Absorbing the Asian Frontier: Food and food-related knowledge in seventeenth and eighteenth century Siberia
The project investigates the role that food and food-related practices, knowledge and beliefs played in the process of exploration of Siberia and its incorporation into the Muscovy and the Russian Empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The main goal is to examine how food determined the ways the indigenous population and the frontier society of Siberia (Cossacks, merchants, missionaries, settlers, administrators, exiles, as well as Russian and foreign scientists and travelers) interacted, influenced and perceived each other. The research investigates the thesis that food, as well as the complex of practices and theories surrounding it, were of great importance for the exploration and administration of Siberia, both facilitating and complicating these processes. By studying how food functioned (religiously, politically, culturally and intellectually) as both a tool for and a hindrance to Siberian integration into Muscovy and the Russian Empire the project can offer a new perspective on successes and failures of these campaigns and provide a deeper understanding of a subtle, yet very physical aspect of the transcultural communication between Siberian locals and non-Siberian foreigners. Until today food has been largely overlooked in the historical studies on the region. The proposed project aims to fill this research gap.
The study is based on historical sources consisting mainly of chronicles, legal documents such as local administrative reports, personal accounts, studies and artefacts from trade and scientific expeditions to Siberia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is complemented by contemporary writings on medicine, ethnography, religion, and political theory.
The analysis of all types of sources will be guided by the theory of entangled history, which will help see historical actors not as static and unchanging, but rather mutually transforming each other through their interactions. This theory will also help address the underlying questions of transfers and transformations of eating practices, knowledge and beliefs. Additionally, comparative methods and discourse analysis will be applied to study how the practices, attitudes, and discourses connected with food changed in the span of the two centuries.
The project contributes to a new understanding of the familiar history of Siberia by viewing it through a different lens. While studying the transformations, transfers and mutual influences that food provoked on both sides of the transcultural dialogue, the project shows how the incorporation of Siberia into the Muscovy and the Russian Empire and its scientific exploration was a bidirectional process which affected not only the Siberian indigenous peoples, but also those who strove to understand, subdue and transform them.