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  • Nikolai Kharuzin and the Quest for a Universal Human ScienceAnthropological Evolutionism and the Russian Ethnographic Tradition, 1885–1900
  • Nathaniel Knight (bio)

In 1890, the prominent literary historian Aleksandr Pypin published the first volume of his major study on the history of Russian ethnography. It was a formidable undertaking: by the time publication was complete in 1893, the work had stretched to four densely packed volumes chronicling almost 200 years of scholarship on the peoples and cultures of the Russian empire.1 A decade later, another landmark work in the field of ethnography made its appearance: the first systematic textbook on the subject intended for use in university teaching.2 Sadly, the textbook was a posthumous edition. Its author, Nikolai Kharuzin, died in 1900 at the age of 34, leaving his sister, Vera Kharuzina, an accomplished writer and ethnographer in her own right, with the task of bringing the project to completion.

Two major works, published a decade apart, both aspiring to present a comprehensive overview of ethnography as a scholarly field to an audience of Russian readers—but there the similarities end. Between Pypin's detailed intellectual history of Russian scholarship and Kharuzin's survey of ethnography as an academic field there was little common ground. "Ethnography," Kharuzin declared at the outset, "is a new science," so new, in fact, that its leading practitioners could not even agree on what to call it.3 And who [End Page 83] were these practitioners? "The famous Max Müller" began a parade of English, French, and German names: Léon Rosny, Eugène Verrier, Edward Burnett Tylor, Theodor Waitz, Georg Gerland, and so on. Russian scholars made only a brief appearance in connection with the geographical exploration of Siberia.4 The section devoted to the "History of the Development of Ethnography as a Science: Its Tasks, Methods, and Boundaries" was devoid of Russian names entirely. Whatever the virtues of the scholars described in Pypin's magnum opus, they had little to do, it would appear, with the march of ethnographic science.

The differences between Pypin and Kharuzin were by no means personal or even ideological. In many respects, the two were in the same camp. Pypin was anything but a Slavophile. Underlying his endeavor was a quest to demonstrate the role played by Western enlightenment in unlocking the mysteries of Russian national identity.5 Kharuzin, in turn, was well aware of the tradition of Russian ethnography. He wanted nothing more, in fact, than to apply to the laws of science as he understood them to the vast body of Russian ethnographic literature, most of which remained virtually unknown in the West. If anything, the contrast in their views reflected a generational shift—Pypin was a man of the 1860s, shaped by the ethos of service to the narod, while Kharuzin, coming of age in the reign of Alexander III, was part of a new generation that looked to science to reveal not just the secrets of nature but also the path of human progress.6 Pypin embarked on his study of ethnography in the 1880s as an established scholar with a distinguished record of publication in philology, literary history, and public affairs. Kharuzin, in contrast, was a relative neophyte aspiring to build a scholarly career in the field of ethnography. But for ethnography to bear the weight of a young man's ambitions, it had to be cast in a new and properly scientific light.

Ethnography, as it took shape in Russia from the 1840s onward, was, above all, a science of the particular. Central to the ethnographic endeavor was the concept of narodnost´, the essence of ethnic distinctiveness. The task of the ethnographer, as set out by Nikolai Nadezhdin in 1846, was to catalogue and describe the features of narodnost´ in their native setting, "where [End Page 84] they are and as they are," so that out of the seemingly chaotic assemblage of individual traits a harmonious picture would emerge, revealing the connections among the individual, the nation, and all of humanity.7 While Nadezhdin's interests lay primarily with Russian folk, his methods were equally applicable to the various peoples of the empire. Thus, as ethnography took deeper root...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 83-111
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-10
Open Access
No
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