icons destroyed in a fire, Ledyard exclaimed (as much as one can in a notebook), “superstition how long wilt thou continue to debase & to curse my Brethren & my Sisters.”30 Auteroche recounted an anecdote of an adulterous woman who, “thinking of her saint, ran into the chapel immediately, and made her prayer to him, after which she returned [to her lover] and threw herself again into his arms.”31 Such criticisms also came with the implication that these failings—hypocrisy, a venal clergy, licentious behavior—were absent from the members of their own faiths. The reality of an Orthodox population was thus compared to the ideals of the travelers’ own Christian beliefs—although this criticism was framed as a critique of fellow Christians rather than the condemnation of false religion.

With religion so fundamental to categorizing Siberians, conversion was an important way to encourage loyalty to the state and a route for indigenous Siberians to become Russians.32 Peter I's Westernization project provided particular encouragement for the conversion of Russia's pagan subjects, grounded in the policy that, as Yuri Slezkine puts it, “the pursuit of civilization had to begin with baptism,” a drive noted with approbation by Bell.33 However, few contemporary or modern observers had confidence in these conversions, with many only nominal, having little impact upon religious practice.34 Auteroche claimed that despite calling themselves Christians, the “Schuwachi” were “ignorant” and “adhered to all their superstitions.”35 Similarly, Lesseps wrote that indigenous Siberians “appear to know little more of [Christianity] than the ceremony of baptism” and thought of religion “merely from a motive of convenience or interest,” while one man he met would convert but for “false principles that he had imbibed,” namely around “the severity of some of our religious rites, the uncertainty of celestial happiness.”36 The travelers attributed the moral failings of ethnically Russian Christians to the Orthodox Church while interpreting similar failings among Siberian converts as evidence of a lack of true faith. Thus, these travelers denied the European identity of Christian faith to any self-styled believer they felt unworthy, which unsurprisingly disqualified anyone who otherwise did not belong to a travelers’ personal image of a European.

The way these travelers approached paganism is illuminating. Strahlenberg divided Siberia's religions into three categories, “1. The Christian. 2. The Mahometan. And, 3. The Pagan, Religion.”37 The pagans, he wrote, “differ very much in their Idolatry and Ceremonies” from Muslims, but it would have been “too tedious” to describe that diversity in detail, grouping all non-Abrahamic religions in Siberia as a single, broad other.38 Bell described the “religion of the Buraty” (which appears from that description to be Buddhism) as “downright Paganism of the grossest kind.”39 Noting the successes of conversion programs, Parkinson made the caveat that some “remain totally destitute of all religions.”40 In the eyes of Western travelers, their beliefs required not reform but eradication. These travelers saw the nature of religion as fixed, either conforming to their preexisting standards, or else treated as a non-religion. When this closed-minded view of religion met the use of religion as the identifier of whole peoples, all those inhabitants of Siberia who belonged to a faith unfamiliar to European scholarship became a single, amorphous other.

The refusal to take pagan belief seriously extended to closer examinations. Benyowsky's encounter with a shaman (or, as he put it, “pretended sorcerer”) was described as “this curious, though by no means agreeable entertainment.”41 Bell wrote of “conjurers” who “pretend to correspondence with the shaytan, or devil.”42 Lesseps proposed that believers’ fear of Russian priests was caused by “the ardent zeal which these priests have doubtless shown for the extirpation of idolatry, and which the Kamtschadales consider as persecution”—presenting the priests’ aim to eradicate paganism merely as an opposition to the Christian sin of idolatry, refusing to acknowledge their religion's existence.43 He similarly seemed surprised to find that denial of a shaman's power would be treated “as horrible blasphemy” by pagans, despite the fact that the outright denial of religion could be nothing else but blasphemy.44 Pagans were assumed from the outset to be superstitious but not religious.

Lesseps refused to take his guides’ fear of exciting supernatural reprisal seriously, reveling in his theft from a sacred site “as a monument of their absurd credulity.”45 Strahlenberg claimed that he “could not observe any great Devotion” in the Ostyaks, “nor any great Reverence paid by them to their Idols,” while Bell described them as “ignorant heathens,” who “seem stupid and altogether unmindful of any thing beyond their own present enjoyment.”46 Bell linked Christianity to intelligence, claiming that “intelligent” people among the Tungus and “men of reflection” among the Ostyaks recognized the existence of a single creator.47 Religion was not a matter of culture but of truth, the world made up of those who understood that there was a single deity above all else, and those who lacked the faculties to know.

Yet Strahlenberg allowed that “there are naturally good and bad People, of all Religions; And in every Nation, he who fears GOD and does Justice is acceptable to his Maker.”48 Lesseps went further, paralleling pagan and European practices, comparing shamans to Quakers, and writing that a Yakut fable “bears a great analogy to our old women's tales, with which children are terrified.”49 Siberian belief in magic “would exceed the utmost stretch of faith, if we had never heard of the Bohemians and other sorcerers of this kind.”50 The work of dividing the inhabitants of Eurasia into Asians and Europeans was not merely an anthropological project, but could be used to set out which qualities defined ideal Europeans, as criticism of Europe's own superstitions, Quakers, and bohemians.

