Lev Shternberg


Lev Shternberg

Anthropologist, Russian Socialist, Jewish Activist

Sergei Kan

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

574 pages
22 photos, 1 map


June 2009


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June 2009


$65.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

This intellectual biography of Lev Shternberg (1861–1927) illuminates the development of professional anthropology in late imperial and early Soviet Russia. Shortly after the formation of the Soviet Union the government initiated a detailed ethnographic survey of the country’s peoples. Lev Shternberg, who as a political exile during the late tsarist period had conducted ethnographic research in northeastern Siberia, was one of the anthropologists who directed this survey and consequently played a major role in influencing the professionalization of anthropology in the Soviet Union.

But Shternberg was much more than a government anthropologist. Under the new regime he continued his work as the senior curator of the St. Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, which began in the early 1900s. In the last decade of his life Shternberg also played a leading role in establishing a new Soviet school of cultural anthropology and in training a cohort of professional anthropologists. True to the ideals of his youth, he also continued an active involvement in the intellectual life of the Jewish community, even though the new regime was making it increasingly difficult.
This in-depth biography explores the scholarly and political aspects of Shternberg’s life and how they influenced each other. It also places his career in both national and international perspectives, showing the context in which he lived and worked and revealing the important developments in Russian anthropology during these tumultuous years.

Author Bio

Sergei Kan is a professor of anthropology and Native American studies at Dartmouth College. He is the author and editor of several books, including Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries and Perspectives on Native North America: Cultures, Histories, and Representations (Nebraska 2006).


"This scholarly biography of Lev Shternberg, a leading Russian anthropologist, will be of interest to his fellow social scientists as well as to followers of Russian history and especially to those concerned about the experiences of Jews in Russia during the late tsarist and early Communist years."—Jeffrey Johnson, Buffalo Jewish Review

"Sergei Kan has produced a superb intellectual biography of Lev Shternberg. . . . This biography succeeds—where many do not—in bringing the complexity of the subject's identity to life within a historical context."—Jeffrey W. Jones, Ethnohistory

"Kan, a professor of anthropology at Dartmouth, has produced a thorough study of Shternberg's life and influence."—Morton I. Teicher, National Jewish Post and Opinion

"This long-awaited intellectual biography of the founder of the Leningrad School of Ethnography, Lev Shternberg, by Sergei Kan is a landmark study both as a biography of an influential scholar and as a foundational work in the history of Russian anthropology."—David G. Anderson, Anthropos

"This is the biography of an exceptional Russian Jew. . . . It is also an exceptional introduction to the history and development of anthropology and ethnography in Russia which focuses on both the institutions and the relevant currents of thought. . . . [Kan's] intelligence and his mastery of the sources make this a model piece of research and a very valuable contribution to a number of disciplines."—Shaul Stampfer, East European Jewish Affairs

"This is an important book that informs the Western audience of Lev Shternberg (1861–1927), one of the leading figures in Russian and Soviet anthropology."—Tanya Argounova-Low, Sibirica

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Series Editors' Introduction



1. The Early Years

2. Sakhalin

3. Beginning a Professional Career in the Capital

4. Scholarship and Activism during the 1905 Revolution

5. The Last Decade before the Storm

6. The Years of Turmoil, 1914-17

7. Building a New Anthropology in the “City of the Living Dead”

8. The NEP Era and the Last Years of Shternberg’s Life

9. All Humanity Is One





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