Department of Africa

Contact Information

Universitetskaya nab., 3. St.Petersburg, 199034

Phone: +7 (812) 328-41-52

Department Staff

Aleksandr ZHELTOV, Head of Department, D.Sc. (African linguistics, linguistic typology, methodology of African studies, Bantu languages, Swahili language, Mande languages, Adamawa languages, nominal classes in Nigero-Congo languages, personal pronouns in world’s languages, thematic typology, systems of kinship terms, material and spiritual culture of Africa).

Anna EHRMAN, Junior Researcher (scientific description of the Museum’s African collection, culture and language of western Dhan).

Anna Moskvitina, Senior Researcher, Cand.Sc. (ethnomuseology; ethnopolitology; ethnography of African diasporas; history of material culture and traditional art of the peoples of Africa and African diasporas; anthropology of  Creole societies; ethnosocial history of  Zanzibar).

Valeria SEMENOVA, Researcher, Cand.Sc. (scientific description of the Museum’s African collections; folk arts; research of Ethiopian sacred paintings kept in the Museum; definition of specific characteristics of Ethiopian artistic tradition).

Nikolai STEBLIN-KAMENSKY, Juinior Researcher (ethnomuseology (description, preservation and attribution), anthropology of migration). 

Valentina UZUNOVA, Senior Researcher, Cand.Sc. (methodology and methods of social studies, regulating mechanisms of social behavior of individual, social stresses, ethnosociology, ethnic conflicts, social and humanitarian expertise of a text).

History of the Department

African artifacts were first acquired by the Kunstkamera in 1819. After the Ethnographic Museum was founded in 1836 on the basis of the Kunstkamera (in 1879 it was renamed Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography), the influx of African materials continued, but the separate African depository was only formed in 1911, and its first head was J.V. Chekanovsky. The Department of Africa as a research unit was established on November 2nd, 1929, and D.A. Olderogge (1903–88), who later became the founder of Russian school of African studies, was appointed its head. After World War II the staff members had to begin again virtually from the ground up. It was then that the famous Leningrad school of African studies was formed at MAE.

Main Research Areas

D.A. Olderogge indicated two directions to be taken by his staff and students: first, the study and publication of written sources on the history and ethnography of pre-colonial Africa south of the Sahara (Arab sources were studied by V.V. Matveev, L.E. Kubbel’ and M.A. Tolmacheva, Chinese ones by V.V. Vel’gus, Spanish and Portuguese ones by O.S. Tomanovskaya, Greek and Roman ones by Yu.K. Poplinskii, Ethiopian ones by S.B. Chernetsov); second, the compilation of dictionaries of extant African languages such as Swahili and Hausa as sources for the study of African peoples that were non-literate in the recent past. At present the work is underway: in 1999, the first volume of the Manden-Russian dictionary was published by V.F. Vydrine, in collaboration with S.I. Tomchina. On Olderogge’s initiative, The African Ethnographical Collection has been regularly published since 1959, and most its contributors are the department’s staff. In the 1970s, detailed studies of African ethno-social history began. They are mostly based on Olderogge’s theory of colonial society as a stage in the ethnic history of Tropical Africa (D.A. Olderogge, N.M. Girenko, V.M. Misyugin, V.R. Arsen’ev, V.A. Popov, and S.B. Chernetsov).

The most important research projects that are being implemented at present include Anthropology of Kinship: State of the Art and Current Issues (V.A. Popov), Material culture of the Bambara (Republic of Mali) (V.R. Arsen’ev), and Lexicographic Description of the Southern Mande: Dictionary (V.F. Vydrine, A.V. Ehrman).

N.M. Girenko, who, for the past several years, had been working on the project Ethnic Conflicts: General Principles and Regional Specificity (Based on Central and East African Data), was murdered in summer 2004. In 2004 the Department suffered another loss – as a result of a severe illness Yu.K. Poplinskii, senior researcher, PhD, died, who for several years had been working on the theme “Essays on the traditional African art in the light of cultural anthropology problems”. In 2005 died S.B. Chernetsov, D.Sc, head of the Department of Africa

Principal Publications

For the full list of publications see the page in Russian.