In dividing the inhabitants of the Russian Empire into the Christian and the non-Christian, these travelers seemingly had a workable method for distinguishing between recognizable Europeans and the Asian other—and their works certainly showed a clear binary between true (Christian) religion and false superstitions. A closer examination reveals this to be far from true. The reality of religious identity in Siberia was complex and diverse, a reality these travelers simplified by grouping all non-Christian faiths as pagan and denying those conversions that would question the binary of European Christians and Asian pagans. Furthermore, their criticisms of Orthodoxy showed discomfort with sharing their Christian identities. Although the pagans were a diverse group (and sometimes Christian), and the Christians often living in ways these travelers deemed far from righteous, the details were carefully interpreted by all to fit within the existing binary model of Eurasia, the assumption that this landmass must be divided into two groups, with the travelers all belonging to one, and another filled with a mysterious Asian other.


Although these travelers utilized the older official categorization of the population of Siberia, as Christian or foreigner, they also experimented with new methods of ordering human diversity, ideas that through the eighteenth century would become the intellectual foundations of what is now called race. Key to these new methods of categorization was the idea that, as Slezkine put it, “the adding up of all mores and traditions of a given nation was supposed to result in a true and final representation of that nation.”51 These travelers agreed that Siberia was in Asia, but when it came to the people, they made clear distinctions between the behavior they considered to be Asiatic and that which was European, reflecting the assumption of European cultural superiority observed by Said and which was prevalent among Russian settlers in Siberia.52

The European certainly could exist in Asian territory. Traveling between Perm’ and Tobol'sk, Parkinson found “the manners, the language, and the luxuries of every other place,” such that he could “forget that I am at such a distance from England.”53 At “Bolcheretsk,” Lesseps described “a degree of civilization,” a “sensible approach to European manners,” while elsewhere in Kamchatka, he was surprised to find Polish dances, English dances, and “even the idea of a minuet!”54 Lesseps, himself French, chose to present a French dance as even more out of place than an English, despite their equal distance from Kamchatka. Society at Yekaterinburg was “more agreeable” to Auteroche because its large German population meant that “the manners of the people are more similar to those which prevail throughout the rest of Europe.”55 In each of these cases the European manners were understood to be the behavior of Europe's upper classes—formal dances and civilized luxuries—ensuring that only the (largely Russian) ruling classes of Siberia could ever be judged to be European. The traveler's interpretation was key: the Europeanness of a place was essentially a mark that society there met with a particular traveler's approval.

These travelers disliked a great deal of what they encountered and therefore judged it non-European. The accounts are filled with foulness; Kamchadals were thought to inhabit “most wretched dwellings,” while the use of animal skins in clothing by inhabitants near Barabinsk was considered by Bell to be “very nasty.”56 Lesseps declared a Kamchadal method of preparing fish to be “singularly disgusting.”57 They did not wish only to understand a world outside of their own; instead they judged it. The difference could not be considered as that alone, but placed either above or below their experiences, within their personal interpretation of Western European norms. Auteroche attributed the prevalence of venereal diseases in Russia and Siberia to the men being “much addicted to sodomy,” and because Siberian families all slept in a single room, “so that the children are witnesses even of the marriage rights; and the youth, being therefore sooner informed than in other places, are more disposed to give way to dissoluteness.”58 Lesseps doubted the role of disease in depopulation, questioning “whether it has carried off more of the inhabitants than their frequent contests with their neighbours and with the Russians.”59 Just as upper-class behavior was labeled European and civilized, so the manners of Siberian subjects were perceived as Asiatic, though sickness and filth certainly existed in abundance throughout Europe. As with religion, the realities of Siberia were judged against the ideals of Europe and found to be lacking and therefore belonging to Asia.

One measure of the Europeanness of a peoples’ manners was fixed habitation and cultivation. Ledyard wrote that the “Asiatic Tartars” were “a people of a roving, wandering disposition” that “have ever been Savages averse to Civilization.”60 Bell lamented that despite the Russian example, the Buryats “hate all kind of labour” and “chuse still to live in their tents and tend their flocks.”61 A clear distinction was made between Siberian nomads and Muslim Tatars who “subsist by agriculture,” perhaps also reflecting the eighteenth-century shift in Russian policy toward Muslims that gave them preferential treatment over pagan subjects.62 Lesseps blamed a poor climate on morals, an area inhabited by exiles being a “barren waste” that “the earth, to which justice has banished them, seems to feel a reluctance in bearing them.”63 Some saw direct colonization by Europeans as the answer; Lesseps noted peasants had been brought to Siberia from the Lena “to cultivate the land.”64 Yet the travelers found fault with many of these projects, Auteroche attributing the lack of cultivation at Tobol'sk “as much to the laziness of the inhabitants as to the severity of the cold,” while Lesseps himself claimed that the failure of one such project was due to the “extreme indolence” of the Western peasants.65 The idea that climatic differences between Western Europe and Siberia must create different behavior was explicitly rejected in favor of a moralistic approach that declared European behavior inherently better, and its lack of use clearly designating Siberian lands Asiatic and immoral.

