The Miscellaneous Peoples of the Russian Empire Through the Lens of George Kennan, 1870–1890

In the 1860s, the Russian-American Telegraph Company set out to connect the United States and Europe telegraphically using lines running through the Bering Strait and Siberia. The unsuccessful expedition marked one of the first explorations of the vast Siberian wilderness, and George Kennan's photographs capture the diverse theme of the Russian Empire.

George Kennan (1845–1924) was born in Norwalk, Ohio, and had a keen interest in travel from an early age. However, family finances dictated that he begin working at the Cleveland and Toledo Railroad Company's telegraph office at the age of twelve.

In 1864, he secured employment with the Russian American Telegraph Company to survey a route for a proposed overland telegraph line through Siberia and the Bering Strait. After spending two years in the jungles of Kamchatka, he returned to Ohio via St. Petersburg and soon became famous through his lectures, articles, and books about his travels.

He provided the ethnography, histories and descriptions of many native peoples in Siberia, which are still important to researchers today. These include stories about the Koraks (Koryak language), Kamchatdals (Itelmens), Chukchi, Yukagirs, Chuans, Yakuts and Gakouts.

In 1870, he returned to St. Petersburg and traveled to Dagestan, the northern region of the Caucasus region acquired by Russia only ten years earlier. There he became the first American to explore its highlands, a remote Muslim region of shepherds, silversmiths, carpet weavers and other craftsmen. He traveled through the North Caucasus region, stopping in Samashki and Grozny, before returning once again to America in 1871.

During his life, his books and articles on Russian subjects were widely read. In the era before television and radio, Kennan was in constant demand as a speaker. His most popular talks focused on his adventures in Siberia, the people of Russia and, later, the evils of the Tsarist exile system.

Not only did Kennan have the respect of the American people; His knowledge of Russian and his scholarly approach to issues earned him respect from a variety of Russians as well. Kennan's writings also earned him the enmity of the Russian government. When Kennan tried to return to Russia again in 1901, he was arrested and expelled as "politically untrustworthy".

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