Foundations of Mikhail Muravyov’s Ethnic Policies of the Earth Science and Ethnology

  • Margarita Matulytė
Keywords: Mikhail Muravyov, ethnic policy, earth science (Erdkunde), ethnology (Volkskunde), Russian Geographical Society, Vilnius Archaeographic Commission


In the twenty-first century, the swelling wave of Russian chauvinism has inspired the efforts of both Russian and Belarusian historians to vindicate Mikhail Muravyov (1796–1866), Governor General of Vilnius (1863–1865) well known for severe repression against the participants of the 1863–1864 uprising in Lithuania. The tendencies of this process require a fresh look at the ideological origins of this historical figure. While searching for connections with the geopolitical context, this article discusses the never-before analysed fundamentals of ethnology and earth science formed in the Imperial Russian Geographical Society, which had become the ideological basis of Muravyov’s understanding of the situation in the North-western Territory and helped him develop his tactics of total Russification of the region. The Imperial Russian Geographical Society was established in 1845, and was modelled on the concept of the interdisciplinary earth science (Ger. Erdkunde) by the German scientist Carl Ritter. Muravyov was one of the society’s founding members and a member of its first council. From 1850 to 1857, he was the vice president of the society, and its honorary member from 1857. From the very start, Muravyov took part in formulating the guidelines of the function and scientific development of the organisation, and of coordination of the key research programmes. Guided by Muravyov and in cooperation with the General Staff of the Army, the Academy of Sciences, Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory, departments of Geology, Hydrography, Transport and Roads, and others implemented many significant scientific projects. The society was expanding: in 1851, two divisions were established in Siberia and the Caucasus. The processes of establishment of the divisions in the regions were linked to the demand for local coordination centres that would not only develop programmes for local research, but also take part in large-scale strategic research into these territories. Muravyov was well qualified to deal with matters of state importance by achieving a synergistic effect in the science serving the needs of the ethnic policy. Although the methods of the earth science (Ger. Erdkunde) and ethnology (Ger. Volkskunde) were previously established and tested at the Imperial Russian Geographical Society, Muravyov applied them with caution in Vilnius. In the Northwestern Territory, a branch of the society was established in as late as 1867, after Muravyov’s death. His aim to instill Russian culture in the Northwestern Territory was driven by his intention to rewrite the historical narrative of the outskirts of the Russian Empire and to accumulate historical sources favourable to him as soon as possible. Established in 1864, Vilnius Archaeographic Commission carried out research into and publishing of old documents that served the interests of the imperial ideology. One of the most significant tasks in this region was to prove that both the land and culture were historically Russian, and for this reason statistical surveys and archeographical work were much more important that ethnological research.