02 October 2023
What do you think links audio recordings of Italian traditional theatre from Florence, card diaries written in 1932 by archaeologists in Soviet Ukraine, a typescript of a play on the life of Romani people in Bulgarian, a photo album that belonged to a Roma family from Moldova, a page from a Muslim religious text originated in Bulgaria, and a journal published by Serbs in exile?
Card diaries by T.M. Movchanoskiy, 1932 (EAP220/1/3) - Archival records from Saving archival documents of archaeological researches conducted during the 1920s and 1930s in Ukraine
Catalogue record of the digital audio collection
All these image and many more were digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme. The physical archives that were under a threat of disappearance remain where they were, but digital images are available freely to anyone who would like to do research or learn. In the words of the Programme’s co-founder, Lisbet Rausing, and much echoed by the Head of the EAP Sam van Schaik , “the Endangered Archives Programme captures forgotten and still not written histories, often suppressed or marginalised. It gives voice to the voiceless: it opens a dialogue with global humanity’s multiple pasts. It is a library of history still waiting to be written”.
Ismail Osmanov. “Gypsy on the new way. A play in two parts, 1953” (EAP067/4/1) –
Archival records from Preservation of Gypsy/Roma historical and cultural heritage in Bulgaria
Roma family album No 1 (EAP699/23/2) – Archival records from Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections (EAP699)
Here in the British Library, we research the collections and try to tell more people about them. Here is the most recent report from Anna Maslenova, a PhD student who came to work with us for three months on placement: ‘Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples: PhD placement report’ . A Chevening fellow from Ukraine Nadiia Strishenets helped us to improve metadata for image related to the project Saving the original lifetime archive of the well-known Ukrainian poet, artist and thinker, T.H. Shevchenko (EAP657). If you have used any of the EAP collections in your research, we would be extremely grateful if you could tell us about your research and experience.
Muslim religious texts (EAP1392/5/2) – Archival records from Rediscovering the cultural heritage of the Muslims in Bulgaria (1920-1950) (EAP1392)
The Serbian Fatherland: a monthly magazine for Serbian youth in exile  (EAP833/1/2/1/7) – Archival records from Safeguarding the fragile collection of the private archive of the Lazic family (EAP833)
The call for the 19th round of applications is open.
We hope that readers of this blog will help us to promote EAP, so that we could save more disappearing archives, uncover fascinating stories and capture forgotten voices from all over the world.
Katya Rogatchevskaia Lead Curator, East European Collections
13 September 2023
The Enlightenment in Slovenian lands was initiated by a group of like-minded people who advocated the change of the linguistic and cultural practices of the time, which relied exclusively on the use of the Latin and German languages. The Slovenian educators believed that the national language could be used equally for religious and secular purposes. Guided by this idea, they produced a critical body of literature that not only preserved the Slovenian language but also paved the way for the development of a modern literary language.
Grammars, dictionaries, histories, textbooks, translations of religious and secular texts from Latin and German, the first newspapers, original plays and modern literary adaptations were the main means to save the Slovenian language and raise national awareness.
The 1972 facsimile reprint of Marko Pohlin, Tu malu besedishe treh jesikov = Das ist: das kleine Wörterbuch in dreyen Sprachen = Quod est: parvum dictionarium trilingue (Ljubljana, 1781). X.950/9786. The original can be seen in the Slovenian Digital Library
Anton Tomaž Linhart, Versuch einer Geschichte von Krain und der übrigen südlichen Slaven Oesterreichs (Nuremberg, 1796). BL 1437.e.11. This is the second edition of Linhart’s History of Carniola and Other South Slavs of Austria, which was originally published in two volumes in Ljubljana in 1788-1791.
Anton Tomaž Linhart (1756-1795) was the author of the first authoritative history of the Slovene nation. He was also the first Slovene playwright and theatre producer, author of Şhupanova Mizka (‘Micka, the Mayor’s Daughter’) and Ta veşsęli dan, ali: Matizhek şe shęni (‘This Merry Day or Matiček is Getting Married’), an adaptation from Beaumarchais’s The Marrige of Figaro.
Valentin Vodnik, Pésme sa pokúshino (‘Trial Poems’) (Ljubljana, 1806.) Cup.401.a.15.
Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819) a poet, journalist and linguist was the editor, writer, translator and technical designer of the first Slovene newspaper, Lublanske novize (‘The Ljubljana News’). Modelled on the Wiener Zeitung and used for promoting Slovenian language, culture and identity, it was printed by Janez Friderik Eger in Ljubljana between 1797-1800. Vodnik translated European news from German and he also published local news from Ljubljana and Carniola. Lublanske novize was first published as a semi-weekly and later as a weekly.
'A Song About My Countrymen', the title of the first poem from Pésme sa pokúshino. From Slovenian Digital Library
Bartholomæus Kopitar, Grammatik der Slavischen Sprache in Krain, Kärnten und Steyermark. (Ljubljana, 1808) 829.e.12.
Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844) a Slavist and national revivalist was the author of a scholarly and influential Grammar of the Slavonic Language in Carniola, Carinthia and Styria printed by Wilhelm Heinrich Korn in Ljubljana in 1808.
Pohlin, Linhart, Vodnik and Kopitar, among other Slovenian writers and scientists, were part of the cultural group named after their patron, Baron Sigismund (Žiga) Zois (1747-1819), a large landowner, naturalist and enlightened person. The group was united by their shared values of education and the promotion of Slovenian language, literature and culture.
Page one of Valentin Vodnik, Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Ljubljana, 1811) 1488.bb.8.
Vodnik’s Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (‘Literacy or Grammar for the Elementary Schools’) contains an introductory part, and on eight unnumbered pages, a hymn entitled ‘Iliria oshivlena’ (‘Illyria resurrected’) in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte and the formation of the Illyrian Provinces as part of his French Empire from 1809 to 1814. During this period the Illyrian Provinces made economic and cultural advances felt long after the Austrians retook the territory in 1814. Vodnik’s Slovene language textbook also endured with the exception of its pro-French introductory parts.
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections
Slovenian Enlightenment literature from Slovenian Digital Library:
Geschichte des Herzogthums Krain, des Gebiethes von Triest und der Grafschaft Görz (Valentin Vodnik, 1809)
Pismenost ali gramatika sa perve shole (Valentin Vodnik, 1811)
Dictionarium slavo-carniolicum. III partis a 1787/1798 manuscript by Blaž Kumerdej (1738-1805) a school teacher, philologist and educator
Svetu pismu noviga testamenta, id est: Biblia sacra novi testamenti ... ( A 1784-1786 translation of the New Testament)
Svetu pismu stariga testamenta id est: Biblia sacra veteris testamenti ... (A 1791-1802 translation of the Old Testament)
Glossarium Slavicum in supplementum ad primam partem Dictionarii Carniolici (Marko Pohlin, 1792)
Vadenje sa brati v' usse sorte pissanji sa sholarje teh deshelskeh shol v' zessarskih krajlevih deshelah (Reading textbook for schoolchildren, translation by Blaž Kumerdej, 1796)
Navúk k' osdravlenju te pluzhníze s' shelesnato solno kislostjo (Treatment of lung disease, 1804)
Mustertafel zur Aufsuchung krain : Wörter (Blaž Kumerdej, 1750-1800)
27 July 2023
The Ukrainian poet, writer and artist Taras Shevchenko (1814-61) is considered the founder of modern Ukrainian literature. His poetry shaped the development of Ukrainian national consciousness and, more widely, is symbolic of the universal fight for freedom from oppression.
