Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnofrafii   1 (52)  2021



Soviet version of ethno-expertise: reports of Northern ethnographers of 1950s1990s  

Golovnev A.V. (St. Petersburg, Russian Federation), Danilova E.N. (St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation)


             page 132143


The article provides an overview of the ethnographer-to-government reports (n = 106) published in five issues of the Ethnological Expertise: Peoples of the Russian North series. These documents, which represent valuable sources on the history of the northern populations and the national policy of the Soviet government from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s, contain information on demography and distribution of the indigenous groups, economy of collective farms, material status of collective farmers (earnings, living conditions, subsistence, provision of clothing), characteristics of their culture and life, education, and health care. During the analysed period, the monitoring of ethnic communities was carried out as a planned long-term expertise under a unified program throughout the entire territory of the Soviet North. The requirement for this large-scale and continuous survey served as the motive for the creation of the North Sector in the Moscow division of the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, where each specialist was assigned to a particular population (or group of peoples). Preparation of reports for the central and local authorities was a state order and the responsibility of employees of the Institute of Ethnography, who conducted field research in the North and Siberia. The analysis of the documents shows that ethnographers, generally following the ideological and political guidelines of the authorities, tried in some cases rather decisively to correct the policy of the Soviet state in relation to the peoples of the North. Based on their own expert surveys, they criticized the transition of nomads to a settled way of life, the introduction of southern agricultural branches in the North, the lack of ethnographic knowledge among administrators; they discussed and proposed innovations in economy, technology, material culture, etc. The Soviet ethno-expertise encompassed, on the one hand, ethnographic data supporting socialist ideology, on the other elements of academic evaluation; it served as a kind of transmission between the interests of the Soviet state and the northern peoples.

Key words: ethnography, North, Siberia, USSR, people, ethnological expertise, applied research, socialism, sedentarization, nomads.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 07.12.2020

Article is published: 26.02.2021


Golovnev A.V.

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstcamera) of the RAS, Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya, 3, St. Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation



Danilova E.N.

Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstcamera) of the RAS,Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya, 3, St. Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation

Institute of History and Archaeology of the Ural Branch of the RAS, S. Kovalevskoy st., 16, Yekaterinburg, 620099, Russian Federation