Vladimir Bogoraz (known in English as Waldemar Bogoras) pioneered the study of the Chukchi among other topics of anthropological research in the Siberian
North. He first came into contact with the peoples of northeastern Siberia as a political exile, banished to the Kolyma River as a consequence of his underground activities against the czarist regime. His ethnographic and folklore studies of the Chukchi and neighboring peoples, which began to appear in print shortly after his return from exile, have remained, in certain aspects, unsurpassed in the field of anthropology. After the Russian revolution (c.1905-1921), Bogoraz, along with Lev Y. Shternberg, founded the so-called Leningrad School of Ethnography.
Bogoraz's career as an Arctic fieldworker began in 1890, shortly after his arrival in northeastern Siberia, where he started to collect and record folkloric materials among the Russian population. Although his work among the so-called Russian Old Settlers is rarely remembered today, it resulted in a valuable body of texts and also triggered further inquiries into the ethnic landscapes of the Lower Kolyma River. A major event during Bogoraz's years as an involuntary fieldworker was his participation in the so-called Sibiryakov Expedition, which was funded by the rich gold miner Alexander M. Sibiryakov and organized by the Russian Geographical Society. The expedition explored different areas of what is now the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), and Bogoraz's assignment was the study of the Chukchi and Even peoples. In the course of the expedition, Bogoraz participated in the conduct of the first All-Russian census of 1897 along the Kolyma River. The materials collected enabled Bogoraz to publish his first scholarly contributions to Chukchi ethnography.
Bogoraz's participation in the Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902), masterminded by Franz Boas and organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, marked yet another significant contribution. Together with Vladimir I. Iokhel'son, Bogoraz led the northern party of the Siberian section of the expedition. Bogoraz spent over 12 months in Chukotka and northern Kamchatka (1900-1901), and his travels introduced him to the Reindeer and Maritime Chukchi, as well as the Yupiget (Siberian Yupik). Bogoraz returned to St Petersburg with a wealth of ethnographic data, linguistic notes and texts, ethnographic artifacts, skeletal samples, archaeological specimens, as well as photographs and voice recordings.
The Jesup North Pacific Expedition resulted in the publication of Bogoraz's best-known research—The Chukchee, a massive, three-part monograph that originally appeared in English under the editorship of Boas. Despite its mono-ethnic title, the work provided outstanding ethnographic data not only about the Chukchi but also about the Yupiget and, to a lesser degree, the Koryak, Yukagir, Even, and Russian Old
Settlers. In accordance with other major baseline ethnographies at the turn of the century, Bogoraz managed to include references to a myriad of anthropological interests, including fishing implements to funeral ceremonies, shamanism to dog-breeding, and from children's games to customary law. The Chukchee is also characterized by an unusual amount of historical information and remains the single best ethnographic source ever written about this people. Other monographs resulting from the expedition include an outstanding volume on Chukchi mythology (Bogoras, 1910) and a short collection of Siberian Yupik folklore (Bogoras, 1913).
While The Chukchee primarily described the various aspects of ethnography, Bogoraz's theoretical writings demonstrate influences from evolutionism and geographic determinism. Most of Bogoraz's scholarly works published outside Russia appeared under the name of Waldemar Bogoras, while he used the pen-name "Tan" as a novelist.
Bogoraz was a self-taught scholar who had no academic standing prior to the Russian revolution. His activities and support for the new government, nonetheless, helped move him into influential positions. In 1918, he became a curator at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences and was given the academic title of professor. In 1922, Bogoraz joined the staff of the faculty of ethnography at the Geographical Institute, which became the core institution of the Leningrad School of Ethnography. He and his colleagues trained the first generation of Soviet anthropologists working in Siberia and elsewhere. Bogoraz was also active in the Committee of the North and served as the director of the Institute of the Peoples of the North in Leningrad. In these and other capacities, Bogoraz contributed to the development of written languages, as well as to the compilation of textbooks and dictionaries for the Chukchi and other peoples. He was the founder and director of the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism in Leningrad, which provided him with the opportunity to exhibit artifacts of Siberian shamanism and of other traditional forms of religion, while at the same time serving the official cause of the fight against religion.
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