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Department of America

Contact Information

Address: 3, Universitetskaya nab., St.-Petersburg, 199034

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


Department Staff

Yuri BEREZKIN, Head of Department, Doctor of Sciences (areal distribution of folk and mythological motives as source of data on ancient cultural and migration processes; peopling of America; early complex societies; iconography of ancient Peru; archeology of Western and Central Asia).

Lyubov DMITRENKO, Junior Researcher (development of ancient cultures in the territory of Argentina; binocular studies of the ancient ceramics manufacturing technology; history of forming of archeological collections from Argentina in the archive of the MAE RAS; ancient ceramics manufacturing technology in South America; Alberto Vojtech Frič and history of the MAE collections).

Yevgenii DUVAKIN, Researcher, Candidate of Sciences (folklore, ethnography, iconography, and ethnic history of peoples of Siberia, Central Asia, and North America; areal distribution of folk and ethnological motives in the historical view; Eurasian-American relations in the field of ethnography and iconography, and reconstruction of the culture of early migrants to the New World).

Olga KONDAKOVAJunior Researcher (Mexican collections of the MAE; Mexican folk arts and crafts; Mexican pottery; Tonala ceramics; Huichol Indians).

Oksana YANSHINA, Senior Researcher, Candidate of Sciences (features of paleoethnological development of the southern part of Russia’s Far East in the Neolithic and Paleometallic; ceramics as archeological and historical source).

History of the Department

The America Department, as other scientific departments of the MAE, was established in 1912. L. Ya. Sternberg became its first Head, with S. A. Ratner-Sternberg as his assistant. A new department of Central and South America was established in 1919, with V. G. Bogoraz as its head. In the 1930s, departments were several times renamed “groups,” “rooms,” or “sections,” they united with and disunited from each other. In that period, the ethnography of American peoples was studied in the MAE by N. G. Shprintsin, E. V. Zibert, Yu. P. Averkieva, and Ye. E. Blomqvist. In 1942, the America Department was closed due to evacuation of the Museum’s personnel from the blockaded Leningrad. After the end of the World War II, a sector of America, Australia and Oceania was set up in the Museum. The principal task of the staff was to restore the exhibitions.

The first exhibitions on the culture of peoples of America appeared as early as in the 19th century. The current exhibition was basically created in the early 20th century, dismantled during the World War I, re-opened in 1925, and dismantled again for the time of the Blockade. A North America exhibition was opened for visitors in 1948, and a Central and South America exhibition, in 1952. The mannequins for the North America room were made in the early 20th century, and for the South America room, in the 1920s – early 1950s. They were made to suit particular scenes depicting the life of American Indians and Eskimos, and precisely represent the anthropological features of various peoples. A large part of the Mexican exposition perished in the fire of 1937.

The post-war period saw a turnover of America research personnel in the MAE. R. G. Lyapunova was employed in 1952, Yu. V. Knorozov in 1953, and R. V. Kinzhalov (previously in the Oriental Department of the Hermitage) and D. A. Sergeev, in 1957. The America sector was restored as an independent structural unit in 1963 after a break of 21 years. This was due to the initiative of R. V. Kinzhalov who headed the sector and remained in charge of it until 1991. During his leadership, Yu. V. Knorozov (1963), A. D. Dridzo (1963), G. I. Dzeniskevich (1969), and Yu. Ye. Berezkin (1973) joined the Department. E. Ye. Zibert continued working in the Department. She never was a major figure in the world of science, but due to her knowledge of languages and general education she played an important role in preserving the scientific traditions and in maintaining contacts with colleagues abroad. The late 1950s – 1970s were very fruitful years for Russian students of America. In that time, the principal monographs of R. V. Kinzhalov were published, in particular his translation of Popol Vuh; Yu. V. Knorozov made decisive steps in the decoding of the Maya writing system and became world-famous, albeit with a delay. However, as it was impossible not only to do field research, but even to visit European and American museums, the Russian America studies had no prospects ahead. To an extent, the situation was saved by the still permitted correspondence with the outside world and by visits of foreign scientists to Leningrad.