Shevchenko is the focus of a new display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. Open until autumn 2023, the display brings together different editions of his works published between 1860 and 2012, as well as examples of how his image and poetry have been reimagined today. Through these items, it demonstrates the strength and resilience of Ukrainian culture and language, which flourished despite centuries of Russian colonial oppression.
Shevchenko was born into serfdom (a form of peasant servitude) in Ukraine – then under the Russian Empire. In 1847, he was arrested, imprisoned and exiled for his political views and anti-tsarist satirical poems. Tsar Nicholas I personally banned him from writing or painting while in exile, but he managed to continue doing so in secret. Many of Shevchenko’s works were censored during his lifetime. His poetry, which ranges from romantic ballads to heroic poems, has since been published and translated into more than 100 languages. Shevchenko has inspired generations of writers, and continues to serve as a rallying figure for Ukrainians today.
In this blog post, we bring you a digital version of the display.
Photograph of the display in the British Library Treasures Gallery
Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar (St Petersburg, 1860). 11585.d.43. Digitised.
In 1840, the Russian censor in St Petersburg granted permission for the publication of a small volume of poetry by an unknown Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko. Consisting of eight works (with some censored passages), this small book had a momentous impact on the history of Ukrainian literature. Its title, Kobzar, refers to a Ukrainian bard who played a stringed instrument called the kobza. The book was so important that Shevchenko himself became known as ‘Kobzar’. This more complete edition of 17 works was published in 1860, the year before Shevchenko’s death, and contains a portrait of the author.
Forbidden in the Russian Empire
Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar. (Volume one), (Geneva, 1881). 1451.a.42.
Measuring just 7 x 11 cm, this pocket-sized edition of Kobzar was published outside of Ukraine. At the time, printing and importing Ukrainian-language publications was forbidden within the Russian Empire. Its small format would have made it easier to smuggle into Ukraine – similar editions were disguised as packets of cigarette papers. Published by the Ukrainian scholar and political thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov, it is one of only two known copies to have survived.
Kobzar for displaced persons
Taras Shevchenko, Kobzar. ([Munich?], 1947-48). 11588.a.94.
At the end of the Second World War, there were over two million Ukrainian displaced persons (DPs) in Western Europe. While most returned to the Soviet Union (many against their will), around 200,000 remained in Allied-occupied Germany. Ukrainian DPs set up schools, places of worship, theatres, hospitals, and published newspapers and books. This edition of Kobzar was produced in Germany in 1947. It includes the stamp of the Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, a London-based relief agency established after the end of the war to assist Ukrainian DPs.
Modern children’s edition of Kobzar
Taras Shevchenko, Dytiachyi Kobzar. Illustrated by Maryna Mykhailoshina (L’viv, 2012). YF.2013.b.1660
This modern edition of Kobzar has been specially adapted for children. Its vibrant illustrations by Maryna Mykhailoshina capture the beauty of Ukraine’s landscape. Born into serfdom, Shevchenko was orphaned when he was 12. He displayed artistic talent from a young age and was apprenticed by his master to a painter in St Petersburg. It was through his painting and artistic connections that he was eventually able to buy his freedom in 1838.
Shevchenko as a superhero by Andriy Yermolenko. Part of the series ‘Shevchenkiniana’, 2013-2014. Reproduced by permission of the artist.
Patch featuring Shevchenko in Ukrainian military clothing, 2022. Private Loan.
Shevchenko’s image and work continue to inspire and resonate today. During the 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, protestors recited his poetry and artists reimagined him in various forms, including as a superhero and Elvis Presley. Some of the most widely quoted lines, ‘Fight – and you’ll be victorious, God is helping you!’, are from Shevchenko’s 1845 poem ‘Kavkaz’ (‘The Caucasus’), a revolutionary work addressing Russian imperialism and colonialism. They have taken on increased significance following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and feature on a range of items, such as this 2022 patch featuring Shevchenko in Ukrainian military clothing.
Olga Kerziouk, 'The First Kobzar', European Studies Blog, 12 February 2014.
Olga Kerziouk, 'Shevchenko: a voice for unsung heroines', European Studies Blog, 9 March 2015.
Nadiia Strishenets, 'Rare editions of Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar in the British Library', European Studies Blog, 10 March 2022.
Nadiia Strishenets, 'Digital Shevchenkiana – a Joint English-Ukrainian Project', European Studies Blog, 10 March 2023.
19 July 2023
In March 1914 in St Petersburg, on the cusp of the First World War, the poet Velimir Khlebnikov and the artist Pavel Filonov issued Iz knigi ‘dereviannye idoly’ (From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’). Engaging in experimental collaborations in the book arts was part of a spectrum of activities undertaken by artists and writers in the Russian Empire known as the Futurists. This problematic label covers various individuals and groups operating over many years, who did not refer to themselves as Futurists. Others embraced the label or some variation of it. Over time, there has been a tendency to collapse these individuals and groups under the single label of ‘Russian Futurist’ due to the region’s entangled histories, but also due to an overriding imperial Russian narrative.
Fig. 1. Photograph of Velimir Khlebnikov in 1913. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 2 Photograph of M. Matiushin, A. Kruchenykh, P. Filonov, I. Shkolnik and K. Malevich in 1913 (left to right). Image: Wikimedia Commons
Often referred to as ‘books’, Futurist books have also been called pamphlets, publications, booklets, collections, occasionally artists’ books or even, helpfully, anti-books, a term which points to their revolutionary nature and their participation in the international book experiment. Across Europe, avant-garde writers and artists engaged in the book experiment, as seen for example in the 2007 British Library exhibition: Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937. Notably, the anti-books contain an inherent performativity: Wooden is a publication within a publication entitled Izbornik stikhov s posliesloviem riechiaria: 1907-1914 (Selected Poems with an Afterward by a Wordsmith, 1907-1914). Embedded within Selected Poems, Wooden is a lithographed supplement that stands in stark contrast to its host publication and serves as a vehicle for performance through an interplay of sound, text, image, and materiality.
Fig. 3. Cover of the British Library exhibition catalogue Breaking the Rules: the Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 (London, 2007). YC.2008.b.251.
Fig. 4. Cover of V. Khlebnikov, Izbornik stikhov s posliesloviem riechiaria: 1907-1914 gg ([St Petersburg, 1915]). C.114.mm.39.
Fig. 5. Cover of Iz knigi ‘dereviannye idoly’ (From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’) and first page of ‘To Perun’.
The anti-book collaborations took place over many years in different activity centres in the Russian Empire, instigated by the poet Aleksei Kruchenykh and joined by Khlebnikov and, initially, the painter Mikhail Larionov, along with a select group of secondary collaborators, such as Natalia Goncharova, Ilya Zdanevich (‘Iliazd’), Olga Rozanova, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. During the second half of the 19th century, the printing industry in the Russian Empire developed swiftly ‘from a small artisanal craft closely tied to the state into a relatively large-scale, diversified, and technologically developed industry run by capitalist entrepreneurs and professional managers.’(Steinberg, p. 7) This development led to the publication of luxurious, limited book editions and cultural journals, and technical journals focusing on book arts. The early 20th century also witnessed a flood of collecting centred around these publications, which collectors eagerly sought to obtain (Bowlt, pp. 187-189).
