On the history of the term ethnography — Elementary ethnography


At present it is proven that the primary distinction of the subject of research in ethnography as special science took place in the early seventies of the eighteenth century. From the studies of the last decades, it became known that the science we represent was first mentioned in 1771 as ethnography, with the conscious aim of separating the «history of the peoples» from the «history of the states». This event was related to the name of August Schlötzer, a German historian who worked in the Russian service at the Imperial Academy of Sciences until the beginning of 1770.

This fact means that ethnography was born as a historical auxiliary discipline. In his main vocation Schlötzer was a historian, while in Russia at the end of the 18th century history was referred to as historiography[1], i.e. the science studying history. Schlötzer was the first to criticize such a historical source as the old Russian annals and introduced the concept of the source in his book «Probe russischer Annalen» (1768). Probably in this book we should look for the ideas that were later captured in the term ethnography. It is about the need to use expressions such as «Geschichte der Slaven», «Geschichte einer Nation», «Reichsgeschichte», «Geschichte eines Volkes» and «Geschichte eines Reiches (State)» when studying Nestor’s Chronicle.

Finally, take this sentence from Schlötzer’s book: “Sie (Russische Geschichte. – PB) ist nicht die Geschichte eines Lands, sondern eines Weltteils: nicht eines Volks, sondern einer Menge von Völkern, die alle an Sprache, Religion, Sitten und Herkunft verschieden, durch Eroberungen, Schicksal und Glück in Einen Stat verbinden werden”. («It (Russian history. – PB) is not the history of a country, but of a part of the world: not the history of a people, but of a multitude of peoples, which all in language, religion, and customs and origins are different, but through conquests, destiny and happiness in one State were united»)

It seems that the term ethnography could simply emerge as a generalization of such views on nation and state. The habitat of Schlötzer as a historian contributed quite well. Now it is known that F. Miller used the term «Völkerbeschreibung» in 1740 in the instruction to I. Fischer during the second Kamchatka expedition. At the time of the first baptism of ethnography, the equivalent of this concept was not «Völkerbeschreibung» but «Geschichte der Völker».

The word Ethnographia seems to be a neologism (1767) by Johann Friedrich Schöpperlin. At first, however, it is not clear whether there is a connection between the term Ethnographia by Schöpperlin and the Germanized term Ethnographie by Schlötzer. Second, the use of the term Ethnographia in Schöpperlin’s work is in no way connected with the proclamation of a new scientific discipline. We therefore continue to argue that the author of the term ethnography as a term for a new science is Schlötzer. The distinction between a and e is crucial here.

[1] In our time, historiography has become a science, or rather the art of writing prefaces to historical works. Some authors, who seem to regard this as a very respectable affair, have learned to turn prefaces into voluminous monographs. Since the Soviet era, Russian historians are overly enthusiastic about such studies. The book by A.YU.Dvornichenko » Reflections and fantasies (Зеркала и химеры). On the Origin of the Old Russian State»(2014), however, can be considered very useful as the culmination of such type researches.