This publication, which consists of three volumes, constitutes the first major comprehensive ethnographic survey of the different nationalities living within the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century. It was a highly significant scholarly achievement for its time. The book is inscribed to Catherine the Great (1729–96), who had an abiding interest in a modern, scientific categorization and description of the peoples and expanses in her realm. She encouraged and welcomed to Russia many foreign specialists who could assist in this task, including scholars who had the knowledge and technical skills to do the work, which few Russians possessed in this era. The book was compiled by Johann Gottlieb Georgi (1729–1802), a German botanist and geographer from Pomerania. Georgi studied with the famed Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus and received his doctorate from the University of Uppsala in Sweden. He was one of the many German scientists in this era who explored Russia and described botanical, zoological, and ethnographic subjects across the empire, especially in Siberia. Georgi moved to Saint Petersburg upon the invitation of the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences and subsequently took part in multiple research trips in the late 18th century, stretching from the Caspian Sea to Lake Baikal. In terms of methodology, Georgi took a standard contemporary ethnographic approach to describing the ethnic groups in the Russian Empire and key aspects of their histories and cultures. The book summarizes in a systematic way the lifestyles, clothing, religious beliefs and practices, customs and dwellings of the peoples of the empire. Part One, on the “Finnic Tribes,” deals with the Finno-Ugric peoples and related groups in the northern and northwestern regions of Russia. Part Two, on the “Tatar Peoples,” considers the many peoples in the region extending from the Caucasus to southern Siberia, especially those ethnic groups emanating from the former realm of the Mongol khans. Part Three, on the “Samoyed, Manchurian, and Eastern Siberian Peoples,” covers the various ethnic groups on the far northern and eastern fringes of the Russian Empire. Each section is highlighted with colorful illustrations of traditional native costumes and activities. Georgi wrote the manuscript for the book in German, after which it was translated and published in Russian for this edition. Catherine the Great was so pleased with the work that she paid for its publication and awarded Georgi with an elaborate gold snuffbox.
Compiler: Georgi, Johann Gottlieb, 1738-1802
Dedicatee: Catherine II, Empress of Russia, 1729-1796
Place: Europe; Russian Federation
Institution: Russian State Library
Physical description: 3 volumes : illustrations ; 27 centimeters