Cornelis de Bruyn’s Russia
Often, the images brought back by famous travelers like Cornelis de Bruyn and published in their travel accounts would be the only exposure the average person would have to vast expanses of the globe. While not exactly “maps” in the traditional, navigational sense, these sketches and drawings wielded enormous power in defining a space and shaping the public’s understanding of their world.
However, these images would more often reflect the various authors’ interpretations of that space rather than hard and fast objective fact, as can be seen in these three images. Here, the selected images display the cultural biases at play in the mind of the traveler Cornelis de Bruyn. These images and the larger travel narrative they come from helped familiarize the far off lands of Russia to citizens of the west. However, de Bruyn’s Russia is heavily distorted by his own personal judgments and larger western stereotypes.
- Mark Relation, BC Class of 2015 & Spring 2014 Making History Public Student
Robert G. Latham: Mapping Russia’s Ethnicities
In the 1850s, when Robert G. Latham wrote The Native Races of the Russian Empire, ethnography looked like an empirical version of anthropology, focused around statistics and labeling of cultures as a way of classifying and comparing the foreign ethnic groups in a region. In this way mapping and anthropology were related as ethnographers sought to catalog peoples in various countries. Ethnography grew out of colonization and European empires’ wishes to organize and understand their new territories, including the people living there. Though many travel accounts had already recorded the various non-European ethnic groups across the globe by the time Latham and the St. Petersburg Geographical society were writing, new scientific ideas and imperial competition spurred ethnographers to re-evaluate foreign cultures.
As an ethnographer and philologist, Robert Latham focused much of his ethnographical research in The Native Races of the Russian Empire on the racial origins and linguistics of the various ethnic communities in Russia. This method differed from earlier accounts of foreign peoples in that it stressed a more “scientific” approach to the study of origins rather than a descriptive approach, suggesting that the ethnographic community in the mid-nineteenth century viewed their work as progressive. Latham was not looking to mold his own research to popular ideas at the time. Therefore his exact theories should not necessarily be taken as the majority opinion. Nevertheless, his work and that of the St. Petersburg Geographical Society reflect a larger trend towards ethnography and, to an extent, philology, as the most progressive forms of classification of people and places outside Europe in the mid nineteenth-century.
- Lauren Rever, BC Class of 2019 & Spring 2014 Making History Public Student
The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit Ordering the Unknown: The European Mapping Tradition from 1600 to 1860, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Sylvia Sellers-Garcia’s Spring 2014 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.