In the period of 1991-2002, G. I. Dzeniskevich was the Head of the Department of American Peoples of the MAE RAS, with Ye. A. Okladnikova and N. Ch. Taksami among the staff. The period from the late 1980s till the early 2000s became a time of decline for the MAE in general and for the America sector in particular, The South America exhibition was dissolved, in fact crushed, as some of the mannequins were lost.

Yu. Ye. Berezkin has been Head of the Department of America since January 2003 (in 1987-2002 he worked in the Leningrad Branch, Institute of Archeology/Material Culture History Institute of the RAS). His principal interests are peopling of the New World, study of ancient migrations and cultural relations based on the data of areal distribution of folk and mythological motives, and early complex societies). The Department staff includes S. A. Korsun (“Russian America” sources, Alaskan peoples’ ethnography), O. V. Yanshina (early ceramics and Iron Age of the Far East), L. M. Dmitrenko (material culture of South American Indians), O. V. Kondakova (Mexican folk arts and crafts), and Ye. N. Duvakin (ethnography and folklore of peoples of Siberia and North America in the comparative historical view).

In more than 100 years of the research history, the America students who worked with MAE have published about 1,500 articles and about 50 monographs dedicated to the culture of Indians and Eskimos (Asian included). All the works are based on study of collections kept in the MAE, on published sources, and partially on materials of Russian archives. However, due to the ability to go abroad and learn collections outside Russia, the conditions for research are more favorable now than in the Soviet time. The most important result of the recent decade is the publication of complete, well-illustrated collection catalogues (Tlingits, Kodiak people, and Aleuts; the preparation of a Californian catalogue is near its completion), some (Kodiak) in the English version. In relation to their work on the catalogues, Yu. Ye. Berezkin and S. A. Korsun have visited Alaska several times, while American colleagues and representatives of Indian communities have visited St. Petersburg.


Essential topics of research

The principal scientific domain of the Department’s staff is traditional spiritual and material culture of North and South America and the generation history and attribution of the America Department’s collections. Currently, Russia’s greatest specialists in ethnography and history of North and South America work with the Department. 

Under the program of fundamental research of State Academies of Sciences for 2013-2020, fundamental research for the following projects (research topics) is being done in 2017-2019:

  •  History of the MAE RAS and its collections in the context of development of human science. Supervisor: Yu. K. Chistov, Doctor of Sciences, Director. Topic: Culture of peoples of America according to the MAE RAS archive materials, supervisor: S. A. Korsun.
  •  Generation of the ancient and modern population of Eurasia and America according to data of ethnology, physical anthropology, and archeology. Supervisors: Yu. Ye. Berezkin, Doctor of Sciences (Head of the Department of Ethnography of America), V. I. Khartanovich, Candidate of Sciences (Head of the Department of Anthropology), G. A. Khlopachov, Candidate of Sciences (Head of the Department of Archeology). 

Essential Publications

  • Averkieva J., Sherman M.A. Kwakiutl String Figures. Seattle, 1992.
  • Berezkin Y.E., Korsun S.A. North America: Exhibition guide (Series “Halls of Kunstkamera”) / Eds. Y.K. Chistov, K.A. Nosovskaya. — Saint-Petersburg: MAE RAS, 2008. — 96 p.
  • Korsun S. The Alutiit / Sugpiat: A Catalog of the Collections of the Kunstkamera. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2012.
  • Korsun S., Black L. Herman A Wilderness Saint: from Sarov, Russia to Kodiak, Alaska. — Jordanville, New York: Holy Trinity Publications, 2012. — 243 p.
  • Liapunova R.G. Essays on the Ethnography of the Aleuts: (At the End of the eighteenth and the first half of the Nineteenth Century). Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 1996.
  • Siebert E., Forman W. Indianerkunst der amerikanischen Nordwestküste. Praha, 1967.
  • Siebert E., Forman W. North American Indian Art: Masks, Amulets, Wood Carvings and Ceremonial Dress from North-West Coast. London, 1967.
  • Siebert E., Forman W. El arte de los índios norteamericanos de la Costa del Noroeste. México, 1967.
  • Varjola P., Averkieva J.P., Liapunova R.G. The Etholen Collection: The ethnographic Alaskan collection of Adolf Etholen and his contemporaries in the National Museum of Finland. Helsinki, 1990.

In Russian: