The FENOR school is over – next edition to come

The “nomadic” Ph.D. Summer School “Field Experiences in Northwest Russia” (FENOR) has been a full success

After two weeks of extensive travelling and working together on different aspects of Northern Anthropology, our very diverse group has grown into a tight-knit team. At the end of our school it was hard to believe that most of us had known each other for only two weeks and it was sad to leave. The programme was tough, but thanks to the perfect organisation of the trip and the amazing discipline and punctuality of all members of the school, everything went fine.

The school consisted of a well-balanced mix of lectures, fieldwork tasks and guided tours in very heterogeneous locations, from villages of five inhabitants to cities of five million! We started in St. Petersburg, where people got acquainted with each other and where Professors Peter Schweitzer (University of Vienna) and Nikolai Vakhtin (European University of St. Petersburg) held first introductory lectures. The other professors and lecturers of the school were Florian Stammler (University of Lapland), Alla Bolotova (European University of St. Petersburg), Julia Lajus (National Research University Higher School of Economics), Lera Vasilyeva (European University St. Petersburg) and Ksenia Gavrilova (European University St. Petersburg).


The Karelian viallage dweller Nadezhda (left) during her autobiographical presentation

After one night in Petrozavodsk we headed to Kinerma, a tiny village with a permanent population of five plus a considerable share of only summer-time dwellers from cities. This village successfully sells itself as a “true” Karelian village with “typical” Karelian architecture, mainly thanks to the decades-long efforts of Nadezhda, who came from the city some twenty-five years ago and now runs the tourism business and in fact the whole village.

The dreamy village of Kinerma.

The dreamy village of Kinerma.

Our mini-fieldwork here consisted in not only listening to Nadezhda’s narrative for visitors, but in de-constructing it thoroughly. In Nadezhda’s account, an inflated ethnicity of the atmosphere and architecture of the village was a major leitmotiv. She converted herself from a Soviet citizen to a “Karelian” one, and this newly created identity, is also a kind of self-commodification out of which she makes her own living.

IMGP3741Another impressing place we visited was the mass grave of Sandarmokh where an estimated more than 9000 victims of Stalinist purges are buried. The site was discovered accidentally only in 1999, and most of the victims remain nameless till this day.
We went there for the yearly commemoration day, and we tried to find answers to questions like: What groups are represented among visitors and victims? How do the visitors categorise and define themselves? Who is hosting and organising the commemoration, and who pays for it? What is the general narrative, what are common rhetoric features during the celebration? Who is made responsible? The event is mainly organised by the NGO Memorial, which deals with Stalinist repressions, and with some support of the local authorities.


A gathering of a victim’s descendants

The speakers focused on honouring the victims, without blaming anybody, especially not the state. From certain answers to our questions we had the impression that there was a general fear by the organisers that such accusations could politicise the meeting and thus threaten its existence in the future. This hints to an implicit supposed continuity between the Soviet and the current authorities, but it was never spoken out as such.

The plates of victims are not placed on the actual place of their graves because they are unknown. The plates are private initiatives of the relatives, and by far not all victims have plates.

The plates of victims are not placed on the actual place of their graves because they are unknown. The plates are private initiatives of the relatives, and by far not all victims have plates.

One of our next stops in our diverse programme was Segezha, a typical northern mono-industrial town. From outside, the dominating building of the factory reminds the exploded reactor of Chernobyl, but in fact it is a functioning pulp and paper mill. As our guide Evgeniia Odessovna put it, the fumes protruding from every hole and crack in the walls of the building bear the smell of money!

The reactor-like pulp and paper mill of Segezha

The reactor-like pulp and paper mill of Segezha

The workers of the factory were very welcoming, however, they were surprised that we are not technicians but humanities scholars. Presenting myself to the foreman as an ethnographer – which to laymen is the most understandable of the numerous designations of our profession – he of course wondered why we are in this factory, given that there are no indigenous people working here with traditional methods!


At the entrance of the Segezha factory





The visual and probably emotional culmination of our trip through the Russian North was the Solovetsky islands. During its long history, this remote place hosted both an important monastery and the horror of inhumane incarcerations. What was new to me, is that these apparently incompatible phenomena were not strictly separated by the change of Russian-Soviet-Russian epochs but at some times happened simultaneously. In the thick, cold and wet walls of the monastery there were cells for the bitterest enemies of the tsar, and these cells were managed by the monks.

The Solovki monastery

The Solovki monastery

During Soviet times, the monks themselves, among many other incoming convicts, became prisoners of their former monastery. The island was transformed into the very first prison of the GULag, and that’s from where originates Solzhenitsyn’s idea to name his famous book “the GULag archipelago”. Later on the prison was closed and the island became a heavily guarded military base. There are still some rusty leftovers from hat time. Today, the monastery is functioning again, and its formal and informal power over the island and its inhabitants was one of the focuses of our fieldwork exercises on the island. For instance, the monastery has a monopoly on selling religion-related items to the thousands of tourists and pilgrims flocking in every year. Although there is no law enforcing this monopoly, locals unanimously say that you shouldn’t argue with the monastery. You never know, what could happen to you.

An attempt to catch for an interview one of the ever-busy construction workers

An attempt to catch for an interview one of the ever-busy construction workers

We left Solovki (the short name of the islands) from the lovely local airport, which has a bumpy, “temporary” runway made of metal segments which you stick into each other, a soviet-time military technique rather widespread in the North of Russia.

How the Russians say, there is nothing more permanent than the temporary. We reached Arkhangelsk, the final destination of our trip, safe and sound after a one-hour flight on a 43 years old Antonov 24 plane.

The An-24 just arrived at Solovki

The An-24 just arrived at Solovki

The FENOR summer school has been an amazing experience to all of us. This is also thanks to the wise selection of participants, who came from many different countries and had very diverse backgrounds from the social sciences. Some were already well acquainted to Northern anthropology, others are just planning to bring in anthropological elements into their cross-disciplinary research projects. The next FENOR summer school will take place in September 2016 in Austria. We will keep on discussing the Northern dimensions of anthropology, but this time in an alpine environment.

During autumn/winter of this year we will publish the call for the next school on our blog. So watch out and send in your application!


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Uarctic Extractive Industries PhD programme course, Fairbanks, 24-30 September 2015

The next course in our PhD programme with a focus on the social sciences of Arctic

The Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), (Florian Stammler)

The Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), (Florian Stammler)

extractive industrial development will take place in conjunction with the Arctic Energy Summit in Alaska, Fairbanks. There seem to be some last slots for PhD students available. Students of the University of Lapland can get the course recognised for credits towards their own programme requirements (after discussing this with their supervisor). Please see more details at the Uarctic Ext Ind Fairbanks programme webpage. If you consider participating, please contact Terrence Cole and / or Florian Stammler (emails from the programme page). Please study carefully the course requirements for participation. If you are very lucky and fit all the boxes by our funders, you MAY be eligible for a travel grant that would pay tickets to Alaska, accomodation and registration fee for the Arctic Energy Summit. Tuition for this course is free.

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New book: Before Boas – The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

I would like to announce a newly published book exploring why the cradle of our discipline was to be found in ethnographic research in the Russian Arctic. The present book sums up the results of decades of research into early ethnographic scholarship during the exploration of Siberia in the 18th century and its links to the German enlightenment.

“Before Boas – The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment”

Han F. Vermeulen












(table of content)

The history of anthropology has been written from multiple viewpoints, often from perspectives of gender, nationality, theory, or politics. Before Boas delves deeper into issues concerning anthropology’s academic origins to present a groundbreaking study that reveals how ethnology and ethnography originated during the eighteenth rather than the nineteenth century, developing parallel to anthropology, or the “natural history of man.”

Han F. Vermeulen explores primary and secondary sources from Russia, Germany, Austria, the United States, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Great Britain in tracing how “ethnography” was begun as field research by German-speaking historians and naturalists in Siberia (Russia) during the 1730s and 1740s, was generalized as “ethnology” by scholars in Göttingen (Germany) and Vienna (Austria) during the 1770s and 1780s, and was subsequently adopted by researchers in other countries.

Before Boas argues that anthropology and ethnology were separate sciences during the Age of Reason, studying racial and ethnic diversity, respectively. Ethnography and ethnology focused not on “other” cultures but on all peoples of all eras. Following G. W. Leibniz, researchers in these fields categorized peoples primarily according to their languages. Franz Boas professionalized the holistic study of anthropology from the 1880s into the twentieth century.

Han F. Vermeulen is a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale) and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. Lincoln and London, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. Hardback, xxvi + 720 pp. ISBN 978-0-8032-5542-5. 10 images, 6 maps, 12 tables. Price: $75.00, £52.00, € 53,95.

If you want to purchase the book directly from the publisher feel free to mention the discount (25%) code when ordering in the US with use code 6AS15.

For UK and Europe: with 20% off only £41.60* when you order using code CSF615BOAS Order online:
Order by telephone: call Marston on +44 (0)1235 465500

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New M.A. programme Arctic anthropology! / Магистерская программа Арктическая антропология

Svetlana Zhavoronok. Important resources for Arctic people

The European University in St Petersburg launches a new masters programme on northern Anthropology! The Programme is coordinated by Nikolay Vakhtin, with courses read by Elena Lyarskaya, Veronika Simonova, Alla Bolotova and Stephan Dudeck, all of whom are fluent in English and Russian.

