The Museum at the End of the World: Encounters in the Russian Far East

The Museum at the End of the World: Encounters in the Russian Far East

The Museum at the End of the World: Encounters in the Russian Far East

The Museum at the End of the World: Encounters in the Russian Far East


A little over a century ago the American Museum of Natural History launched its ambitious Jesup North Pacific Expedition to learn more about the peoples inhabiting the remote easternmost extension of Siberia and the northwest coast of North America. In The Museum at the End of the World: Encounters in the Russian Far East, anthropologists Alexia Bloch and Laurel Kendall tell the story of their journey through this same part of the world in 1998, retracing the old expedition as they link the expedition legacy of artifacts, photographs, and archival material from the museum in New York to the present-day descendants of its subjects.

Contrasting the time of the Jesup expedition with their own travel, the authors reveal a physical and cultural landscape that was profoundly shaken over the past century, first by Soviet control and then by that empire's unraveling. The Museum at the End of the World is not the story of a heroic adventure but rather a series of conversations about Siberian culture with museum workers, native scholars, performers and artisans, and a great variety of ordinary people. They reveal a strong concern about past legacies, cultural preservation, and their uncertain future as they struggle to reinvent themselves.

The authors' combination of travelers' curiosity and professional inquiry provide a compelling portrait of life in the Russian Far East and a meditation on the fate of culture and tradition in the face of hard economic times and sudden autonomy after decades of state control.


New York, American Museum of Natural History, March 24, 1900
I herewith appoint you to take charge of the work of the Jesup North Pacific
Expedition in northeastern Asia. … The object of the expedition is an ethnological
and zoological survey of northeastern Asia. … [Since] Mrs. Jochelson and Mrs.
Bogoras are going to accompany the expedition to the field, and thus form part of your
party … all scientific work of the ladies must be considered as part of the results of
the expedition

Franz Boas to Waldemar Jochelson

March 26, 1900
The principal object of your work will be a thorough investigation of the Koryak,
maritime Chukchi, and eastern Yukaghir from all points of view—ethnological,
linguistical, and somatological. You will use every effort to collect as full information
and as full collections as possible from these tribes…. You will endeavor to represent
fully in your collections objects that are new to science. You will also make special
efforts to obtain a good collection of anthropological photographs and plaster casts.
You will make studies and collections among the [neighboring tribes] … if
opportunity should offer

Boas to Jochelson

At the end of the nineteenth century, Dr. Franz Boas of the American Museum of Natural History organized the most ambitious expedition in the history of American ethnology. Two teams of researchers, one on each side of the Bering Strait, would conduct parallel and comprehensive research to determine the historical connections between the Native peoples of easternmost Siberia and the northwest coast of North America. As part of the Siberian team, he commissioned two rehabilitated revolutionaries, Waldemar Jochelson and Waldemar Bogoras, and an ivory-tower philologist, Berthold Laufer. Jochelson and Borgoras, friends who had sustained each other with a lively correspondence throughout their years of exile, returned to Siberia accompanied . . .

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