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




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


Bulletin de la Classe Historico-Philologique de l’Académie Impériale des Sciences de St.-Pétersbourg. (1844–1859). St Petersburg, Tipografiya Imperatorskoi Akademii nauk, Leipzig, W. Gräff L. Voss. Vol. 3. 444 p.

Edney, M. (2019). Cartography: The Ideal and Its History. Chicago, L., Univ. of Chicago Press. 309 p.

Etnograficheskii atlas Evropeiskoi Rossii [An Ethnographic Atlas of European Russia]. In Geoportal Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva [website]. URL: (accessed: 15.11.2020).

Etnograficheskii atlas Evropeiskoi Rossii, sostavlennyi Petrom Keppenom [The Ethnographic Atlas of European Russia Created by Peter von Köppen]. (2008). St Petersburg, Al’faret. 82 p.

Gibson, C. (2018). Shading, Lines, Colors: Mapping Ethnographic Taxonomies of European Russia. In Nationalities Papers. Vol. 46, pp. 592–611. DOI 10.1080/00905992.2017.1364229.

Gibson, C. (2020). Mapmaking in the Home and Printing House: Women and Cartography in Late Imperial Russia. In J. of Historical Geography. Vol. 67, pp. 71–80. DOI 10.1016/j.jhg.2019.10.011.

Jeske, M. (2019). Ein Imperium wird vermessen: Kartographie, Kulturtransfer und Raumerschliessung im Zarenreich (1797–1919). PhD Diss. Basel, S. n.

Keppen, P. (1852). Ob etnograficheskoi karte Evropeiskoi Rossii [About the Ethnographic Мap of European Russia]. St Petersburg, Tipografiya Imperatorskoi Akademii nauk. 40 p.

Khartanovich, M. F. (2010). Imperatorskaya Akademiya nauk i nauchnye obshchestva v XIX v. [The Imperial Academy of Sciences and Scientific Societies in the 19th Century]. In Alferov, Zh. I. (Ed.). Akademiya nauk v istorii kultury Rossii XVIII–XX vekov. St Petersburg, Nauka, pp. 529–540.

Krasnikova, O. (2011). Osnovnye napravleniya razvitiya etnicheskogo kartografirovaniya v Rossii XIX – nachala XX v. [The Main Development Patterns of Ethnic Cartography in Russia in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries]. In Jääts, I., Tammiksaar, E. (Eds.). Proniknovenie i primenenie diskursa natsional’nosti v Rossii i SSSR v kontse XVIII – pervoi polovine XX v. Tartu, Estonskii natsional’nyi muzei, pp. 29–60.

Offord, D., Rjéoutski, V., Argent, G. (2018). The French Language in Russia: A Social, Political, Cultural and Literary History. Amsterdam, Amsterdam Univ. Press. 699 p.

Otchet Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva [Report of the Russian Geographical Society]. (1847). In Zapiski Imperatorskogo Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva. Book 2, pp. 9–10.

Pedley, M. S. (2005). The Commerce of Cartography: Making and Marketing Maps in Eighteenth-Century France and England. Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press. 345 p.

Petronis, V. (2007). Constructing Lithuania: Ethnic Mapping in Tsarist Russia, ca. 1800–1914. Södertörn Doctoral Diss. Stockholm, Acta Universitetas Stockholmiensis. 309 p.

PFA RAN [St Petersburg Branch of the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences]. Stock 30. List 1. Dos. 180, 460, 465.

Postnikov, A. V. (1966). Karty zemel’ rossiiskikh: ocherk istorii geograficheskogo izucheniya i kartografirovaniya nashego otechestva [Maps of the Russian Lands: An Outline of the History of the Geographical Study and Mapping of Our Country]. Moscow, Nash dom. 194 p.

Psyanchin, A. V. (2014). Etnos, prostranstvo, karta: etnicheskaya kartografiya v Imperatorskom Russkom Geograficheskom Obshchestve [Ethnos, Space, Map: Ethnic Cartography in the Imperial Russian Geographical Society]. In Psyanchin, A. V. (Ed.). Ot plemeni k etnosu (Etnografiya v Russkom geograficheskom obshchestve). Iss. 1. St Petersburg, Svoe izdatel’stvo, pp. 27–58.

Seegel, S. (2012). Mapping Europe’s Borderlands: Russian Cartography in the Age of Empire. Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press. 368 p.

Sukhova, N. G. (1993). Petr Ivanovich Keppen kak geograf: k 200-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya [Peter Ivanovich Köppen as a Geographer: On the Occasion of His 200th Birthday]. In Izvestiya Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva. Vol. 125. No. 5, pp. 1–11.

Sukhova, N. G. (2010). Russkoe geograficheskoe obshchestvo i Akademiya nauk v XIX v. [The Russian Geographical Society and Academy of Sciences in the 19th Century]. In Alferov, Zh. I. (Ed.). Akademiya nauk v istorii kul’tury Rossii XVIII–XX vekov. St Petersburg, Nauka, pp. 560–613.



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.