Prism of Russia: Cornelis de Bruyn and Robert G. Latham

Cornelis de Bruyn’s Russia

View of Moscow from <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21347388410001021" <i>Travels into Muscovy, Persia, and Part of the East Indies</i></a> by Cornelis de Bruyn, 1737, DS 7.B93 Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

View of Moscow from Travels into Muscovy, Persia, and Part of the East Indies by Cornelis de Bruyn, 1737, DS 7.B93 Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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.

Man with reindeer from <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&amp;vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21347388410001021"><i>Travels into Muscovy, Persia, and Part of the East Indies</i></a> by Cornelis de Bruyn, 1737, DS 7.B93 Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Man with reindeer from Travels into Muscovy, Persia, and Part of the East Indies by Cornelis de Bruyn, 1737, DS 7.B93 Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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

Map titled "An Ethnographical Map of Russia in Europe" by Robert G. Latham from <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21357854370001021" <i>The Native Races of the Russian Empire</i></a>, DK 33 .L35, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. Robert Latham’s text was published in 1854 and relies on his own study as well as the Petersburg map which was drawn in 1852.

Map titled “An Ethnographical Map of Russia in Europe” by Robert G. Latham from The Native Races of the Russian Empire, DK 33 .L35, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. Robert Latham’s text was published in 1854 and relies on his own study as well as the Petersburg map which was drawn in 1852.

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.

Reference box from map in The Native Races of the Russian Empire, DK 33 .L35, General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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.  

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
This entry was posted in Featured Collections & Books, HS600 Posts, Rare books, Student Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s