When it came to sexuality, Western European practices were considered the norm, and these accounts were in line with a perception of the Orient as “the embodiment of sensuality,” as described by Mayda Yeğenoğlu.66 Benyowsky claimed that “every intimacy between the sexes is allowed of” among Kamchadals, while Lesseps detailed indigenous polygamy while claiming that the Chukchis “are said to carry their politeness so far as to offer their wives or daughters to their guests.”67 Describing a Kamchadal wedding, Lesseps claimed that “the bridegroom was but fourteen, and the bride only eleven,” commenting that “such marriages would be considered as premature in any country except Asia.”68 Young marriages were also noted by Auteroche, who wrote that “it is necessary to marry the girls early, in order to prevent debauchery.”69 Yet othered sexuality was not limited to indigenous Siberians alone, with Lesseps claiming that both Kamchadal and Russian women “have a strong propensity to pleasure.”70

These others were not simply presented as more sexual people, but as differently sexual. Auteroche expressed surprise that a Votyak woman responded only with what he interpreted as amusement when one of his attendants opened her shift to reveal her breast, “being desirous of examining [her] necklace.”71 Ledyard was similarly shocked at married women covering their hair, writing that “to have cut off the Ears for the same purpose would not have been more ridiculous,” and saw the custom as “the offspring of Eastern Jealousy.”72 Ledyard asserted that a Tatar practice for “the Man to purchase the Woman that he demands in Marriage or make presents to her Parents which I consider as the same thing” was evidence that they were not capable of the same kind of love as Europeans.73 As with other customs, practices surrounding sexuality were treated as both natural to that people and as moral failings, creating moral judgments of whole nations and even continents.

While most of the travelers treated Russia as a European power governing over an Asiatic Siberia, Ledyard wrote that “there is a rude, unfinished, capricious fantastic Taste that divides both Poland & Russia from the Genius of Europe,” and claimed that “the present Russ Dress is Egyptian.”74 He repeatedly compared (western) Russian customs to Asia, supporting his theory that there was a “gradation” in culture from west to east, becoming less civilized the further east one went—a theory that neatly explained the complexity of northern Eurasia while maintaining the binary of the civilized west and primitive east.75 Comparing the indigenous peoples of Siberia and North America, Ledyard held “with the most absolute conviction, that the Indians on the one & on the other [continent] are the same people as far as I have seen either.”76 Near Lake Baikal he observed the “genuine American wigwam” and claimed that the Siberian proclivity for smoking must have “migrated with them to America and thence by Sir Walter Raleigh made its way east to England.”77 Again, a European traveler had found evidence against a simplistic, binary, and orientalist approach to Eurasia—the importance of tobacco within Siberian societies barely two centuries after its first appearance outside of the Americas shows both a connection to international trade routes and that this society was far from stagnant. Instead, Ledyard created his own model of cultural transfer that allowed Asia to remain unchanging and its separation from Europe unchallenged.78 Similarly, the connection drawn between indigenous Siberians and indigenous Americans (also observed by Rickman) also denied any nuance in human society, seeing all similarities as proving cultures identical, while emphasizing the difference between Europeans and the single other encompassing the peoples of Asia and the Americas.79

All of these travelers framed the behavior of Siberia's inhabitants in strongly moralistic terms, and their positive judgments were made along similar lines for both European and Asian peoples. For a Russian to be judged as good by travelers, they usually had to be obedient to the state and to the traveler himself. According to Parkinson, one of Catherine the Great's most impressive achievements was to compel Russians to keep their word, while Lesseps was happily surprised to find the garrison at Okhotsk to be “subjected to a still severer discipline, and instances of disobedience are more rare.”80 His positive assessment of Russian peasants in Siberia was that they were “assiduous and complaisant.”81 Auteroche was warned against setting out on his journey from Saint Petersburg in the week before Lent, “on account of the licentiousness of the common people,” but happily noted that he “met with nothing disagreeable from the Russians.”82

Similarly, Strahlenberg saw the Koryak as “naturally a good and harmless People,” while Rickman described the Kamchadals as “civil and in their way very obliging.”83 Bell stressed that the Ostyak, “though a savage people in their manner of life, are far from being barbarous: for a single Russian will travel about their abodes, in order to purchase furs, without fear of any violence.”84 Lesseps described the Kamchadals as a “mild and hospitable” people who “live together in the utmost harmony.”85 To Auteroche, a village of Tatars had “candor and tranquility observable in their countenances,” but “have still the appearance of a warlike and independent people,” the abstract potential for war seemingly a positive quality.86 It is worth noting that even the positive observations suggest an underlying fear of violence, that these travelers did not feel secure in Russia's eastern empire. Furthermore, they were happy not to find indiscipline and license among the Russians, but they feared a more violent and potentially lethal threat from indigenous Siberians.

Critical observations of Siberia's inhabitants made a far clearer division between European and Asian peoples. Negative judgments of Russian manners were phrased in moral terms, with Auteroche claiming that the Russian peasantry “pass their lives in the debaucheries of women and brandy,” while being “dextrous at thieving” and “pusillanimous and cowardly to an incredible degree.”87 Parkinson called Russians “totally destitute of principle” and contended that “as to truth among the men or chastity among the women, they are entirely out of the question.”88 Ledyard declared that “the Russians in general have very few moral Virtues” and repeatedly referred to “the universal propensity to thieving.”89 Even if the judgment was negative, the focus on Russian morality held Russians in Siberia to the standards of Europe.

