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"Boundaries of History": Dmitry Arzyutov and David Anderson about a Trans-Eurasian History of the Search for the Shirokogoroffs’ Archive

Dmitry Arzyutov (Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm) and David Anderson (University of Aberdeen), laureates of the Ab Imperio Award 2019, spoke about the search for the archive of Sergei and Elizabeth Shirokogoroff in their lecture in the series of the research seminar “Boundaries of History.”

"Boundaries of History": Dmitry Arzyutov and David Anderson about a Trans-Eurasian History of the Search for the Shirokogoroffs’ Archive

Searching for the imperial anthropologists’ archive, Arzyutov and Anderson followed the life trajectories of their heroes, launching an almost detective story of the quest for papers and material evidence. The original idea of ​​finding a coherent and cataloged archive of the famous ethnographers, however, quickly proved to be a naive endeavor. Fragments, doubles, handwritten and printed copies of the Shirokogoroffs' papers migrated and circulated in different contexts, sprouting in different places and intellectual landscapes, but never taking a coherent and standardized form. Consequently, the original question changed from "where is the archive of the anthropologists?" to "what is such an archive?" The researchers propose to view this archive as fragmented and multiplied, where each document, nevertheless, is implicitly or even explicitly linked to other materials within this moving array of records.

One of the reasons behind the ‘scattered’ nature of the Shirokogoroffs’ archive are the life trajectories of its creators that unfolded during the epoch of great transformations in Russia and beyond. Sergei Mikhailovich Shirokogoroff was born in Suzdal in 1887, then spent a long time in Yuryev (now Tartu) and Paris. Upon his return to Russia, he married Elizabeth and soon obtained a place at the St. Petersburg University, spending most of his time in the fieldwork in Siberia and in the eastern borderlands of the empire. The revolution in Russia forced the couple to migrate first to Vladivostok, and then to China, where Sergei and Elizabeth stayed for good. They produced a huge documentary baggage which was not always as mobile as its owners. Shirokogoroff, already in Beijing, lamented that he had left an archive of his papers in a closet in Petrograd, where Soviet era researchers would later make great use of it, even despite the ban on his works. His Beijing-era papers and books, according to various versions, were either confiscated by the Japanese authorities during the Second World War or taken out by a French consul. Their current whereabouts are unknown.

Despite the unavailability of the archive in its ‘classical’ form, the ‘nomadic’ archive of the Shirokogoroffs still surfaces and manifests itself in variegated contexts: in the works of his students, with Bronisław Malinowski among others, in the theory of etnos, and even in the curiosity of distant colleagues: the famous Norwegian anthropologist Frederic Barth, for example, was interested in Shirokogoroff’s works, and one of his students, Donald Tumasonis, whom Bart instructed to find materials about the Russian ethnographer, responded to the search for Arzyutov and Anderson, stating that he also had his own Shirokogoroffs’ archive: his archive turned out to be a collection of the reminiscence of the Shirokogoroffs’s relatives, friends, and colleagues.

The migrations of the Shirokogoroffs' archive continue to this day: many of its artifacts are still circulating in various contexts. The story of this ‘moving’ archive also points to the role of exchanges and dialogues, borrowings and curiosities which forged new connections, building transnational bridges.

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