Courses taught include general anthropological courses on theory, methods and ideas in contemporary northern anthropology, as well as special fields such as “oil, gas, and people” in Siberia, or “the contemporary Arctic city”, or “the state and the indigenous people”.

The next deadline for applications is August 1, 2015. More information can be found on the site of the EU SPb Arctic Research Centre.

Read on here for information in Russian

Continue reading

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Arctic Anthropologist as Arctic Centre Director?

Dear all readers worldwide.

Drumming up good candidates for the Director post of Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi

Drumming up candidates for the Director post of Arctic Centre Rovaniemi (thanks, Yamal Iri for lending this Image)

The University of Lapland advertises internationally the position for a new director of the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi. It is one of the leading research centres on Arctic Research with a fairly even composition of social and natural scientists.

Our centre has been led for the last 15 years by Paula Kankaanpää and we are sad to see her go on, but wish her an exciting time at her new chosen position. Theoretically the new director could be an Arctic Anthropologist. Would somebody like to apply? If so, here is the link to the job advert and instructions

It’s a nice place to work.

The more good candidates we get, hopefully the better will be the new director for the Arctic Centre!

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Beyond perception conference

The previous blog topic by Anna on humans and animals is very prominent in the programme of the upcoming super-interesting “Beyond Perception” conference at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

perception, livelihood, dwelling, movement: Kamchatka's number one reindeer herder Kiriak Petrovich in the front of his nomadic dwelling and his horses. Both humans and animals moved to Kamchatka from Yakutia in the 19th century

perception, livelihood, dwelling, movement: Kamchatka’s number one reindeer herder Kiriak Petrovich in the front of his nomadic dwelling and his horses. Both humans and animals moved to Kamchatka from Yakutia in the 19th century

The conference takes key topics of Tim Ingold’s work as starting points and explores in five sessions how researchers – from anthropology and also other disciplines – have worked with these ideas in their work. Ingold’s work has inspired a whole generation of anthropologists well beyond the North, not least because his ideas are so inviting for critical ethnographic scrutiny and discussion. As Arctic Anthropology has been a lot about human-animal relations, the perception of the environment in general and movement, this multidisciplinary conference will surely be extremely inspiring for any of our readers to attend. Early bird registration is now open until July 1. Check out their website here.

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Why are Arctic animals like they are? FieldWorking together: anthropologists and geneticists search for an answer.

The joint field trip to a reindeer farm in Finland in April was the first experience of a collaborative work of social and natural scientists to understand processes of animal adaptation to extreme Arctic environments. The ‘Arctic Ark’ project (Arctic Ark. Human-animal adaptation to the Arctic environment: natural and folk selection practices, 2015-2018) consists of two distinct but integrated parts. Natural scientists are dealing with the detailed animal biological genome to get more insights about nature evolution. Changes in physiology and metabolism here are crucial to adapt to annually changing, specific vegetation and cold temperature. Comparison with the samples from other animals and regions can greatly contribute to better understanding of adaptive processes in the North.

Reindeer farm

Anthropologists focus on local knowledge and practices related to selective breeding and desired use of animals. Slaughtering is part of reindeer breeding and it was a good occasion for us to learn more about selective choices of reindeer herders – why were these particular animals selected? Anyway, we anthropologists (Nuccio Mazzullo and me) and our master student Leon Fuchs, without any previous experience of sampling, learned a lot about sophisticated methods of collecting tissues and contributed as much as we could to the samples preservation by our colleagues, at least holding the lid of nitrogen container or labeling glass tubes.

glass tubes

Joining the reindeer feeding was for the anthropologists a great possibility to get insights about the different activities needed to keep animals healthy and to learn more about the concept of the ‘beautiful herd’.


Here are Leon’s (Arctic Centre/University of Versailles) notes on feeding:

“In wintertime, reindeer are kept together in a large outdoor enclosure. The herder mainly feeds them with artificial food. To do this, he uses his snowmobile and pulls a trailer loaded with granules into the forest. Once in the enclosed area, reindeer follow the snowmobile and run around the herder. They seem to know what is going on and they appear to be quite used to the process. The trailer is designed in a way that the food is spread throughout the pen in a sufficiently fair manner for every reindeer, and the animals align themselves to get food in a straight line. After only a few minutes, the food is all gone and reindeer go a bit further away in the forest. While feeding the animals, the herder also talked about the colors of reindeer, their antlers and health issues. Besides, he showed us some particular trees and explained that he sometimes cuts branches to feed reindeer and clean the forest”.

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