The museum received its first collections on American natives in the early 1700s. The influx of materials intensified in the late 1700s thanks to Russia’s activities in the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. The total number of North and South American items collected in the 18th century is about 150. In 1803–06 the First Russian Circumnavigation led by I.F. Krusenstern and Yu.F. Lisyanskii took place. Its participants handed to the museum numerous artifacts made by Alaskan and Californian natives. In the early 1800s, some fifty voyages were set up to supply goods to the Russian colonies in America. Many of their participants donated ethnographic collections to the Museum. In 1839–49 a multidisciplinary expedition led by I.G. Voznesenskii was dispatched to Siberia and Alaska to explore human and natural resources of these regions. Voznesenskii spent several years (1840–45) in Russian America. During that period he purchased more than one thousand ethnographic items from the Aleuts, Eskimos, northern Athabaskans, Tlingit, Californian Indians, and other North American natives. These collections, too, were donated to the Kunstkamera.
In the late 1800s, an exchange of collections with foreign museums began, first with the National Museum of Copenhagen and then with the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Thanks to this cooperation our museum owns a number of valuable materials representing the cultures of Greenlandic Eskimos and North American Indians.
As a result, large ethnographical collections from native North America formed in the museum. They rank among world’s richest. The most valuable exhibits include those collected among Alaskan, Aleutian, and Californian natives. These collections were mostly assembled in the early 1800s, when the aborigines of Russian America had not yet been influenced by the Europeans and had still preserved the key features of their traditional lifestyle. In Western museums, collections representing this region began to form only in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Especially impressive is Museum’s Tlingit collection.
The most valuable materials on Latin American Indians were brought by the expeditions directed by G.I. Langsdorf (in the first third of the 19th century), A.V. Frietsch, and G.G. Maniser.
Especially important are Amazonian collections received from various sources over the period from the third quarter of the 18th century to the early 20th century, and one representing West Mexican Indians and donated by the German ethnographer K.T. Preuss in the early 1900s.
The department has prepared several databases containing information on the ethnographic collections from North and South America. The department’s staff members as well as specialists from other Russian and foreign centers have published a number of articles addressing both the origins and interpretation of these collections. Some are listed below.
- Avdeev A.D. Aleutische Masken in den Sammlungen des Museums f50108r Anthropologie und Ethnographie // Jahrbuch des Museums f50108r V50102lkerkunde zu Leipzig. 1964. Bd. 20. S. 413–433.
- Bates C.D. The California Collection of I.G. Voznesenski // American Indian Art Magazine. 1983. V. 8. No. 3. P. 36–41.
- Black L.T. Aleut Art. Anchorage, 1982.
- Black L.T. Glory Remembered. Wooden Headgear of Alaska Sea Hunters. Juneau, 1991.
- Black L.T. Aleut Art. Anchorage, 2003.
- Blackburn T.C., Hudson T. Time’s flotsam overseas collections of California Indian material culture. // Ballena Press Anthropological Papers. No. 35. Santa Barbara, 1990. P. 149–152, 197–201.
- Blomkvist E.E. Russian Scientist Expedition to California and Alaska, 1839–1849 // Oregon Historical Quarterly. 1972. Vol. 73. No. 2. P. 101–170.
- Dzeniskevich G.I. Shamanskie predmety v kollektsii G. Chudnovskogo. [Shamans’ Objects in Chudnovskii’s collection] // Amerikanskie aborigeny i ih kul’tura. SPb., MAE RAN. 1998. P. 82–110.
- Ivanov S.V. Aleut hunting headgear and its ornamentation // Proceedings of the XXIII International Congress of Americanists, 1928. New York, 1930. P. 477–504.
- Kinzhalov R.V. History of the American collections in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography // Cultures of the Bering Sea region: Papers from International Symposium. No. 7. 1983. P. 311–324.
- Kojean P.M. Woven vessels of the California Indians // Mapon papers. San Rafael, 1979. No. 4. P. 1–21.
- Korsun S.A. K istorii formirovaniya kollektsii po narodam Tsentral’noi i Yuzhnoi Ameriki v MAE [On the History of MAE Ethnographic Collections from Central and South America] // Kunstkamera. Etnograficheskie tetradi. Vol. 5–6. SPb., MAE RAN. 1994. P. 275–280.