Amidst these developments, Khlebnikov and Filonov released Wooden. With its Slavic folklore themes, related illustrations and pictograms, and archaic-sounding language, Wooden speaks to the period’s pervading artistic focus on the cultures of the East. Two texts were included in Wooden: ‘To Perun’, a poem, and ‘Night in Galicia’, a play in verse. Likely at Kruchenykh’s request, Filonov made 11 illustrations to accompany the texts (Parnis, p. 644). His illustrations impressed Kruchenykh. When Khlebnikov received a copy, he wrote to Kruchenykh: ‘Hats off to Filonov. Thank you for the great drawings.’ (Kruchenykh, ‘O Pavele Filonove’, p. 532) Khlebnikov opens Wooden with a poem addressed to the ancient god of thunder and lightning ‘To Perun’. One way Khlebnikov explores sound is through the creation of new words, e.g., ‘Peru-nepr’ (Perun + Dniper) (fig. 6) (Khlebnikov, Tvorenie, p. 85, footnote 8). The poem includes two illustrations by Filonov. His toy-like idols feature in the headpiece on the front page and the letters in the title ‘To Perun’ consist of a series of illustrations of wooden arrows (fig. 5). In ‘Night in Galicia’, which has nine illustrations, Khlebnikov presents mermaids, witches, and a knight (fig. 7). Filonov’s imagery works in tandem by emitting a sense of ancient art, including wooden sculptures and mythical folk tale characters. As in ‘Perun’, he introduces some letters in pictorial form, e.g., the word ‘mermaid’ (rusalka) begins with a mermaid’s image in place of the ‘r’ (fig. 8).
Fig. 6. Khlebnikov’s new word ‘Peru-nepr’ (Perun + Dniper) in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p.3.
Fig. 7. First page of ‘Night in Galicia’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p. 12.
Fig. 8. The word ‘mermaid’ (rusalka) begins with a mermaid’s image in place of the ‘r’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p. 12
Throughout Wooden, Filonov emphasises its materiality by employing a hand-drawn font. The font also serves as a demarcation between Selected Poems and Wooden. Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh believed handwriting varied according to the writer’s mood and that the mood would be apparent to the viewer separately from the text. Additionally, they felt that an artist arguably would be better placed to be the text writer, as opposed to the author, noting that: ‘[i]t’s strange that [none of our contemporaries] has ever thought of giving his offspring to an artist instead of a typesetter.’ (Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh, p. 257) Following this principle, Filonov adeptly weaves together his inner vision of the texts with that of Khlebnikov’s. Khlebnikov and Filonov, who seemed to have enjoyed friendly relations at the time, were engaging in a folkloric performativity for viewers by combining these seemingly ethnographic, yet ultimately fanciful elements together, replete with archaic figures and an ancient-looking, hand drawn, lithographed font.
This post was adapted from a conference paper given by the author on 3 December 2021 at the 2021 ASEEES Virtual Convention and is being developed as part of her AHRC-TECHNE funded PhD project, ‘Sound Art and Visual Culture: The Anti-Book Experiment in the Romanov Empire and the USSR, 1881-1932’ at Kingston School of Art, Kingston University.
References and further reading:
K. Bezmenova, ‘Filonov and His Only Lithograph Book’, in Filonov. 125th Anniversary of the Artist’s Birth (1883-1935). Compilation of Articles from the Academic Conference (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg, 2007) (St Petersburg, 2008), pp. 61-73.
J. Bowlt, Moscow & St. Petersburg, 1900-1920: Art, Life & Culture (New York, 2008). m08/.35374
N. Gurianova, ‘'A Game in Hell, Hard Work in Heaven: Deconstructing the Canon in Russian Futurist Books', in The Russian Avant-Garde Book, 1910-1934, ed. by D. Wye and M. Rowell (New York, 2002), pp. 24-32. LC.31.a.179
V. Khlebnikov, Tvorenie, eds. V.P. Grivoreva and A. E. Parnis (Moscow, 1986)
V. Khlebnikov and A. Kruchenykh, ‘The Letter as Such (1913)’ in Collected Works of Velimir Khlebnikov. Volume I: Letters and Theoretical Writings, ed. by C. Douglas and trans. by P. Schmidt (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1987). YC.1988.b.4461
‘Klanyates’ Filonovu. Spasibo za khoroshie risunki.’ A. Kruchenykh, ‘O Pavele Filonove’ in Pavel Filonov: realnost i mify, ed. by L. Pravoverova (Moscow, 2008), pp. 161-167. YF.2009.a.26968
A. Parnis, ‘O metamorfozakh mavy, olenya i voina. K probleme dialoga Khlebnikova i Filonova’ in Mir Velimira Khlebnikova. Statii issledovaniia 1911-1998, ed. by V. Ivanov and others (Moscow, 2000), pp. 637-695. YA.2000.a.28541
Mark Steinberg, Moral Communities. The Culture of Class Relations in the Russian Printing Industry, 1867-1907 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1992). YC.1993.b.2609
27 April 2023
Queen Mary University of London and the British Library are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Studentship from 1 October 2023 under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.
This doctoral project seeks to advance postcolonial discourse in East European studies by focusing on the British Library’s unique Belarusian collection, the history of its development during the Cold War, and the collection’s evolution in response to Belarus’ ‘decolonising moment’ as it broke out of the Soviet fold in 1991.
The project will be jointly supervised by Dr Natalya Chernyshova (School of History) and Prof Jeremy Hicks (Department of Modern Languages and Cultures) at Queen Mary University of London and by Dr Katie McElvanney, Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia, and Dr Olga Topol at the British Library. The student will spend time with both QMUL and the British Library and will become part of the wider cohort of AHRC CDP funded PhD students across the UK.
The first edition of Belarusian poet Ales Dudar's work published after his posthumous rehabilitation. Vybranyia tvory (Minsk, 1959). X.989/16874.
Slavonic and Eastern European collections at the British Library are one of its strengths. However, despite the diversity of the collections, the British Library co-supervisors have identified postcolonial research and its application to curatorial practices as a priority approach to these collections, likely to reveal many meaningful gaps and contested interpretations.
The project will explore the British Library's Belarusian resources, i.e., resources relating to Belarus and its diasporas, as a case study through which to develop an analytical framework that could be subsequently applied by future scholars and information professionals to the entire Slavonic and East European collection. The project will investigate how the establishment of independent Belarus in 1991 affected the British Library’s policy and approach towards collecting, describing, and interpreting its Belarusian material. The challenges here are many, from navigating the politically charged waters of choosing the right spelling for transcription in the resources’ metadata to finding ways of bringing into dialogue two parallel depositories of Belarusian culture: Soviet-based and diaspora-based, the latter represented by the considerable collection of material at the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library in London. The research will seek to identify what further work needs to be undertaken to lead the decolonisation of discourse on Belarus and will develop recommendations on how such work can be carried out.
Belarusian translation of Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and Other Tales, published in Germany as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities. Shchasʹlivy Prynts, translated by L. Khvalʹko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.
Belarusian studies are sorely in need of de-marginalizing. Belarus is often a footnote, an afterthought or even a blind spot in the Western gaze towards Europe's 'incomplete self' (a concept developed in postcolonial studies of the Balkans by Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, 1997). The understanding of its modern history and identity is still patchy or misinformed, and thus it represents a minority voice within regional studies. Partly, this is an outcome of its political entanglement with Russia post-1991, which culminated in Belarus becoming a de-facto colony in 2022. But it is also a result of lingering Cold War preconceptions and Western colonial bias that need a corrective.