In judging indigenous Siberians, these travelers were far more interested in their bellicosity than their morality. Lesseps differentiated between the “wandering” Koryaks (whom he liked) and the “fixed” (whom he did not) by noting the latter's warlike nature, their “perfidious and savage disposition,” while claiming that “so unsociable a spirit must also give them an abhorrence of all foreign dominion.”90 A characteristic was either possessed by a whole nation or not at all, and despite the existence of conflict between the Russians and the Chukchis (a people not considered warlike by Lesseps), this was explained as “the perfidy of the Koriaks … to inflame the enmity of the Tchoukchis against the Russians, either by false report, or by inciting them to attack such parties of Russians whom they could not, or dared not, attack themselves.”91 The belief—shared by all of these travelers—that the world could be neatly ordered into distinct, definable categories allowed much larger generalizations, imagining Siberia through stereotypes and generalizations, even by those with personal experience of the region.

The difference in acceptable behavior is particularly clear with Benyowsky, who also complained of indigenous warfare, and claimed that “it is difficult to conceive what reasons could lead so wretched a people [the Kamchadals], who have nothing either to lose or to gain, to enter into war. But it is very certain that they are strongly addicted to revenge.”92 Benyowsky demonstrated great pride in his contribution to one of many Russo-Polish wars and was happy to recount the point in his escape where he locked the women and children of Okhotsk in a church and threatened to burn it down to prevent the Cossack garrison attack.93 Yet he could not fathom why Kamchadals would go to war. Such criticism (or even just observations) of warlike peoples in Siberia by men with knowledge and experience of Europe's numerous contemporary conflicts demonstrates a presumed separation between Eastern and Western peoples that viewed non-European behavior as reflecting entire cultures, judged in comparison to each traveler's personal ideal of Europe.

When Siberians were considered moral beings, that morality remained on different, inferior terms. Strahlenberg wrote that “tho’ these Heathens are stupid and ignorant in the Knowledge of GOD; Yet they are naturally honest, and good moral people, who hardly know what Perjury, Thieving, Fornication, Drunkenness, Tricking, and other such Vices, are.”94 Where those vices were practiced, he believed “Russian Christians” to be the origin—seemingly the carriers of civilization's problems.95 Bell, too, praised the supposed simplicity of Siberia's indigenous inhabitants, describing them as “honest,” “free from ambition and avarice,” living “in peace and tranquillity.”96 Auteroche wrote that people in Siberia were “happily unacquainted with the use of stays” and swaddling clothes, which he believed to cause infirmity in Europe.97 He thought that “the dress of the Tartars is in every respect preferable to that of the Russian men,” but believed that of Tatar women was “rich, but not always so pleasing” as that of Russian women.98 Auteroche's evaluation of Siberian customs is best summed up by his description of Tatars near Kazan, who were “more polished [than those of Siberia], but they still preserved the simplicity and purity of their manners.”99 Even favorable comparisons of indigenous Siberians to Europe were essentializing and often acted more as a criticism of European practice than a serious reflection on Siberian life. Such descriptions, of course, came with no suggestion that a traveler's home nation should imitate an indigenous people—they were understood to exist as a part of a separate sphere of humanity, relevant to Europe as rhetorical tools alone.

Despite the complex and nuanced world, these travelers found in Siberia, their works generalized and essentialized this world into one that fits neatly into clear categories. Defining the European as ideals made it easy to find fault with the realities of non-European (and thus presumed Asian) life while providing no challenge to the existing binary division of Eurasia. On the contrary, their observations on manners in Siberia show a fundamental belief in that binary, all setting out not to understand Siberians in their own right but to find their places in the existing model of Europe and Asia. The endeavor was founded on the belief that a few examples sufficed to understand the behavior of an entire nation. The undesirable qualities that they believed to differentiate the Asiatic from the European, be it debauchery, dishonesty, filth, or unsavory foods, could have been found in abundance anywhere in Western Europe had they chosen to look. These travelers compared the realities of Siberian life to their ideals of European life, and unsurprisingly found them to be different.

Siberians Discovered?

As manner and religion were increasingly combined to create the definite reality—Slezkine's “final representation”—of a particular group, so these travelers began to create a larger whole, their image of the Siberian. Within this creation was the innovation of appearance, an increasingly popular method of categorizing humanity from the eighteenth century.100 Both Bell and Lesseps used the appearance of two peoples in deciding whether or not they were connected, although Lesseps also noted their similar “idioms” as confirmation and later claimed a combination of “features and address” was evidence that one group of peasants “were not a mixed breed.”101 Auteroche similarly denied that the Votyak could be Tatars because of their different appearance.102 Lesseps described the “Toungouses” by comparing their size with respect to the Yakuts, the shape of their faces in comparison to that of the Kamchadals, and detailing their hospitality, character, and the “stupid credulity” of their religion.103 To Bell, the Kalmucks were “strong made stout men, their faces broad, noses flattish, and eyes small and black … They are men of courage and resolution.”104 The Voguls differed “in language, dress, and manners, from any nation [Bell] ever saw.”105

The appearance was also directly linked to behavior. At a Tatar village, Parkinson “was struck with the fine countenances of the people, as I was afterwards with the neatness of their houses,” while Lesseps wrote that the “Bratskis” had “something ferocious and savage in their appearance,” and were “extremely addicted to robberies.”106 Considering the tendency to characterize entire nations by their shared manners, it is not surprising that appearance and manner became linked.

