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Lev Shternberg

Anthropologist, Russian Socialist, Jewish Activist

Sergei A. Kan

Publication Year: 2009

This intellectual biography of Lev Shternberg (1861–1927) illuminates the development of professional anthropology in late imperial and early Soviet Russia. Shortly after the formation of the Soviet Union the government initiated a detailed ethnographic survey of the country’s peoples. Lev Shternberg, who as a political exile during the late tsarist period had conducted ethnographic research in northeastern Siberia, was one of the anthropologists who directed this survey and consequently played a major role in influencing the professionalization of anthropology in the Soviet Union.

But Shternberg was much more than a government anthropologist. Under the new regime he continued his work as the senior curator of the St. Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, which began in the early 1900s. In the last decade of his life Shternberg also played a leading role in establishing a new Soviet school of cultural anthropology and in training a cohort of professional anthropologists. True to the ideals of his youth, he also continued an active involvement in the intellectual life of the Jewish community, even though the new regime was making it increasingly difficult.
This in-depth biography explores the scholarly and political aspects of Shternberg’s life and how they influenced each other. It also places his career in both national and international perspectives, showing the context in which he lived and worked and revealing the important developments in Russian anthropology during these tumultuous years.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology


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pp. ix


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p. x-x

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Series Editors' Introduction

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pp. xi-xii

"Because it is based in North America, Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology faces severe risks of inadvertent ethnocentrism in presenting an international view of the anthropological sciences. Sergei Kan offers a biographical account of the career of Lev Shternberg, the late tsarist and early Soviet anthropologist."

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pp. xiii-xiv

"Many individuals deserve my most sincere words of gratitude for their help and encouragement. First and foremost are my University of Chicago mentors Raymond D. Fogelson and George W. Stocking. It was in Stocking's seminar thirty years ago that I first began exploring the life and scholarly legacy of..."

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pp. xv-xxii

"I am often asked why, after two decades of researching and publishing on the culture and history of the Tlingit people of Alaska, I decided to write an intellectual biography of a Russian ethnologist who lived a century ago. There are several answers to this question. To begin with, ever since I took a graduate..."

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1. The Early Years

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pp. 1-24

"Born Khaim Leib Shternberg on April 21 (May 4, new style), 1861, Lev Iakovlevich grew up in Zhitomir, the capital of the Volyn Province (guberniia) in central Ukraine.1 One of the oldest towns in the region, Zhitomir was first part of the Kingdom of Lithuania and later Poland. By the time it was incorporated into..."

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2. Sakhalin

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pp. 25-111

"On May 19, 1889, Lev Shternberg set foot on his 'island prison,' where he was to remain until 1897. Located in the Sea of Okhotsk, Sakhalin Island is nearest the Amur River delta on its northern end and the Japanese island of Hokkaido to its south.1 Sakhalin is about 600 miles long, and its width varies from 16 to..."

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3. Beginning a Professional Career in the Capital

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pp. 112-143

"Lev Shternberg's journey back home was marked by a pleasant reunion with his old friend Krol' as well as encounters with other prominent exiled ethnographers who found his stories about the Nivkh fascinating."

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4. Scholarship and Activism during the 1905 Revolution

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pp. 144-160

"The years Lev Shternberg spent in exile were marked by significant changes in Russia’s economy and society as well the ideology of its opposition movements. The last decade of the nineteenth century witnessed rapid industrialization and the rise of an industrial working class. In the countryside, the rural commune..."

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5. The Last Decade before the Storm

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pp. 161-223

"In the decade prior to World War I, Lev Shternberg continued building up the mae collection.1 Given his own scholarly inclinations, it is not surprising that ethnographic objects from Siberia were of special interest to him. While the mae continued to rely heavily on local amateur collectors, it was finally able..."

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6. The Years of Turmoil, 1914-17

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pp. 224-266

"In early August 1914 Russia entered the war against the Central Powers. Although some of the more radicalized segments of Russia's population and the political parties of the extreme left, particularly the Bolsheviks, opposed the war, a majority of Russians supported it. Patriotic feelings swept across the intelligentsia..."

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7. Building a New Anthropology in the "City of the Living Dead"

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pp. 267-292

"After the SRS abandoned their dream of reconvening the Constituent Assembly, they drew up a set of theses that outlined their policy of peaceful opposition to the Bolsheviks within the framework of the Soviet..."

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8. The NEP Era and the Last Years of Shternberg';s Life

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pp. 293-391

"The peasant uprisings, industrial workers' strikes, and the Kronstadt revolt demonstrated to the regime its declining popularity among a large segment of the Soviet Union's population. To improve the situation, Lenin and his followers within the Communist Party announced in 1921 that major changes would..."

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9. All Humanity Is One

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pp. 392-438

"Lev Shternberg never recovered from his 1926 trip to Japan. In 1927 his duodenal ulcer became much worse, and he began experiencing more frequent and prolonged attacks of sharp pain. He often could not sleep and, being unable to work, suffered not only physically but emotionally as well. In fact, the physicians..."

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pp. 439-446

"Lev Shternberg's contribution to the development of professional ethnology in Russia was very significant. Although he was not the only exiled left-wing intellectual to conduct ethnographic research, he was the first to insist (in his lectures and writings) that it was the sine qua non of serious academic anthropology."


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pp. 447-488


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pp. 489-520


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pp. 521-551

E-ISBN-13: 9780803224704
E-ISBN-10: 0803224702

Illustrations: 22 photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology