A German protégé of Catherine the Great

Pallas - Vol. 1, Title page

Pallas – Vol. 1, Title page

A splendid two volume work on Mongol ethnic groups, by Peter Simon Pallas, Sammlungen historischer Nachrichten über die mongolischen Völkerschaften, has just been added to the University Library’s collections (CCB.57.21). It was published in quarto format in St. Petersburg in 1776 (1. Theil) and 1801 (2. Theil). A smaller octavo edition, but only of the first volume, was published in Frankfurt and Leipzig by Johann Georg Fleischer in 1779, and stands at Acton.d.23.1479. The first edition makes no reference on the title-page to the splendid engravings by D.R. Nitschmann which form an integral part of the publication, but in 1779 Fleischer gave them greater prominence, the title-page emphasising the “Erster Theil, mit vielen Kupfern”. Each engraving is accompanied by a paragraph of description.

The author, Peter Simon Pallas, was the subject of a substantial academic monograph in 2 volumes by Folkwart Wendland, published in 1992 (570:01.c.66.83-84). Pallas was a German zoologist and botanist, a protégé of Catherine the Great, who in 1767 became a professor at the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, and between 1768 and 1774 travelled extensively throughout the Russian Empire collecting natural history specimens. His reports were collected and published as Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen des Russischen Reichs (Mm.48.49, MA.7.101-105, CCA.28.15-18 and Mm.29.77-) between 1771 and 1776, and covered a variety of topics, including geology, accounts of new plants and animals, and descriptions of native peoples and their religions. Pallas gave his name to a variety of animals and birds, including Pallas’s cat, Pallas’s tube-nosed fruit bat, Pallas’s cormorant and Pallas’s grasshopper warbler.

Pallas - Volume 1, plate 1

Pallas – Volume 1, plate 1

Sammlungen historischer Nachrichten über die mongolischen Völkerschaften is his principle ethnographical study. The 25 year gap between the publication of the two volumes remains a mystery. A letter by Pallas to the Typographische Gesellschaft of Bern dated September 2nd 1777 makes it clear that he expected the volume two to be published a few months later. The emphasis of the first volume is upon the genealogy of the Western Mongol ruling house, followed by a detailed study of a particular ethnic group, the Kalmyks. The second volume describes the rites, customs and ceremonies of the Mongols, which according to Siegbert Hummel, an ethnologist who wrote the introduction to a 1980 facsimile reprint, date back to pre-Buddhist and shaman beliefs.

The University Library obtained its copy of the Sammlungen historischer Nachrichten as part of the library of Dr E.J. Lindgren-Utsi. Her books have been held by the Library for some time, but are only now being sorted and catalogued. They are being kept together as a small special collection, and have been given the classmark stem CCA.-CCE. 57. They have a strong ethnological and anthropological focus. As befits an able linguist, Dr Lindgren-Utsi’s library includes material in a wide range of languages, with Russian, Swedish, French and German titles all prominent. There are a small number of antiquarian titles, but most items were published in the 1930s to 1960s.

Dr Lindgren-Utsi did extensive fieldwork in Mongolia and Manchuria in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and later visited Sweden and studied Lapp reindeer herders. With her husband Mikel she established the reindeer Council of the United Kingdom in 1949, and in 1952 reintroduced reindeer to Scotland. Her papers are held partly in the Hoover Institution Archives in Stanford and partly in the archive of Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge.

David Lowe

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