The connection between appearance and character was fundamental to Ledyard's idea of a west-east “gradation.” He wrote that “by the same gentle gradation in which I passed from the height of civilized Society at Petersburg to incivilization in Siberia, I passed from the colour of the fair European to the Copper-coloured Tartar,” concluding that “there are no white Savages & few uncivilized people that are not brown or black.”107 He believed this gradation also applied to “their manners, their dress, their Language.”108 Again, the lack of any clear, single delineation between the peoples of northern Eurasia was reinterpreted to support a binary model of civilized Europe and an Asia defined only in negatives. Ledyard's model of gradation was an innovation, but one that continued to view the world as sufficiently simple and separated to make such compartmentalization possible.

Categorizing the people of Siberia by appearance was easier said than done. Lesseps noted “a striking resemblance between the Russians and Toungouses,” while noting that “the features of the majority of the Koriacs are not Asiatic, and they might be considered as Europeans, but for their low stature, their ill shape, and the colour of their skin.”109 Parkinson found that the appearance of Siberians was actually a complication, writing that the Bashkir were “a people in religion, customs and dress resembling the Tartars, but not to be compared with them in agreeableness of physiognomy.”110 Strahlenberg thought it odd that the nations of Siberia “who have almost all one Nutriment, one Dialect, and live all under one Climate, differ so much” in appearance.111 Observations on physical appearance did not always confirm existing categorizations, with Lesseps noting of the Chukchi that “the features of the men seemed to be more regular [than those of the women], and not at all Asiatic.”112 However, even this seems to suggest the assumption that all indigenous peoples of Siberia should be Asiatic, the Chukchi presented as exceptions to the rule.

These broad continent-based categories were beginning to enter into the analytical tools of the Western traveler but were rarely used to challenge existing ideas. Instead, the appearances of the peoples of Siberia were interpreted to confirm the preexisting and accepted classifications, and so confusion crept in, notably in Ledyard's statement that “the Sound of the Yakutee language is exactly like the Chinese, & so indeed are the languages of all the Asiatic Tartars,” only a few pages after he had confidently presented a Russian phrase as an example of the Yakut language.113 The presumption of a Eurasia divided between the recognizable Europe and othered Asia led him to make wildly inaccurate statements based on limited expertise (he clearly spoke no Russian, let alone Chinese), the main evidence being that, as Asian languages, Yakut and Chinese must be similar.

These travelers approached indigenous Siberians differently from Russians, Benyowsky treating Russians as fellow characters in his story while presenting the Kamchadals purely as objects of study.114 Describing a pause his group took in an abandoned yurt, Lesseps stated that “we ceded an entire corner to the Koriacs of my suite … I saw them squat down, like apes, their head muffled up in their parque.”115 Lesseps was the only Frenchman present, the only member of his expedition, and both the Russians and Koryaks of his party had been assigned to him to aid in his journey. Yet he understood himself to be of the same category as the Russians, whereas the Koryaks were an other to be studied. When it came to examining the people they found in Siberia, these travelers approached the Russian and non-Russian peoples in distinctly different ways, depending on whether the traveler already believed their subject to be European or Asiatic.

These entrenched views of nations and peoples through the century spawned a sub-debate on the permanence of such divides, particularly relevant within a rapidly Westernizing Russia.116 In noting that the efforts of the Archbishop of Tobol'sk would soon lead to the conversion of all the pagans in that area, Bell made clear that those people could at least become more European, if not entirely equal.117 Lesseps claimed that Kamchadals were to be transformed culturally, forced to live in European-style houses so that “they should be brought gradually to resemble the Russian peasants.”118 He also wrote that the Russian “motive” for marrying Kamchadals was so that “before the end of the present generation, the race of the indigenes may be totally extinct.”119 While claiming that one people inhabiting the conditions of another would become similar to them, Ledyard judged this Westernization to be unsuccessful, writing that the Yakut “have not & they will not” accept: “they will inhabit the Yoort.”120

These travelers also described such Europeanization as somewhat independent of the state. Strahlenberg believed that “those who live in Villages, among the Russians, are all baptized, and speak the Russian Language so well, that they are not to be distinguished from the Russians themselves.”121 Rickman similarly wrote that the Kamchadals in towns “had learnt of the Russians to be more cleanly,” while Lesseps observed “the trace of European manners, less in the mixture of blood … than in their inclinations and mode of life.”122 To live as a European was, by the consensus of these travelers, to become one, and there is little evidence in these accounts that they believed indigenous Siberians to be the “perennial outsiders” they would become in the nineteenth century.123

Some travelers encountered men almost indistinguishable from fellow Europeans, who originated from non-European nations. Parkinson wrote that “Count Razomofsky” and his brother had once been “nothing but Tartar shepherds” until they had become favorites of the empress.124 Lesseps noted that the skilled Russian of a judge, along with “the rectitude of his mind,” nearly convinced him the man was Russian until he spoke Koryak.125 Ledyard recounted that he “dined with Mr Karamyscherff, it is a Tartar name and he is of tartarian extraction.”126 Despite their encounters with these men whose identities straddled the two continents of Eurasia, these travelers chose either to treat this merely as trivia or to focus on where these men really belonged—the idea that a man could be both Koryak and a Russian judge never appeared. As with so much else, the binary model of Eurasia seemed to overrule a traveler's personal experience.