  • Erman A., Loh J. K. Dictionnaire dan-français (dan de l'ouest). St. Petersbourg: «Nestor-Istoria», 2008. 271 p.
  • Giesing C., Vydrine V. Ta:rikh Mandinka de Bijini (Guinée-Bissau) : La mémoire des Mandinka et Sooninkee du Kaabu. Leiden-Boston : Brill, 2007, XXIV + 398 p.
  • Vydrine V. F. Manding-English Dictionary (Maninka, Bamana). St. Petersburg: Dimitry Bulanin Publishing House, 1999. Vol. 1. 315 p.
  • Vydrine V. Esquisse contrastive du kagoro (Manding). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 2001. 281 p.
  • Vydrine V. Kességbeu M.A. Dictionnaire dan-français (dan de l'est) avec une esquisse de grammaire du dan de l'Est et un index françaisdan. St. Petersbourg: «Nestor-Istoria», 2008. 368 p.


The earliest African collection was registered at the museum in 1836. In the following years, only separate specimens were acquired, so the actual formation of the department’s depositories began in 1879, when a rich collection (1,950 items) assembled by a Russian traveler V.V. Junker in Central Africa was donated by him to the museum. In 1894 MAE received a portion of the South African collection acquired by the Czech traveler E. Golub. In late 1800s and early 1900s, the accretion of the department’s materials occurred in different ways, viz. through purchase, donation, and exchange with European ethnographic museums. The most important donations were made by Museum’s Trustee Board Members Hans and Hermann Meyers, who enriched the department with bronze artifacts and carved ivory from the ancient city-state of Benin, with artifacts from the Kilimanjaro region, and with a large collection from Cameroon, comprising over 500 items (by A. Mansfeld). The exchange with the ethnographic museums in Berlin and Leipzig resulted in the acquisition of things from the Lower Congo and from Guinea; also, two collections (archaeological and ethnographic) were received from Hamburg, where they had been brought by Leo Frobenius from his expedition to West Africa.

In 1913 a collection was acquired from Stockholm museum (it was assembled by J. Lindblom among the Akamba and Wapare of East Africa). In the same year, materials were received from persons dispatched to Africa by the Museum (S.B. Smogorzevsky, who purchased a Tuareg and Kabil collection in Algeria, and N.S. Gumilev, who acquired artifacts in Ethiopia and Somalia). After 1917, apart from occasional purchases and donations, the Department received separate specimens and collections from other museums of Russia. In 1946, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed to the museum a set of masks and household items of the Mpongwe, collected in Congo by a doctor N.V. Charbot d’Artois. From the 1950s the acquisition of African materials intensified. The Department staff, too, contributed to the accretion of the collections. In 1964 D.A. Olderogge brought a collections of agricultural tools, masks, and household items from his expedition to Mali. Five sets of Malian utensils and works of art were received from V.R. Arsen’ev, a collection of Guinean artifacts from E.N. Kal’shchikov, and that of Malian and Ivory Coast artifacts from V.F. Vydrine.

The department depositories contain nearly 12 000 items reflecting material culture, art, and religious beliefs of the major peoples of Africa. Most are utensils and weapons, whereas ritual articles are much fewer. Nearly all regions of Africa are represented. In terms of the number of specimens, Ethiopia ranks first (nearly one third of the material) thanks to the efforts taken by Russian doctors of the Red Cross in 1896–1913 (A.I. Kokhanovskii, N.V. Brovtsyn, etc.), whereas the next largest collections come from West Africa, Congo, and East Africa.

Gems of the department are specimens brought by V.V. Junker, Benin bronzes, and ritual clay figurines from Ethiopia.