- Korsun S.A. K istorii severoamerikanskikh kollektsii MAE [On the History of the North American Collections at MAE] // Amerikanskie aborigeny i ih kul’tura. SPb., MAE RAN. 1998. P. 122–149.
- Korsun S.A. Kollektsiya Kunstkamery XVIII veka po irokezam Kanady [An 18th-Century Canadian Iroquois Collection at the Kunstkamera] // Kur’er Petrovskoi Kunstkamery. Vol. 8–9. SPb., MAE RAN. 1999. P. 129–135.
- Korsun S.A. The History of Kunstkamera’s Collection of the Peoples of Alaska and California // Science under Sail: Russian Exploration in the North Pacific, 1728–1867. Cook Inlet Historical Society Symposium. Anchorage, 2000.
- Korsun S.A. Iz istorii postupleniya severoamerikanskikh kollektsii MAE v XVIII stoletii [On the Origins of the 18th-century North American Collections at MAE] // Otkrytie Ameriki prodolzhaetsya. Vol. 3. SPb., MAE RAN. 2001. P. 116–146.
- Korsun S.A. Pervye latinoamerikanskie eksponaty stareishego russkogo museya [The First Latin American Exhibits in Russia’s Oldest Museum] // Latinskaya amerika. 2001. No. 10. P. 101–104.
- Korsun S.A. Severoamerikanskaya kollektsiya MAE uchastnikov pervoi russkoi krugosvetnoi ekspeditsii [A North American Collection Donated to MAE by Participants of the First Russian Circumnavigation] // Radlovskie chteniya – 2002. Materialy godichnoi nauchnoi sessii. SPb., MAE RAN. 2002. P. 41–46.
- Korsun S.A. Sobranie I.G. Voznesenskogo po indeitsam severo-zapadnogo poberezh’ya [I.G. Voznesenskii’s Collection Representing the Culture of the Northwest Coast Indians] // Radlovskie chteniya – 2002. Materialy nauchnoi sessii. SPb., MAE RAN. 2002. P. 46–52.
- Korsun S.A. Severoamerikanskie kollektsii MAE (Itogi i perspektivy issledovaniya) [North-American Collections: Results and Prospects] // Istoriya i semiotika indeiskikh kul’tur Ameriki. Moscow, Nauka. 2002. P. 524–537.
- Lyapunova R.G. Sea Animal Hunting Practiced by Aleuts in the 18–19th centuries (Implements and Means of Hunting). According to the Materials of the Museum of the Anthropology and Ethnography. // Trudy VII MKAEN [Papers of the 7th IKAES]. Moscow. Nauka, 1970. Vol. 10. P. 403–410.
- Lyapunova R.G. Eskimo Masks from Kodiak Island in the Collections of the Peter Great the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St.-Petersburg // Anthropology of the North Pacific Rim. / W.W. Fitzhugh, V. Chaussonnet. Washington – London, 1994. P. 175–203.
- Lyapunova R.G. Etnograficheskie kollektsii po eskimosam-konyagam v sobranii MAE [Ethnographic Collections on the Kodiak Eskimos at MAE] // Amerikanskie aborigeny i ikh kul’tura. SPb., MAE RAN. 1998. P. 8–31.
- Okladnikova E.A. Kunstkamera i ee rannie severoamerikanskie kollektsii [The Kunstkamera and Its Early North American Collections] // Kur’er Petrovskoi Kunstkamery. Vol. 1. SPb., MAE RAN. 1995. P. 29–60.
- Okladnikova E.A. Zametki ob eskimosskikh kollektsiyakh iz Zapadnoi Arktiki SShA v sobranii MAE [Notes on the Eskimo Collections from the Western Arctic Region of the USA at MAE] // Istoriya i semiotika indeiskikh kul’tur Ameriki. Moscow, Nauka. 2002. P. 538–548.
- Razumovskaya R.S. Predmety material’noi kul’tury indeitsev-tlinkitov poberezh’ya Alyaski v MAE [Tlingit Artifacts from the Alaskan Coast at MAE] // Strany i narody Vostola. Vol. 6. Moscow, Nauka. 1968. P. 20–29.
- Samuel C. The Chilkat Dancing Blanket. Seattle, 1982.