That experience, for all Western Europeans in Siberia in the eighteenth century, took place while a guest (willing or not) of the Russian imperial system—and often with the personal assistance of local officials. Lesseps and Auteroche received government papers allowing them to travel and compelling others to assist them (in the latter's case from Empress Elizabeth).127 Bell traveled as a part of diplomatic missions, Benyowsky and Strahlenberg, as prisoners, were subjected to both the will and the aid of the state, and the rest all detailed the assistance of imperial representatives.128 Most left with a largely positive view of the Russian Empire. Lesseps wrote that the governor of Kamchatka oversaw constructions, “animated by a love of virtue and humanity,” while expressing admiration for a government plan to give “uniformity” to a local town.129 Both Lesseps and Bell reported that indigenous Siberians were happier under imperial rule, which in Bell's case also included those ruled by the Chinese empire.130 Rickman wrote that the Governor of Kamchatka possessed “the spirit of a prince.”131 These men of Europe's great empires clearly believed the structure of imperial rule to be good in and of themselves, again seeing their own cultural and political practices as inherently superior.

There were exceptions, with several of these travelers producing lengthy criticisms of the Russian Empire. Ledyard wrote extensively of the many trials of his journey, placing the blame firmly on the Russian state and the nature of its people, and his book contains extensive criticism of the Russian state, particularly after his sudden arrest in Siberia and deportation on the orders of Catherine the Great.132 Others were critical of the imperial project itself—Parkinson arguing that the obstacle to indigenous obedience was not the indigenous Siberians but “the arbitrary pleasure and capricious commands of those who are set over them.”133 Benyowsky wrote that “the cruelty with which the Russians have treated the natives had diminished their number,” and that “though this people is at present cloathed, for which advantage they are indebted to the Europeans, it has cost them dear, when placed in the balance against the barbarous and tyrannical treatment they have experienced from their new masters.”134 Yet even these criticisms were limited to individual excesses of administrators, or even of tsars, but was never extended to the principles of imperial expansion or the right of Russia to rule Siberia.

In their attempts to understand the people of Siberia and to place them in their proper continents, these travelers found a complex collection of many interlocking identities, which they generalized and essentialized, transforming them into neat, definite categories. Although they made discoveries, their fundamental assumptions about the division of Eurasia and the nature of subject-ruler relations went largely unchanged. Some did recognize some of the negative impacts of imperialism but showed no interest in considering the further implication for the place of European civilization within the world. Though they encountered men whose being undermined the binary divisions of Eurasia, these travelers chose to slot them into the continental classification that seemed the best fit rather than question those categories. Although they set out with the Enlightenment desire to understand the world, they were either unable or unwilling to question foundational beliefs on the world's structure.


Examining the work of these travelers reveals the incredibly complex and nuanced world they encountered and recorded for their western European readers. They show interlocking identities based on faith, ethnicity, language, and loyalties, a collision of cultures within a rapidly transforming world. Yet all of the travelers examined here used this to reinforce the existing binary division of the Eurasian supercontinent. This division may have been their act of imaginative geography, but they did not invent Europe or Asia, and even the narrower categories of Koryak, Kamchadal, and Russian predated their work. Their reliance on information acquired from Russians and other Europeans staffing the imperial system resulted in the ordering of peoples and nations into a value structure built on the personal preferences of the individual traveler and his informants. They explained those existing categories, seeking patterns in preexisting structures that justified those same structures, transforming systems that just were into scientific and technical definitions without altering the actual conclusions.

Thus, when religion was examined, Europeans were concluded to be Christian, though not one of these travelers approved of Russian forms of worship. Although believing Orthodox Christianity to be filled with superstition and falsehoods, never living up to these travelers’ own images of true religion, believers were described as Christians because there was no other box in which to place them. The failure of indigenous converts to meet those same standards, on the other hand, was taken as evidence that they were simply imitating Christianity, the category of pagan already waiting to take them. Nuance was lost in the face of a binary set in stone of Europe and Asia.

A similar issue applied to nations, with many of these travelers finding it difficult to separate the people they encountered. In Kamchatka, Benyowsky simply referred to “country people,” apparently Kamchadals, while Lesseps noted of the Cossack garrison at Petropavlovsk that other than their weapons “they are not distinguishable from the indigenes, but by their features and idiom.”135 He found it even more difficult to explain why the fixed and wandering Koryak should be treated as different nations, noting “a great resemblance” between the two groups, but that “the little cordiality, or rather at the misunderstanding that subsists among them, on account of which they may be considered as two different people.”136 They were different because they refused to be the same, but a naturalistic cause was assumed even if it could not yet be found.

