Shamans of Siberia - Shelf Life 360

"The collection is not only important to us as part of world heritage, but it's critically important to the descendants of the people who worked with the Jesup Expedition."

-Laurel Kendall, Curator of Asian Ethnology

Notes on the Jesup Expedition

The Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897–1902) was conceived and directed by Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology. The expedition aimed to investigate the links between the people and cultures of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America and the eastern Coast of Siberia. Boas was also concerned about documenting cultures that he and many other anthropologists feared would soon be lost to colonialism and acculturation.

“The people who worked on the Siberian side were a colorful lot,” says curator Laurel Kendall, who oversees the Museum's Asian Ethnographic Collection. Berthold Laufer, the first researcher sent out, was a German academic who had mastered a number of languages, but was new to fieldwork. Waldemar Jochelson and Waldemar Bogoras were Russian revolutionaries and intellectuals who had been exiled to Siberia, and Jochelson’s wife, Dina Jochelson-Brodskaya, was a medical scholar who accompanied her husband to the field. She was responsible for collecting data and capturing photographs that documented the cultures of the region’s Koryak, Yukhagir, and Sakha peoples.

In addition to taking pictures, the expedition team observed social practices, made wax-cylinder recordings of folktales and songs, gathered word lists from the languages they encountered, and collected artifacts. Because many northern peoples had been decimated by disease and were under pressure to assimilate to societies, members of the expedition also believed that they were making a final record of vanishing cultures.

Ultimately, the expedition yielded some 3,000 images and more than 11,000 objects—many of which are now available for scholars and the general public to access online. “This is a part of the human story,” says Kendall. “These were people who left descendants, and this is their heritage. They have been asking, as people ask everywhere, ‘Who are we? Where did we come from?’ And the material in this collection is an important part of that story.”