The Belarusian case study has a much wider significance and acute relevance for the present. It is a gateway into decolonising our thinking about the entire post-Soviet region of Eurasia where the decolonisation process itself is still incomplete and bitterly contested, as Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine demonstrates. Yet, the proclaimed model for current Russian colonialism – the Soviet Union – does not fit easily into the traditional frameworks for understanding the empire and colonial domination. While highly authoritarian, the USSR was also an ‘affirmative action empire’ (Terry Martin, 2001) that simultaneously encouraged and kept in check its republics’ national development. This limits the utility of existing postcolonial theories as a framework for informing decolonising practices in post-Soviet studies. Therefore, the findings of this project will have relevance and applicability for the entire Slavonic studies collection and will yield an analytical framework for review and policy that is more suitable to the region’s collections than postcolonial theories focusing on other geographical locations and other types of empires.
Items from the British Library collection of materials documenting the 2020 protests in Belarus
The British Library is an ideal home institution for a project on advancing postcolonial discourse and developing theoretical frameworks suitable for the East European region. As a major cultural institution with international clout, it plays an enormous role in education of the public, policymakers and scholars and wields agenda-setting power. Its Belarus collection is extensive, diverse, and growing. Its team of curators is knowledgeable and attuned to regional complexities, as well as the need for decolonisation work, which is reflected in the recently launched collection of materials documenting the 2020 protests in Belarus. The project would build on these considerable strengths to help the British Library advance the decolonising of its collections and bring its world-leading Slavonic and East European collection in line with the best postcolonial heritage practice.
To apply for this studentship, you must submit an online application and supporting materials via the School of History Research Degrees webpage by 5.00 pm on 8 May 2023. Applications received after this date cannot be considered.
For more information, including details of the award and eligibility, please see the studentship advert.
19 April 2023
In his autobiographical novel The Chukchi Bible, Yuri Rytkheu tells the story of how his grandfather, Mletkin, a Chukchi shaman from the village of Uelen, in the Russian Far East, was put on display for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (otherwise known as Chicago World’s Fair), “tasked with presenting to the public” the “world’s yet uncivilized tribes in a setting as realistic as possible” (Rytkheu, p. 255). During the exposition, Mletkin, dressed in a shaman robe and equipped with a tambourine, was asked to perform a shamanic ritual – kamlanie – in front of a yaranga (a Chukchi hut). Rytkheu describes how his grandfather was struck by the arrogance of the ‘white’ organisers of the exhibition and its visitors who “held themselves apart from the rest of humanity, or at least from the part that was inhabiting the village, emphasizing their superiority to the Chukchi, the Eskimos, the Indians, Malaysians, Africans, Aleutians, and all those who tomorrow would be the subject of wonder, curiosity, or perhaps disdain, on the part of the fair’s visitors” (Rytkheu, p. 260).
At the turn of the 20th century, the performance of shamanic rituals for a white audience, similar to the one described by Rytkheu, was a common entertainment not only in North America, but also in the Russian Empire. A collection of glass plate negatives, digitised as part of the Endangered Archives Project (EAP016) includes evidence of similar colonial practices. For instance, in April 1910, the city theatre of Krasnoyarsk organised an ethnographic evening performance of a shamanic ritual, executed by the Khakass shaman Petr Sarlin. An ethnographic exhibition, including a Khakass yaranga, was installed in the theatre hall, and local photographer, Ludvig Vonago, took photographs of Sarlin dressed in shamanic gear (pictures 1 and 2).
Picture 1 The ethnographic evening at the Krasnoyarsk city theatre. Shaman. April 2, 1910. Photographer: Vonago. (All captions are my own translations of the original annotations made by the Russian photographers)
Picture 2 Shaman.
In his novel, Rytkheu describes how during the exposition Mletkin was impregnated with feelings of humiliation and alienation as he stood “firmly beyond that invisible rope that separated the living exhibits of the World’s Fair from the rest of their fellow humanity” (Rytkheu, p. 263). Even though we do not have any written account of Sarlin’s experience of performing in front of the Krasnoyarsk audience, the likeness of his and Mletkin’s stories suggest that he might have also been aware of ‘the invisible rope’ separating him, a Khakass shaman on display, and the Russian spectators. In this blogpost, I suggest further exploring Rytkheu’s ‘rope’ metaphor through the BL’s collections of digitised photographs taken by Vonago and other photographers during the first 30 years of the 20th century.
Many images in EAP016 demonstrate that Siberian indigenous peoples were often depicted as museum exhibits rather than real people. The photographers focused on the ethnographic peculiarities and anthropological features of their models rather than on their psychological portraits. In pictures 3–7, we see the images of the cultural ‘others’ photographed from the side-, front-, and back-views.
Picture 3 A Khakass woman, Ekaterina Ivanovna Mainagasheva, 48 years old, in her winter coat. A full body picture, front-view. Seskin ulus, Askizskii region.
Picture 4 Ekaterina Ivanovna Mainagasheva.
Picture 5 A Kachinets Shaman, Fedor Nikolaevich Samrin, 60 years old, photographed in his shaman clothes holding a drum and thumper. Samrin ulus.
Picture 6 Fedor Nikolaevich Samrin.
Picture 7 Fedor Nikolaevich Samrin.
In Russian pre-revolutionary museums, such photographs were often used for ethnographic exhibitions alongside the various material objects of the indigenous cultures. For example, pictures 8 and 9, taken in the ethnographic museum of Krasnoyarsk, demonstrate how the exotic ‘curiosities’ – such as the traditional hunting and fishing tools, the cooking utensils and crockery, the wooden cradle, the religious objects as well as the mannequins dressed in the traditional clothes – were aimed at enlightening Siberia’s Russian population about ‘other’ dwellers of the region.
Picture 8 The Ethnographic Exhibition. The little exhibits are in the cupboards; the drum sets are at the top; the mannequins are along the walls. The Ethnographic Museum of Krasnoyarsk.
Picture 9 The Glass Cabinet with the Ostyak Objects. 1906-07. Photographer: A.Tugarinov. The Ethnographic Museum of Krasnoyarsk.
The photographs of Siberian ethnographic museums after the installation of the new Soviet regime, on the other hand, offer a new perspective on the indigenous population. The State sought to integrate indigenous people into the political system by means of sedentarisation, collectivisation, and education. Even though the new regime proclaimed that all Soviet nations were equal, the invisible rope between ‘backward’ and ‘civilized’ nations did not disappear (Gavrilova, p. 151). Moreover, the photographers continued to take pictures (see 10, 11) that exoticized anthropological and cultural features of the indigenous population.
Picture 10 Photographer: Man'yafov. Taim. Nganasan Savalov Abaku. 1938.
Picture 11 Photographer: A.V. Kharchevnikov. Taim. Detty Turdagin. 1938.
The post-revolutionary ethnographic exhibitions never ceased to exoticize the indigenous peoples, but the collections became additionally politicised with the state’s propaganda. A geographer researcher, Sofia Gavrilova writes that the Soviet ethnographic museums received specific protocols that required them to ‘build exhibitions with the encompassing theme that the new socialistic face of a krai [region] was a result of “the politics of the Communist Party and the Soviet state, the result of Lenin-Stalinist theory, and the program of solving the national question” (Gavrilova, p. 152). The new ethnographic exhibitions were supposed to show the process of Sovietization of the indigenous peoples of the USSR. The historian Francine Hirsch describes the new agenda of the ethnographic museum as follows:
The museumgoer did not simply travel through the museum and visit its peoples, either randomly or according to their level of cultural development […] Instead, he or she embarked on an “evolutionary” adventure through the stages on the Marxist historical timeline. Along the way, the museumgoer learned about the differences among feudal, capitalist-colonial, and Soviet social structures, economic practices, and cultures (Hirsch, p. 220).
