The ethnography of the Ukrainian Carpathians

A future blog post will look at the incredible geography of Ukraine (the largest country fully situated in Europe), but this post looks at three new arrivals that study different groups in the Ukrainian part of the Carpathians.  The Carpathians stretch across eight countries, and it’s the top of the Eastern Carpathians that lie in Ukraine.

The book’s covers (apologies for blurriness)

Just today, we have received three books which look like a set but which have been published and catalogued separately, which each look at a group living in the Ukrainian Carpathians: the Lemky (often Lemkos in English), Boĭki (Boykos), and Hut︠s︡uly (Hutsuls).  The relationships between these ‘highland’ groups – genetic, cultural, and linguistic – have long been studied.  For those interested in the first, for example, and with a Cambridge Raven password, here is a link to a 2009 article called ‘Mitochondrial DNA Sequence Variation in the Boyko, Hutsul, and Lemko Populations of the Carpathian Highlands‘.

Lemko pysanky

These new arrivals focus on cultural identity, discussing aspects of traditional life as seen through older artefacts of material culture and the modern continuation (and celebration) of historical crafts.  Examples of traditional architecture, dress, and other crafts are explored.  Each book has at least one section of colour photographs, and I was delighted to see pysanky, painted eggs, in the Lemky volume’s illustrations.  Next week, on Thursday 21 April, our department will be putting on a cake and crafts sale in the UL tea room for colleagues and readers, raising money to help set up a library for Ukrainian refugees being organised by the amazing Cambridge4Ukraine group.  One of products being carefully prepared are pysanky, with messages of support for peace in Ukraine.  Do come and support us (and please bring change!)!  We plan to be open for business from 10.15 to 11.15am and 3 to 4pm.

It is important to recognise and acknowledge the complexities of ethnography and anthropology in terms of decolonisation.  The introduction of Decolonizing ethnography (2019) provides a stark summary:

The colonial within anthropology is perhaps most evident
in the practice of ethnographic field research, long the discipline’s most distinctive feature … by and large, anthropology is known for studying the poor, the marginalized, the indigenous, the powerless. To collect its data, ethnography relies on the disparities of power, position, and access inherent in the fieldwork relationship, disparities that reflect the logics and structures of earlier colonial formations.

These three volumes contain the work of many academics but are all edited by Professor Stepan Pavli︠u︡k, Director of the Institute of Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (under the auspices of which the books have been published), whose interest in the Carpathians surely stems from his own background: Pavli︠u︡k was born in Volosi︠a︡nka, a small village in the Carpathians.  It will be for our readers to study the books in depth and gauge their position, but these are useful additions in Cambridge and it is fantastic that Ukrainian books are still arriving here.  In practice, all three volumes will need to be housed in our Library Storage Facility in Ely but can be easily ordered back through iDiscover for use in the UL.  Sadly all three have damaged spines and will need to be fetched to the Rare Books Reading Room, where fragile and damaged books are now standardly consulted.  The books are so new that they do not yet appear in iDiscover, but they will do tomorrow mid-morning, when a search for “Etnohrafichi hrupy ukraïnt︠s︡iv Karpat” should bring them all up.

Colonialism in terms of Ukraine (as the object) is a significant subject in the awful context of the ongoing Russian war against the country, and a future blog post will focus on how massive a role Russia’s imperial attitude towards Ukraine plays in the tragedy.

Mel Bach

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