Tobol'sk was neither Paris nor Peking, yet these men set out with the assumption that it must share a world with one of them. Eurasia had to be divided into Asia and Europe, and its inhabitants into Asians and Europeans, not because observation revealed two distinct lands, cultures, religions, or looks. They were divided that way because Eurasia is made up of Europe and Asia by definition, and this fact was as well known by eighteenth-century travelers as it is today. Even the assigning of value followed the same lines—good manners were those that assisted Europeans or bore similarities to those of Europeans, good religion was that of Europeans, good appearances were those that reminded the individual traveler of a European. And European was essentially what was known—so Ledyard could believe that Yakut sounded Chinese immediately after mistakenly identifying Russian as Yakut but did not deliberately claim Russian to sound Asian. Seemingly it was Asian of the speaker, not the sound, that inspired the comparison.

The homogeneity of these travelers’ accounts on the idea of a binary division of Eurasia is telling. Most of them did visit the region around a similar time, with all but Strahlenberg and Bell—who arrived in the region in 1709 and 1719, respectively—first reaching Siberia after 1760. Yet they replicated the tropes and approaches of those earlier two travelers. Though, as Adamovsky observed, these men operated largely independent of the kind of institutions so central to Said's vision of Orientalism, they still worked with a shared perspective of classical and Enlightenment ideas. All framed their discoveries in Siberia as confirmation of the binary division of Eurasia and of the hierarchy within that division that placed Europe above Asia in social, cultural, and moral terms. Yet their conclusions were contradicted by their own observations. All of these travelers encountered complex identities, the brutality of empire, and a world in which many cultures and peoples mixed and merged in a way that undermined that binary. However, the assumed truths about the world's continental structure were stronger, and it was through that preexisting vision that their experiences were interpreted.

They did learn some things of value. Their books contain fascinating details about life in a land that was not Europe but was not entirely other and descriptions of the cultures and religions of the people of Siberia. They offer a view that is at least a little different from that of the agents of the Russian state whose accounts supply so much of the information we have on that region. But they did not go to Siberia to change their minds. They crossed a continent already knowing how the world was structured, what it was that made a nation, a religion, even the foundations of what it was that made race. They knew they lacked the detail, but their outline was near unshakeable. Through examining how European travelers tried to categorize the peoples of Siberia, we can better understand the assumptions inherent to a two-continent understanding of Eurasia and the porous nature of such imagined borders.


I thank Dr. Erin Maglaque for her advice and guidance on the research for this article, and Clare Sambrook, for her critique. I also thank the anonymous reviewers of this article for their critique.



Martin W. Lewis and Kären E. Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), particularly 21–46.


Ibid., 27–28; Phillip Johann von Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description of the North and Eastern Part of Europe and Asia; But More Particularly of Russia, Siberia, and Great Tartary, translated from the High German (London: W. Innys and R. Manby, 1738), 121–122. All quotations from contemporary sources are written as they were in the edition used, without alteration where they are different from modern use.


Anthony Cross, In the Lands of the Romanovs: An Annotated Bibliography of First-Hand English-Language Accounts of the Russian Empire (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2014), 76. Cross's book provides an invaluable companion to the study of English language accounts of the Russian Empire, particularly when it comes to contextualizing authors; Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Eastern Europe in the Mind of the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 154; Lewis and Wigen, The Myth of Continents, 28.


P. J. Marshall, and Glyndwr Williams, The Great Map of Mankind: Perceptions of New Worlds in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 7; Lewis and Wigen, The Myth of Continents, 27–28; Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe, 7.


L'Abbé Chappe d'Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, Made by Order of the King of France, translated by James Grieve from the French, with a preface by the translator (London: T. Jefferys, 1770), 61, 135; Cross, In the Lands of the Romanovs, 15, 89; Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe, 345.


John Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh in Russia, to Various Parts of Asia (Edinburgh: William Creech, 1788), 1:204; Cross, In the Lands of the Romanovs, 8, 79, 111; Marshall and Williams, The Great Map of Mankind, 83; John Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 1792–1794, ed. William Collier (London: Frank Cass & Company, 1971), 118.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 2:201–202; Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 109.


John Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia 1787–1788: The Journal and Selected Letters, ed. with introduction by Stephen D. Watrous (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966), 157, 228; Cross, In the Lands of the Romanovs, 108.


Jean-Baptiste-Barthélemy de Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka during the years 1787 and 1788, 2:373–381.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 121–122; Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 135; Lewis and Wigen, The Myth of Continents, 28.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's journey through Russia and Siberia, 157.


Ibid., 228.


Edward W. Said, Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (1978; repr., London: Penguin Books, 1995), 116–117.


Ibid., 1, 166.


See Stephanie Cronin, “Introduction: Edward Said, Russian Orientalism and Soviet Iranology,” Iranian Studies 48, no. 5 (2015): 647–662,; Adeeb Khalid, “Russian History and the Debate over Orientalism,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 1, no. 4 (2000): 691–699,; Nathaniel Knight, “On Russian Orientalism: A Response to Adeeb Khalid,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 1, no. 4 (2000): 701–715,


Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe, 7.


Ezequiel Adamovsky, “Euro-Orientalism and the Making of the Concept of Eastern Europe in France, 1810–1880,” Journal of Modern History 77, no. 3 (2005): 591–628,, here 593, 609.


Alexander Etkind, Internal Colonization: Russia's Imperial Experience (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011), particularly 70.