Among the EAP016 images, we find evidence of the described transformation in the museum narratives through many new signs that interpretated the exhibits. In pictures 12 and 13, for example, we find the scene from the history of religions – that were banned in the USSR. The wax figure of a shaman is set next to the Orthodox priest’s vestment and Buddhist sculptures which simultaneously demonstrate the relics of the past and the enemies of the Soviet ideology. Hirsch notes that after becoming acquainted with “kulaks, mullahs, and other class enemies in the museum, the museumgoer would then be able to identify them through their clothing, culture, and practices—and participate in the campaign to eradicate them—outside of the museum’s walls” (Hirsch, p. 220). There was no place for a shaman, a priest, or Buddhist monk in the new Soviet world.
Picture 12 Photographer: N. V. Fedorov
Picture 13 The Ethnographic Exposition in the Museum. 1939. Photographer: Ivan Baluev.
The ethnographic museums created new narratives about the evolution of the indigenous peoples. Picture 14 shows the mobile hut, known as a balok, that was used for nomadic schools in the northern parts of Siberia. The museums also told the stories of the new Soviet heroes who came from indigenous backgrounds and became loyal citizens of the USSSR. In picture 15, for example, we find portraits of the Siberian Communists (next to the portrait of Stalin) who contributed to the ultimate goal of building communism. The material objects of the northern indigenous cultures in this exhibition seemingly indicated their rapid transformation from a ‘primitive’ to a ‘civilized’ way of life. Additionally, the exhibitions provided detailed information about the economic achievements of Soviet Siberia. Pictures 16 and 17, for instance, inform us of the significant developments in the hunting and fishing industries.
Picture 14 The Exposition ‘Balok’. 1939. Photographer: Baluev.
Picture 15 The Exposition. 1938. Photographer: Baluev.
Picture 16 The Museum Exposition. 1939. Photographer: Baluev.
Picture 17 The Exposition ‘Our Old North’: Fish Industry. 1936. Photographer: S. Malob.
The process of industrial evolution in Siberia is evident from picture 18: the yaranga with the sign ‘The Old North’. Thanks to the help of the ‘developed’ Russian nation, the northern population were moved out from their ‘primitive’ huts into the new Soviet types of accommodation.
I’d like to finish this post with another reference to Rytkheu’s novel where he describes his family yaranga in the centre of Uelen:
This yaranga survived to my own childhood. In the beginning of the 1950s, when my tribesmen were being moved into new wooden housing, it was pulled down, along with the other ancient shacks not fit to shelter a Soviet citizen of those enlightened times. The last time I saw my family yaranga, or rather its likeness, was in the municipal museum of Nome, Alaska, during my first visit to the United States in 1978. The photographer had shot a panoramic view of Uelen, with our family home at the forefront of the composition. I made a copy of the photograph and it is now stored in my archives (Rytkheu, p. 129).
It is striking that Rytkheu’s experience suggests that the ethnographic museum – stager of exotic curiosities and propaganda ¬– became the last place he could see artefacts of his heritage. Whilst these images are specific products of colonial attitudes towards indigenous peoples, they remain available records of their material culture. One can hope that the BL’s digitised collection of photographs, being open access, can help Siberians and us to explore and reflect upon this history.
Picture 18 The Exposition ‘The Old North’. 1939. Photographer: Baluev.
Anna Maslenova, British Library PhD placement student working on the project ‘Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples’
References and further reading:
Yuri Rytkheu, Poslednii shaman (St Petersburg, 2004) YF.2004.a.26238 (English translation by Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse, The Chukchi Bible (New York, 2011)
V. M. Iaroshevskoĭ, I. V. Kuklinskiĭ, L. Iu. Vonago — fotograf na vyezd: Krasnoiarsk i ego okrestnosti v fotografiiakh Liudviga Vonago, ed. by A. B. Ippolitova (Krasnoiarsk, 2020).
Francine Hirsch, Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union (Ithaca, N.Y, 2005) YC.2005.a.7999
Roland Cvetkovski, ‘Empire Complex: Arrangements in the Russian Ethnographic Museum, 1910’, in An Empire of Others: Creating Ethnographic Knowledge in Imperial Russia and
the USSR, ed. by Roland Cvetkovski and Alexis Alexis (Budapest, 2014), pp. 211–251 YD.2014.a.1342.
Sofia Gavrilova, Russia’s Regional Museums Representing and Misrepresenting Knowledge About Nature History, and Society (Abingdon, 2022) ELD.DS.709608;
Sofia Gavrilova, ‘Producing the “Others”: The Development of Kraevedenie in Chukotka’, Études Inuit Studies, 45: 1/2 (2021) 147–170.
21 March 2023
Content warning: This blog reproduces an image of a dead animal; the vocabulary drawn from the original texts is now considered racist.
Thanks to the typo of British cartographers, Stephen and William Borough – who in the 16th century created several maps of Russia – a northern archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, Novaya Zemlya, became in the Western imagination a remote and romanticised land, Nova Zembla.
Nova Zembla is mentioned in Jonathan Swift’s The Battle of the Books as the residence of ‘a malignant deity called Criticism,’ who ‘dwelt on the top of a snowy mountain in Nova Zembla’. We find a reference to Nova Zembla in Tristram Shandy, where ‘North Lapland’ is described as ‘those cold and dreary tracks of the globe […] where the whole province of a man’s concernments lies for near nine months together within the narrow compass of his cave […]— there the least quantity of judgment imaginable does the business — and of wit — there is a total and an absolute saving — for as not one spark is wanted — so not one spark is given’. The ‘[d]istant northern land’ of Zembla becomes the abandoned kingdom of the deposed King Charles (Kinbote), the character of Nabokov’s metafictional novel, Pale Fire.
William Borough's Map of Coasts of Norway and Russia, 1557. Nova Zembla is in the top right corner. Royal MS. 18. D.III f.124
Although inspired by the long history of Nova Zembla’s presence in world literature, this post explores the image of Novaya Zemlya, rather than of its literary double. It focuses on an episode from the history of its colonisation: the legacy of a Russian ethnographer, photographer, and writer, Konstantin Nosilov (1858¬–1923). The British Library holds a substantial collection of digitized glass plate negatives from Nosilov’s collection (EAP016/1 and EAP016/3) including his photographs of Novaya Zemlya as well as other parts of Northern and Southern Siberia, his family life, and European travels.
Nosilov besides a fireplace (All captions are my own translations of the original annotations made by the Russian photographers)
The BL also holds several collections of Nosilov’s short stories in which he shared reminiscences of his ethnographic expeditions, and which are illustrated with his photographs.
Various editions of Nosilov's short stories available at the BL
Nosilov was born to the family of a priest who lived near Shadrinsk in the Urals region. Nosilov did not finish his own theological studies and instead from 1879 he started to work as a geologist exploring the basins of the rivers Sosʹva, Lialia, and Lozʹva – prospecting them for gold. Having become a member of Imperial Russian Geographical Society, Nosilov undertook numerous ethnographic expeditions to Siberia, exploring the traditions and lifestyles of the Mansi (also known as Voguls), Khanty (Ostyaks), and Nenets (Samoyed). The collection includes numerous photographs taken by Nosilov during these expeditions.
