Creating an Ethnographic Atlas of European Russia as Reflected in Peter von Köppen’s Correspondence with the Academy of Sciences

Keywords: cartography, ethnographic map, Peter von Köppen, Academy of Sciences, Russian Geographical Society, history of science


In the mid-nineteenth century, the development of ethnographic cartography was mostly driven by issues related to the classification and territorial distribution of ethnic groups. However, in the course of this work, cartographers, ethnographers, and statisticians faced economic and material challenges, which have often been overlooked in the scholarship. This article examines the ‘mapping processes’ (М. Edney) of the 1840s through an analysis of correspondence between Peter von Köppen and the Imperial St Petersburg Academy of Sciences about the preparation of the Ethnographic Atlas of European Russia (1848), one of the first ethnographic maps published in the Russian Empire. These sources held in the St Petersburg branch of the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences are published here for the first time and provide detailed information about the circumstances behind the preparation of the atlas. The academy only published a short summary of these discussions, which omitted key financial and methodological details. The correspondence thus provides an alternative perspective on the history of cartography, revealing the difficulties of everyday scientific activity behind the scenes. The exchange vividly describes the relationship between the Academy of Sciences and the Russian Geographical Society during its early years, Köppen’s struggle to finance his various cartographic projects, and the material processes of producing an ethnographic map. The article focuses on how Köppen balanced his scientific vision with his limited material and practical circumstances and the goals of the various scientific organisations he was involved in.

Author Biography

Catherine Gibson

PhD, Research Fellow, University of Tartu.

18, Ülikooli, 50090, Tartu, Estonia.

ORCID 0000-0002-8564-1223


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How to Cite
Gibson, C. (2021). Creating an Ethnographic Atlas of European Russia as Reflected in Peter von Köppen’s Correspondence with the Academy of Sciences. Quaestio Rossica, 9(3), 977–994.