The Specific Character of Professional Statuses of Finns in Russian America

By Grinev, Andrei V. | Scandinavian Studies, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

The Specific Character of Professional Statuses of Finns in Russian America


Grinev, Andrei V., Scandinavian Studies


INTRODUCTION

"Russian America" was the name of the Russian colonies in the New World, which began to be settled in the eighteenth century after the Second Kamchatka Expedition of V. I. Bering and A. I. Chirikov discovered the northwest coast of North America and the Aleutian Islands in 1741. These colonies were sold to the United States in 1867 and later became the forty-ninth state--Alaska. The basic economic stimulus for the initial Russian settlement was the territory's valuable furs, which were delivered to markets in Russia and China and, from the mid-nineteenth century, also to Great Britain and the United States. During the course of opening up the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, the Russians first independently procured the hides of sea otters, fur seals, foxes, Arctic foxes, and other fur-bearing animals, and then began to receive furs, exploiting the subjected Aleuts and Koniag and Chugach Eskimos (Sugpiat), or they traded for furs with independent communities of Indians and Eskimos. As the Russians moved into Alaska, trading posts began to be established, and from the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the capital of Russian America--Novo-Arkhangel'sk (Sitka)--craft: workshops emerged and began to construct small ships and later even steamships.

STATE OF THE FIELD

At present, there is a huge historiography on Russian America, especially in the Russian language. It is sufficient to name only the fundamental three-volume History of Russian America, published in 1997-1999 under the editorship of Nikolai Nikolaevich Bolkhovitinov. At the same time, very little is known in Russian historiography about the Alaskan activities of the natives of the Grand Duchy of Finland (Finland, as is well known, was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917). The only exceptions were two governors of Russian America--Admiral Adol'f Karlovich Etolin (Arvid Adolf Etholen, 1798-1876) and Ivan Vasil'evich Furugel'm (Johan Hampus Furuhjelm, 1821-1909), about whom a few articles, essays, and books have come out in various Russian publications. (2) The remaining Finns who lived and served in the transoceanic colonies of Russia are largely overlooked: only one review by Lydia E. Lempiyainen is dedicated to them, published in the journal Klio in 2003, as well as an article by myself, in the same journal, published in 2011. This paucity comes in spite of the fact that, from the 1820s until the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867, Finns were the second-largest immigrant population in the colonies after Russians (for more detail, see Grinev 2010). Lack of scholarship on the Finnish population may stem from the fact that many documents connected with the Finns were written in Swedish and preserved in archives in Finland where access for Russian researchers has been rather difficult for several reasons (e.g., the "Iron Curtain" until the beginning of the 1990s, inadequate financing of scholarly research in modern Russia, difficulty with the Swedish and Finnish languages, and so on). Moreover, not much interest has been shown on the question of Finns in Russian America by American researchers. (3)

It is natural that, in Finland proper, the fate of its residents in the Russian colonies has been investigated in more detail, in several books and articles as well as online. (4) As early as 1990, for instance, a large volume on the ethnographic collections of A. K. Etolin, acquired by him in Russian America, was issued in Helsinki, with an extensive foreword by Pirjo Varjola about Finns who lived in the Russian colonies (Varjola 1990). In 1995, a well-illustrated book on the same topic was published in Jakobstad by Karl-Gustav Olin, which was reprinted in 2009 in Stockholm (Olin 1995). But many works on the role of Finns in the European settlement of the North Pacific belong to the pen of the greatest specialist on this question, Maria Jarlsdotter Enckell. Over the course of two decades, she has conducted a relentless search in Finnish and American archives, trying to establish the kinship and family ties of the Finns who lived in the Russian colonies of the New World. …

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