The Mansi’s summer camp
The Nenets’ place of sacrifice
Novaya Zemlya occupies a very special place in Nosilov’s life and work. Being on the outskirts of the vast Russian Empire, the archipelago had been hardly explored by Russian ethnographers. Norwegian hunters and fishermen, on the other hand, frequently visited the waters around Novaya Zemlya and its shores. To reinforce the Russian Empire’s control of its territorial possession, it was regarded as crucial to establish permanent settlements on the island – Novaya Zemlya had been uninhabited due to its severe environment. Nosilov volunteered to organise a permanent settlement on the archipelago.
In 1887 a lifeboat station, Malye Karmakuly, was founded on the island of Iuzhnyi, and several Nenets families were relocated to the area. An ambitious colonialist, Nosilov was the first Russian explorer who, together with the Nenets, spent three winters on Novaya Zemlya 1887–1889 and 1890–1891. By his own example, Nosilov wanted to prove that the archipelago was suitable for year-round living.
Nosilov's house on Novaya Zemlya
Novaya Zemlya, Malye Karmakuly
Novaya Zemlya: view from the sea
Novaya Zemlya: cliffs and the sea
On Novaya Zemlya, Nosilov installed a meteorological station, that was essential to help the inhabitants prepare for severe weather conditions and regular storms, one of which is described in Nosilov’s story ‘Poliarnaia buria’ (‘Polar Storm’). Together with the Orthodox priest Father Iona, Nosilov revived an abandoned Orthodox chapel on the island, and they also started a school for the Nenets, – described in his story ‘Samoedskaia shkola’ (‘The Samoyed School’). Nosilov was especially proud of this, the most northern school in the world. In the story, he describes how both children and adults were keen on learning not only language but basic maths and other general subjects. Full of gentle humour, the story also tells how Father Iona was terrified by the ‘school inspectors’ – polar bears – who frequently visited.
Describing the Nenets settlement on Novaya Zemlya, Nosilov used many tropes that are now considered as typical for colonialist literature depicting colonisers’ interactions with indigenous peoples. The narrator in Nosilov’s stories shows a patronizing attitude toward the Siberians, who are treated like children, or, as he constantly calls them, ‘the children of nature’. Although Nosilov also frequently refers to the indigenous peoples in a way that now would be considered as racist, calling them ‘barbarians’ (‘dikari’), his attitude towards them is not derogatory, but rather sympathetic, especially when it comes to their studies of the Russian language and religion.
Some indigenous traditions which Nosilov witnessed, nevertheless terrified him. For instance, in one of his stories about the Mansi, ‘Iz zhizni vogulov’ (‘From the Life of the Voguls’), Nosilov describes the ceremonial slaughter and eating of a reindeer as bloodthirsty and barbaric: ‘looking at their passionate faces lit by the light of the fire, I saw the real barbarians, whom I had not yet suspected under the always modest and quiet figures of the Voguls’. However, most of his stories, especially those dedicated to the life of his colony on Novaya Zemlya, are full of admiration for the indigenous peoples, their skills and instincts.
In his story ‘Tainstvennoe iz zhizni samoedov’ (‘Mysterious in the Life of the Samoyeds’), for example, Nosilov describes an elderly Nenets woman with a gift of clairvoyance who not only predicted the fortune of hunters, but also once foretold the arrival of a Norwegian ship from Tromsø. Despite being a devout Christian – fulfilling, among other things, the duty of missionary work – Nosilov was keenly interested in indigenous spirituality and the native peoples’ special skills of forefeeling.
Novaya Zemlya, Matochkin Shar
Many of Nosilov’s stories are addressed to younger readers in central Russia. Nosilov tried to enlighten them about the life in the remote parts of the Russian Empire. Among such stories is the story of a Nenets girl, Tania Logai. The plot might be interesting for a Gender Studies analysis: Nosilov describes various episodes from Tania’s life showing how, instead of learning female domestic duties, she was much more interested in hunting. Tania even becomes a local celebrity for killing a polar bear that attacked her family hut whilst all the male hunters were away. Even when she reaches womanhood, Tania refuses to change. She does not want to get married and chooses to stay with her family and help her father hunt.
Novaya Zemlya. The female bear killed by Nosilov
Alongside being entertaining and enlightening, Nosilov’s stories also featured the acute social and economic problems experienced by the indigenous population of the north. These problems were primarily provoked by the invasion of European Russians who disturbed the traditional ways of living. Discussing the State’s response to the problems of the indigenous peoples, Yuri Slezkine notes:
[…] more and more travelers and more and more readers assumed that the administrators – local or otherwise – were generally incapable of enlightening anyone and that helping savages advance was the special mission of special people who were the sole legitimate representatives of the highest stage of intellectual development (the “intelligentsia”) (Slezkine, 1994, p. 112)
This sense of personal mission is notable in Nosilov’s stories. The final story in his collection Na Novoi Zemle, titled ‘Nashi liudoedy’ (‘Our Cannibals’) discusses the problems of the Nenets population living on the Taz Estuary. The story tells how the indigenous people, facing terrible poverty despite living in one of the richest fishing areas of Russia, hungered so badly that they had to resort to cannibalism. Nosilov regards this as the fault of the European Russians and urged measures to help indigenous populations. Nosilov also published numerous articles describing the problems of the North, including the increasing alcoholism among native peoples after vodka was introduced by Russians.
Nosilov’s texts sometimes reveal his personal doubt as to whether intrusion into the worlds of indigenous peoples was a truly good thing. This instance of the coloniser’s self-reflexivity is an interesting topic to consider: Nosilov’s rich cultural heritage requires a new critical reading framed with post-colonial theory. The story of Nosilov’s final years brings an additional dramatic element to it. Due to his deteriorating relationship with the State after the installation of Bolshevik rule in 1917, his family had to leave their estate, Nakhodka near Shadrinks (EAP016 includes numerous pictures of the estate) and moved to Georgia where Nosilov died in 1923.
Nosilov's estate 'Nakhodka'
Anna Maslenova, British Library PhD placement student working on the project ‘Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples’
References and further reading:
K. D. Nosilov, Tania Logaĭ: razskaz i zhizni sievernykh inorodtsev (Moscow, 1907). RB.23.a.32078.
K. D. Nosilov, U vogulov: ocherki i nabroski (St Peterburg: 1904). 10292.k.21
K. D. Nosilov, Na Novoi Zemle: Ocherki i nabroski (St Peterburg: 1903) (10292.k.20),
Konstantin Nosilov, Severnye rasskazy (Sverdlovsk, 1938). X.808/9359.