James Forsyth, “The Siberian Native Peoples before and after Russian Conquest,” in The History of Siberia: From Russian Conquest to Revolution, ed. Alan Wood (London: Routledge, 1991), 69–91, here 74; Mark Bassin, “Inventing Siberia: Visions of the Russian East in the Early Nineteenth Century,” American Historical Review 96, no. 3 (1991): 763–794, here 766,


John Rickman, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London: E. Newberry, 1785); Rickman's book was published anonymously, and the name is taken from Cross, In the Lands of the Romanovs, 100–101; Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, trans. William Nicholson (London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1790); Cross, In the Lands of the Romanovs, 96-97.


Yuri Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 43.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:15, 1:22–23.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 120.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 286–287.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 22.


Ibid., 22.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 43–44, 283–286, 290.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:113–114.


Ibid., 1:30; Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia, 169.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia, 188.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 44-45.


Michael Khodarkovsky, “‘Ignoble Savages and Unfaithful Subjects’: Constructing Non-Christian Identities in Early Modern Russia,” in Russia's Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700–1917, ed. Daniel R. Brower and Edward J. Lazzerini (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), 9–26, here 18; Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors, 43.


Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors, 48; Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:206.


Khodarkovsky, “‘Ignoble Savages and Unfaithful Subjects,’” 19–20; Janet M. Hartley, Siberia: A History of the People (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 139.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 117.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:135, 2:79–82.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 280.


Ibid., 288.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:302–303.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 113.


Benyowsky, Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, 1:185–187.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:248.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:181.


Ibid., 2:310.


Ibid., 2:177–180.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 433–434; Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 2:190.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:280, 2:190–191.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 280.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:187, 2:308.


Ibid., 1:131.


Yuri Slezkine, “Naturalists versus Nations: Eighteenth-Century Russian Scholars Confront Ethnic Diversity,” in Russia's, ed. Brower and Lazzerini, 27–57, here 34.


Said, Orientalism, 7; Hartley, Siberia, 146.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 117.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:79, 1:102.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 97.


Rickman, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage, 349; Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:248.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:90.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 351, 68.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:83–84.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's journey through Russia and Siberia, 180.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:300.


Ibid., 1:217; Michael Khodarkovsky, Russia's Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500–1800 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 38–39. Also see Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:371; Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 288.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:363.


Ibid., 1:198–199.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 241; Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1: 172–173.


Mayda Yeğenoğlu, Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), particularly 73.


Benyowsky, Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, 1:162; Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:313, 2:41.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:193–194.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 37.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:101.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 110.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's journey through Russia and Siberia, 223–224.


Ibid., 190–191.


Ibid., 211, 161.


Ibid., 210, 144, 178, 200.


Ibid., 198.


Ibid., 164–165.


See Matthew P. Romaniello, “‘Tobacco! Tobacco!’ Exporting New Habits to Siberia and Russian America,” Sibirica 16, no. 2 (2017): 1–26,


Rickman, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage, 355.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 131; Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:242–243.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:334.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 28.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 396; Rickman, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage, 357.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 2:189.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:95.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 104.


Ibid., 315.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 48–49.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia, 181, 162, 203.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:84–85.


Ibid., 2:33.


Benyowsky, Memoirs and travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, 1:162–163.


Ibid., 1:248–253.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 289.


Ibid., 289.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 2:208.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 66.


Ibid., 105.


Ibid., 112.


Slezkine, “Naturalists versus Nations,” 33.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:49; Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:312; 1:172.


Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 109.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:331–332.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:32–33.


Ibid., 1:205–206.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 113; Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:338–339.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's journey through Russia and Siberia, 178.


Ibid., 144–145.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:186, 2:92.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 117.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 172.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:44.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia, 174, 171.


Benyowsky, Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, vol. 1. This is present throughout this volume in all descriptions of exiles, imperial representatives, or indigenous Kamchadals.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:163–164.


Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors, 59.


Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:264.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:25.


Ibid., 1:144.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia, 176-177.


Strahlenberg, An Histori-Geographical Description, 289.


Rickman, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage, 352; Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:97.


Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors, 53.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 101.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:79–80.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia, 155.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:281, 2:358; Auteroche, A Journey into Siberia, 26.


This occurs throughout the texts, but good examples include Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:5, 1:67; Benyowsky, Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, throughout his stay in Kamchatka, 1:80–140; Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 124, 176.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:45, 2:76.


Ibid., 2:23; Bell, Travels from St. Petersburgh, 1:335–336.


Rickman, Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage, 329.


Ledyard, John Ledyard's Journey through Russia and Siberia, 146, 162, 203; details on his expulsion are found in the book's extensive introduction by Watrous, especially 49–50.


Parkinson, A Tour of Russia, Siberia and the Crimea, 126.


Benyowsky, Memoirs and Travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky, 278, 161.


Ibid., 150; Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 1:14–15.


Lesseps, Travels in Kamtschatka, 2:83.

Contributor Notes

Henry Jennings is a postgraduate student studying the social and cultural history of Russia at the University of St Andrews, with interest in interactions between Russia and Western Europe. Email:

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies

  • Figure 1.

    The Russian Empire at the end of the eighteenth century. Map based on data from Gilbert, The Dent Atlas of Russian History (London: J.M. Dent, 1993).


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