“The scientific community does not fully fathom the scale of Grigory N. Potanin’s personality”

Tomsk State University philologists will study the unpublished archival materials and over 3,000 books from the personal library of Grigory Potanin (1835–1920), the Russian scientist and traveler. They will create an interdisciplinary research model that will conceptualize a different perspective on Potanin and East–West dialogue in the context of the Russian natural scientist’s works. The project will provide new sources and archival materials, including ones from the Russian erudite’s personal library. The results of the project will be useful for humanities scholars interested in the mid-18th to early 20th-century history and culture of Russia, Western Europe, and Central Asia (Mongolia, China), as well as the growth of Siberia.

The project Creative Legacy of Grigory N. Potanin: East–West Dialogue is supported by a Russian Science Foundation grant.

Staff scientists at the TSU Faculty of Philology began the study of previously unknown archival materials and books that belonged to the Russian scientist, traveler, geographer, writer, and public personality. They intend to study how the European and Asian cultural models interacted during his time and what the role of Siberia was as the intermediary cross-border area in this interaction. Their efforts will also be aimed at changing the general notion of the scope of Potanin’s activities.

The research will help humanities scholars characterize the scientific, historical, and cultural contexts of the mid-19th to early 20th centuries in Russia—specifically in its Siberian region—as well as in countries of Western Europe and Central Asia.

According to the coordinator of the project, Irina Poplavskaya, professor in the Department of Russian and International Literature at the TSU Faculty of Philology, Potanin had a wide scope of interests, from statistics and geography to mythology, and his impact still remains unnoticed. Despite his Eurocentric outlook, Potanin made a significant contribution to unraveling the once- exotic regions of Central Asia.

“The problem of the East–West dialogue is gaining traction, and Siberia’s role in it is being reconsidered too. Modern-day geopoliticians argue that Russia realized its potential as an empire at the confluence of East and West only after Siberia became part of it, meaning that it is Siberia that formed the Russian Empire”, the professor says.

Professor Irina Poplavskaya, Department of Russian and International Literature, TSU Faculty of Philology

The project team began by studying the unpublished archival materials related to the scientist’s public activity as well as his creative and research efforts. At the same time, faculty staff will process over 3,000 books from Potanin’s personal library. A catalog of books with dedicatory inscriptions will be compiled, which can be added to the TSU Research Library.

Project members will create an alphabetical index for the Potanin-related sources, personalia, and correspondence, which will help view him as an open-minded erudite and citizen of the world. The next stage will be creating the complex interdisciplinary research model based on source-study, textological, bibliographical, historical, and cultural approaches.

Professor Irina Poplavskaya and Associate Professor Ninel Genina plan to make no fewer than four conference presentations and release no fewer than three publications.

3D-tour around the exhibition Grigory N. Potanin: the Scientist, the Traveler, the Citizen of the World at TSU Research Library