Johanna Nichols, ‘Stereotyping Interethnic Communication: The Siberian Native in Soviet Literature’ in Between Heaven and Hell: The Myth of Siberia in Russian Culture, ed. by Galya Diment and Yuri Slezkine (New York, 1993), pp. 185–214. YC.1993.a.3771
Yuri Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Ithaca, 1994). YC.1994.b.5452
A. K. Omelʹchuk, K. Nosilov (Sverdlovsk, 1989).
N. B. Gramatchikova, ‘Tvorcheskii putʹ K. D. Nosilova: zhiznennyi putʹ i publitsistika’ in Deviatye Chupinskie kraevedcheskie chteniia: materialy konferentsii, ed. by E. N. Efremova (Ekaterinburg, 2018)
10 March 2023
Do not forget, with good intent
Speak quietly of me
(Taras Shevchenko, ‘Testament’, translated by Vera Rich)
Every year, on 9-10 March, ‘Shevchenko’s Days’ (Shevchenkivs’ki dni) are celebrated in Ukraine. The national poet, founder of modern Ukrainian literature and famous artist Taras Shevchenko was born on 9 March 1814. On 10 March 1861 he died at the age of 47 after more than 10 years in exile as a private in the Russian military garrison in Orsk (near the Ural Mountains) and then in Kazakhstan. The Tsar added to his sentence: ‘Under the strictest surveillance, without the right to write or paint’. But Shevchenko’s talent went beyond such restrictions. His poems had an immense impact on Ukrainian society and became a vital source of the consolidation of the Ukrainian nation.
As a result of a joint project between the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), administered by the British Library, and the Taras Shevchenko National Museum in Kyiv (Ukraine), the British Library holds copies of a digital collection of Shevchenkiana (works by, about, or relating to Shevchenko). It includes books, serials and archival materials dating from the 19th to the early 20th century (about 60,000 images). The collection, which is called ‘Saving the original lifetime archive of the well-known Ukrainian poet, artist and thinker, T. H. Shevchenko’, is available via the EAP website and can be searched via the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.
Shevchenkiana includes not only the publications of the poet’s own works, including those from his own lifetime, but also literary journals and almanacs, where his poems were published (Lastovka, 1841; Molodyk, 1843; Khata, 1860; Osnova, 1861–1862, etc.). There are also publications about Shevchenko, books by writers and poets of his time, translations of his works and archival materials.
Shevchenko lifetime editions: Hamaliia (ref: EAP657/2/1/7); and Kateryna (ref: EAP657/2/1/8)
Of special value among the editions published in Shevchenko’s lifetime are those containing his personal autographs. For instance, on the title page of the poem ‘Naimychka’ (1860) the poet made an inscription: ‘To Orlovs’ky from T. Shevchenko’. We can assume that it is Volodymyr Orlovsky, a Ukrainian artist famous for his landscape painting (1842–1914). In December 1860, Shevchenko wrote about Orlovsky’s daily visits to him in a letter and expressed the hope that he would have a promising future. Shevchenko not only gave drawing lessons to his young compatriot, but he also provided him with a letter of recommendation to the Saint Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts.
Or another autograph written in pencil on the cover of Psalmy Davydovi to a Serhii Syl’vestrovych whom T. Shevchenko calls ‘Dear compatriot’.
Shevchenko editions with his autographs: Naimychka (ref: EAP657/2/1/6); Psalmy Davydovi (ref: EAP657/2/1/6).
The digitised collection also includes issues of the famous Ukrainian literary journal Osnova (published January 1861–October 1862). Osnova united Ukrainian writers and scholars who wrote fiction, poems, works on history, bibliography, literary criticism, etc. The journal had a noticeable impact on Ukrainian cultural and literary life. Over 70 poems by Shevchenko appeared in it. Novels and poems by well-known Ukrainian writers such as Panteleimon Kulish, Leonid Hlibov, Oleksa Storozhenko, Oleksandr Konys’ky, Hanna Barvinok, Marko Vovchok and others were also published in this journal as well as scholarly research. For instance, Mykola Kostomarov, an outstanding historiographer and historian, contributed scholarly articles and discussed contemporary issues of Ukrainian history. It is important to note that the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue provides an analytical description of all novels, articles and cycles of poems printed in Osnova and other serials.
Osnova, 1861, July-September (ref. EAP657/2/1/19); Khata [almanach], 1860 (ref. EAP657/2/1/13)
The collection also includes some digitised editions of translations of Shevchenko’s works, among them translations into Polish by Antony Gorzałczyński (1862). In the preface to the book Gorzałczyński wrote that Shevchenko’s poetry is a huge lute, composed of a million strings of folk feelings. It contains crying, laughter, pain, groaning, and even mad despair - everything has its own strings and chords. Few of Shevchenko’s contemporaries understood the scale of his legacy so deeply as Gorzałczyński.
Antony Gorzałczyński, Przekłady pisarzów małorossyjskich. T. 1: Taras Szewczenko (z portretem). (Kyiv, 1862). (ref. EAP657/2/3/4)
In ‘Publications of Shevchenko era’, which is another part of this e-collection, there are digitised books by the Ukrainian writers Panteleimon Kulish, Marko Vovchok, Mykhailo Hrushevs’ky, Osyp Bodians’ky, and others, as well as ‘Notes of the Shevchenko Scientific Society’ in Lviv, primers and reading books for children, and other publications characteristic of that era.
An important part of the collection are archival materials which include documents, letters, and manuscripts relating to Shevchenko. Among them: ‘Case of the arrest of A. Navrotsky, V. Belozersky and T. Shevchenko’ (1847), after which Shevchenko spent more than 10 years in exile (ref. EAP657/1/10); ‘Case of the Ukrainian Slavic Association’ (1847) (ref. EAP657/1/14); and ‘Case of the despatch of the private Taras Shevchenko to Ural’sk city’ (1857) with correspondence about the release of Shevchenko from exile (ref. EAP657/1/7).
‘Case of the arrest of A. Navrotsky, V. Belozersky and T. Shevchenko’ (28 Mar 1847–04 Aug 1847) (ref. EAP657/1/10)
Now, after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine reports 1322 cases of damage or destruction of cultural objects and buildings, including 508 libraries, international projects to digitise Ukrainian cultural heritage are gaining special importance. This work provides an opportunity for the long-term preservation of collections, at least in digital form, and provides access to them for readers.
Nadiia Strishenets, Leading researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Academy Fellow
Volodymyr Orlovsʹkyĭ (1842–1914), Mykola Pymonenko (1862–1912), (Khmelnytskyi, 2006.): LF.31.a.3570
08 March 2023
‘… she was a foolish young woman who never realised the nature of her error,’ said Derek Freeman of Margaret Mead. Mead, an advocate of abortion rights and no-fault divorce, was one of many early women anthropologists who suffered from androcentric bias. While Ruth Benedict claimed that the purpose of anthropology is ‘to make the world safe for human difference,’ women faced various obstacles and discrimination and yet still played a crucial part in the formative years of cultural anthropology.
Even if some scholars such as Edward B. Tylor advocated for women to be included in the discipline, a woman, particularly professionally educated, was a rare breed in early ethnology and anthropology studies. We have heard of Mead or Benedict, both well-established figures in Western scientific circles. However, anthropologists and ethnologists from Eastern Europe whose work is important for humanities barely register in public consciousness.
Photograph of Julia Averkieva from Julia Averkieva and Mark A. Sherman’s Kwakiutl String Figures (Vancouver, 1992) YA.1993.b.7126.
Outside of specialist circles, it is unusual to hear about Julia Averkieva, a Soviet student of Franz Boas, or Branislava Sušnik, a Slovenian-Paraguayan anthropologist who has a street named after her in Asunción and a stamp issued by the Paraguayan Post with her portrait on it.
Photograph of Branislava Sušnik from Branislava Sušnik’s Artesanía indígena: ensayo analítico (Asunción, 1986) YA.1992.a.22026.
Equally, women ethnographers, such as the Czech Teréza Nováková, who had to publish her findings in a journal called Housewife (Czech: Domací hospodyně), are rarely celebrated. Nováková was not only a collector of patterns, embroidery, and ceramics, but also a passionate feminist fighting for women’s rights.
Illustration from Teréza Nováková’s, Kroj lidový národní vyšivání na Litomyšlsku (Olomouci, 1890) 7705.h.28.
One of the rare exceptions who managed to establish herself in the Western-oriented discipline was Maria Czaplicka. This Polish-born, British-educated anthropologist registered on the Western-centered academic radar and, to a lesser extent, in the British public awareness.
Portrait of Maria Czaplicka from her book My Siberian Year (London, 1916) 010076.ee.2.
Czaplicka passed her A-levels in partitioned Poland at a male school, as matura (A-levels) from a girls’ school would not allow her to continue to higher education. When, as the first woman in the history of the programme, she was awarded the Mianowski Scholarship, she could finally afford to study abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science and later at Oxford. After her very successful Yenisei expedition, described in detail in the diary My Siberian Year, she became the first female lecturer in anthropology at Oxford University. Unfortunately, she had to give up this position when an academic whom she was replacing came back from the First World War. Czaplicka actively supported suffrage and combated anti-Polish propaganda present in the British press. After assisting Franz Boas in the United States, she moved to a new position at Bristol University. However, her career in a male-dominated academic field started to decline, and in 1921, after failing to secure funding that would allow her to pay her debts, the anthropologist committed suicide.
Czaplicka was one of the trailblazing female academics. Unfortunately, as in the case of many of her female colleagues, her gender and marital status played a role in the way she and her work were perceived. She had to deal with issues her male colleagues in the same discipline never encountered – gender was a stumbling block to a successful future in the field of academia. Even the fact that Czaplicka travelled during her expedition in the company of a man was frowned upon. Women doing fieldwork were perceived with a certain suspicion. In My Siberian Year, Maria recalls: ‘This reminds me…of ingenious conjectures put forward by certain Sibiriaks to account for the appearance of three foreign women in the remote region of their country. One thought we were traders; another said "Spies!"; a third added fresh terrors to the disagreeable possibilities suggested by the first two explanations – we were suffragettes, banished to Siberia by the British Government, through a special arrangement with the Tsar.’
Czaplicka, who herself could proudly wear a ‘suffragette’ badge, is one of the heroines of an exhibition currently on show at The National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. "Women Ethnographers, Anthropologists, and Professors" aims to change the focus from history to herstory. The curator's talk is available here.
Illustration from Maria Czaplicka’s My Siberian Year (London, 1916) 010076.ee.2. The original caption states ‘The author riding Dolgan fashion with a riding stick’. The presence of two, probably Dolgan, women who are in the picture is not mentioned. Except for her closest European travel companions and a ‘man-servant’, the subjects of Czaplicka’s photo remain nameless, identifiable only by their ethnicity. Such an approach, symptomatic of the early anthropology era, clearly demonstrates the imbalanced scientist-native power dynamic.
Despite facing many obstacles, in due course, women managed to put their stamp on ethnography, ethnology, cultural anthropology, and various fields in science. Czaplicka, Sušnik, Nováková, and their numerous counterparts in Western anthropology took a stand, firmly believing in their own abilities, and forwarded women’s cause. It is indisputable that we should re-evaluate their body of work, taking into consideration today's system of values. Pioneering women in anthropology were a part of the same system as their male colleagues, the system that enabled colonial attitudes that allowed empires to persist and thrive. However, this does not mean that we should not give credit where it is overdue. In the words of French anthropologist Françoise Héritier, ‘indeed, you must never take things as established; you must ask about their basis.’
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
15 February 2023
In November 2022 one of the main Polish newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, published a list of ten best books of the past year chosen by their journalists. In a country where simply coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can be a radical act, number four on the list went to a thick tome presenting 79 autobiographical stories of queer persons living in Poland. The book was a result of a contest organised by the Institute of Applied Social Sciences of the University of Warsaw.
Front cover of Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie (Kraków 2022; awaiting shelfmark)
Titled Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie (‘All the strength I muster to live’), the anthology is a grim but necessary read. In the words of Polish writer Renata Lis, the compilation is an indictment against Poland for violence and humiliation suffered by members of the queer community.
A page from m.a.c.’s diary in Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie featuring a quote from a Polish Romantic poet C.K. Norwid: “Polishness is a bitter bread”.
“When I was sixteen, I was not afraid of walking the streets of Warsaw holding hands with my girlfriend. I would proudly go to parades waving a flag that for me and many others became a symbol of our freedom. … Today they burn our flags and turn us into animals. These are the same people I shared a desk with at history lessons and learned about concentration camps” writes ‘Alekto’.
The title of the collection is taken from Paweł Bednarek’s story. ‘All the strength I muster to live has always come from within me,’ Paweł states, reflecting on his youth. The diaries testify to oppression, but also show extraordinary resilience of people who had to fight against prejudice on a daily basis.
A page from one of diaries featured in Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie
This tenacity and desire to express an identity without complying with suffocating constrictions of societal judgment, to show yourself for who you are, is equally evident in stories of Polish drag queens and kings. Jakub Wojtaszczyk paints a fascinating and colourful picture of Polish drag scene in Cudowne przegięcie. Reportaż o polskim dragu (‘Wonderful Campness: a Reportage on Polish Drag’). The journalist, who himself identifies as non-heteronormative, sketches sensitive and dynamic portraits of characters who proudly walk or dance through life’s stage.
Cover of Cudowne przegięcie. Reportaż o polskim dragu (Kraków 2022; awaiting shelfmark) featuring a photo of Twoja Stara by Krystian Lipiec. ‘Twoja Stara’ (Your Old Lady) is a drag name of Piotr Buśko.
The haunting and sometimes beautiful experience of queer memory of Central and Eastern Europe is also explored by a Polish artist Karol Radziszewski as shown in The Power of Secrets. The book is a montage of fictional and archival materials formulating “new ways of understanding history, memory, or legislation”. Radziszewski employs various strategies to reconstruct cis-gendered mainstream narrative by interrogating and contesting its heteronormativity.
Cover of The Power of Secrets. Karol Radiszewski (Warsaw, 2021) m22/.10361.
The creator’s projects such as Poczet (the word means a gallery or succession of rulers) question the representation of historical and contemporary figures of prominence – writers, artists, musicians, academics – in Polish culture. By using a traditional medium of painting Radziszewski challenges a conventional assumption of what Poczet should be. The term is most often associated with a pompous representation of people in power, aimed at establishing a symbolical continuity of dynasties and legitimising rulers. Such legitimisation was usually done in European tradition by means of dynastical, heterosexual marriages. Poczet substitutes the grandeur of royalty with cultural icons whose lives, by today’s standards, we would consider non-heteronormative such as Maria Komornicka, Karol Szymanowski, Józef Czapski, Jan Lechoń, Witold Gombrowicz, Jerzy Andrzejewski or Maria Janion. Poczet found its permanent home at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.
Images from Poczet series by Karol Radiszewski in The Power of Secrets.
The Power of Secrets is a potent project that reveals as much about the Queer Archive Institute’s creator as about the cultural background that the Polish queer community comes from. The very background that can motivate one to transgress outdated social expectations in order to freely express yourself or cut your wings.
Olga Topol, Curator East European Collections
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