Academy of Sciences’ expeditions for geographical and economic exploration of Russia (1768-1774)
In 1768-1774, the Academy of Sciences undertook several “physical” expeditions that worked in the Volga Region (Povolzhye), Urals, European North, Siberia, the Caspian Sea Region, and in the Caucasus. The expeditions were led by academicians P.S. Pallas, I.I. Lepekhin, S.G. Gmelin, J.P. Falk, J.G. Georgi, and J.A. Güldenstädt. The expedition crews also included N.P. Rychkov, N.Ya. Ozeretskovsky, and others.
The expeditions had multifaceted goals for economic and geographic exploration of the Russian Empire. In addition to a kind of economic inventories of the lands, scholars were to describe rituals and traditions of local residents, write down folk tales about old times, survey and chronicle ancient constructions. Expedition members were instructed to replenish the Natural History Cabinet of the Kunstkamera with unique or typical for particular regions specimens of flora and fauna and also make up for the lacunae in the Kunstkamera’s collections. They were to follow the same principle in collecting other “curiosities.” From the expeditions, they were mostly sending to the Kunstkamera botanical, zoological, and mineralogical collections.
Contribution of ethnographic collections is connected with the expedition of natural history professor P.S. Pallas who headed the expedition to the Orenburg region. Scholar’s correspondence and gatherings show that Pallas was endeavoring to replenish voids in the Kunstkamera’s collections on traditional culture of the Russian Empire’s peoples. Thus, the Kunstkamera received a collection of costume items of Povolzhye peoples and a collection of Mongol and Kalmyk Buddhist gilded cast sculptures.