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Women In Museum History: Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya

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Starvation, near-freezing temperatures, and days spent wandering the Siberian wilderness were just a few of the hazards faced by medical scholar Dina Lazareevna Jochelson-Brodskaya in the course of the Museum’s Jesup North Pacific Expedition, an ambitious anthropological survey that took place at the turn of the 20th century.

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Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya and Waldemar Jochelson dressed for the weather in Siberia.
© AMNH Digital Special Collections

Led by Franz Boas, considered today to be the father of modern anthropology, the expedition was organized in part to document indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest Cost of North America and the eastern coast of Siberia. 

To survey the Koryak, Yukaghir, and Sakha peoples of Siberia, Boaz recruited a leading ethnographer, Waldemar Jochelson, who had spent considerable time in Siberia.

Jochelson’s wife, Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya, accompanied him to the field. A medical scholar whose interests included the measuring of human anatomical traits, Brodskaya was responsible for collecting data and capturing photographs that documented the cultures of the region’s Koryak, Yukhagir, and Sakha peoples.

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This image of two Yukoghir girls was taken in Siberia by Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya.
© AMNH Digital Special Collections

When the Brodskaya-Jochelson party party arrived to begin their work in Kuska, Siberia, in 1900, they received unwelcome news—the populations they were attempting to survey had recently been decimated by disease, scattering the remaining tribes. To conduct the survey, the couple had to travel across some of Earth’s most hostile terrain. At various points in their journey, they lost horses in snowstorms, wandered for days in the wilderness, and risked starvation.

Through it all, Jochelson-Brodskaya collected data, including physical measurements of 900 individuals for anthropometric studies, and took most of the 1,200 photographs on the trip, an extensive cache of which is available online.

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Documenting dwellings like this Koryak interior was part of the comprehensive survey of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition. 
© AMNH Digital Special Collections

“My husband and I, our interpreter, and other assistants had to produce different works at the same time in our own small canvas tent, heated by a little iron stove,” she would write in 1907 about her work in the field. 

As a spouse of an expedition member, however, Brodskaya did not receive additional payment for her work. Years later, she used the information she collected for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Zurich and in a published work on the women of northeastern Siberia. 

The Jochelsons also collected 4,400 ethnographic artifacts, which Brodskaya played an active role in procuring and cataloging.  Some of these artifcats are on display of the Museum’s Stout Hall of Asian Peoples, and others are preserved in the Museum’s extensive anthropological collection. For the members of groups whose cultures were repressed in the Soviet era, these artifacts have become an invaluable resource and links to traditional culture and practices.

You can see more of Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya’s photographs from the Jesup North Pacific Expedition here.