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Russia’s 1912 Arctic expeditions

Russia’s 1912 Arctic expeditions. In the summer of 1912, a total of three expeditions set out from Arkhangelsk and Saint-Petersburg to explore the uncharted expanse of the Arctic. The year 1913 was when the Romanov dynasty was planning the celebration of their 300th anniversary. Many cherished the hope that the occasion would be marked by new geographical discoveries.

Brusilov Expedition. Resigned lieutenant and participant of the Arctic Ocean exploration (1910-1911) onboard icebreakers Taimyr and Vaigach, Georgy Brusilov designed his Arctic expedition to go all the way along the Northern Sea Route aboard Saint Anna. Shortly after the departure, on 28 July 1912, doubts had arisen among the crew as to the success of the expedition and some disembarked. Near the coast of Yamal, Saint Anna found itself trapped by moving ice to continue its voyage driven by wind and currents until its food supplies were almost exhausted by early 1914. Some of the crew left the schooner to walk to Novaya Zemlya where they were spotted by the Saint Martyr Phocus ship near Cape Flora, while the fate of those who stayed and Brusilov himself is not known.

Sedov Expedition. Georgy Sedov, who led the expedition aboard Saint Martyr Phocus, was a naval officer and hydrographer. Born into a fisherman’s family, he dreamed of distant seas and long voyages as a boy. His Arctic expedition was designed as Russia’s first to reach the North Pole. Hastily organized, with the money raised through private donations, Sedov-led expedition set out on 14 August 1912 from Arkhangelsk to be forced to stop for the winter as early as September. In June 1913, a part of the crew returned to Arkhangelsk with the materials collected to raise more support from donors. The crew spent the winter of 1914 near Franz Joseph Land. In February 1914, Sedov, affected by a disease, attempted walking to the North Pole to attain his goal but died on the way. On its return voyage, the schooner fell short of fire wood. Running on furniture and even planking as fire wood, the crew, however, managed to make their way home.

Rusanov Expedition. Of all the 1912 Arctic expeditions, the one led by Rusanov was the only one that had received decent state funding. A Sorbonne graduate majoring in geology, Vladimir Rusanov was a polar explorer and traveller with previous experience in French-led expedition bound for Novaya Zemlya. He had led a number of Russian voyages of Arctic exploration, one being to Spitsbergen, also known among Pomors as Grumant Island, aboard the high-maneuverability, motor-driven ketch Hercules, to which Rusanov was appointed, informally, by the Ministry of Interior. That expedition had surveyed Spitsbergen for coal deposits, installed location monuments, collected zoological, botanical and palaeontological samples, and conducted a series of oceanological studies. To ensure that the samples and collected data reach home, Rusanov arranged for some of its crew to return aboard a Norwegian ship, while he himself chose to head north-westwards off Novaya Zemlya and further eastwards to Lonely Island, New Siberian Islands, and Wrangler Island. Whether he did so arbitrarily or with the permission he might have received from the authorities, is unknown, but his plan was to either pass through the Northern Sea Route or reach the mouth of the Yenisei. Aware of his plan were the captain, Alexander Kuchin, and his French fiancée, Juliette Jean-Sessin, who served as a geologist and ship’s doctor. The last time people heard from the Hercules was in August 1912. The fate of the ship and its crew is unknown. Their traces were found in the 1930s on the coast of Taimyr.

Ksenia Hemp

Ksenia Hemp (1894-1998). Russian life scientist (algologist), geographer, historian, ethnographer and folklore specialist, Hemp received schooling at Arkhangelsk grammar school. Her father, Piotr Mineyko, was friends with renowned polar explorers — Georgy Sedov, Vladimir Rusanov, Rudolf Samoylovich — who would visit him at his place. Later, Ksenia described her encounters with them in her published series of essays.

In 1912, Hemp enrolled in St. Petersburg Higher Women Courses’ Faculty of History and Philology. However, the field she seemed to have had even greater passion for was algology, the study of algae. A collector and publisher of written and verbal epic legacy, Hemp had contributed to many expeditions exploring the cultural and historical legacy of the northern areas. She spent decades re-discovering and analyzing the collected data. The publication of A Tale of the White Sea, Hemp’s first and one of the most prominent texts describing the everyday life and creative endeavours of Pomor communities, was timed with celebration of Arkhangelsk’s 400th anniversary.

Alexander Kuchin

Alexander Kuchin (1888—1913(?)). Born into a family of Pomor seafarers in Kushereka village (Onega District, Arkhangelsk County), Alexander would often sail on his father’s fishing boat as an apprentice since he was 9. In 1903, after Alexander completed his studies at the town school, his father sent him to Tromsø to study Norwegian. The Short Russian-Norwegian Dictionary Kuchin compiled in 1906 for the Russian seafarers, contained some 4,000 entries and a grammar guide. By the age of 15, Kuchin had been to Murman, Novaya Zemlya, Spitsbergen and sailed across the White, Barents, Kara and Norwegian Seas. In 1909, The Arkhangelsk School of Commercial Seafaring, where Alexander studied to become a navigating mate, awarded him with gold medal for excellent academic progress.

In 1910, Kuchin, who was a gifted seaman, was offered to sail together with Roald Amundsen as a navigation officer and ocean scientist. The only foreigner onboard the Fram, Kuchin owed a place on Amundsen’s expedition to his outstanding capabilities and vast knowledge of marine science. He conducted a series of truly unique oceanographic studies during that expedition. Upon his return, Alexander Kuchin was introduced to the King of Norway during the Norwegian Geographical Society Meeting. In 1912, Kuchin accepted the offer from Vladimir Rusanov to join his crew as a captain and ocean scientist for the expedition to Spitzbergen to explore the northern route to the Pacific Ocean. That expedition ended tragically and it is unknown where it became lost. Its traces were found in the 1930s on the coast of Taimyr.

Arctic Floating University

Arctic Floating University is an annual scientific and education marine expedition, which brings together young people and researchers in order to study the Arctic. For scientists — it is a possibility to conduct research in the high-latitude Arctic. For students — it’s a unique educational program containing multidisciplinary course of lectures and practical training together with experienced researchers.

Aims of the expedition:

  • organize complex interdisciplinary research of the Arctic environment;
  • training of young researchers and specialists for work in the Arctic region (hydrometeorology, ecology, biology, chemistry, geology, geography);
  • develop international scientific and educational collaboration in the Arctic.

The expedition program consists of the research and educational sections:

  • study of the hydrological regime of the seas of the Arctic Ocean;
  • study of transfer through biological pathways of highly toxic pollutants to Arctic Ecosystems;
  • monitoring of the state of the environment in areas of active economic activity in the marine and coastal zones of the White, Barents Seas;
  • structural geology and paleomagnetic research;
  • study of the adaptive mechanisms of the human to the conditions of the high-latitude Arctic;
  • assessment of the natural and cultural heritage of the Arctic Territories in order to assess the potential for tourism development;
  • other research fields.

Indigenous peoples

Of all the indigenous peoples of the North, the Nenets are least numerous. They belong to Samoyedic peoples of Russia and sub-divide into Siberian (Asian) and European groups. The European group is native of Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Arkhangelsk Region. According to the census of 2002, the Nenets numbered 41,302, of whom approximately 27, 000 were residents of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

Ethnonym ‘Nenets’ is translated as ‘genuine human’ and had gained foothold in the 1930s. Other names to refer to the Nenets include Nenech, Neney, Khasovo, and Neshchang, Still earlier, the Nenets would be called Samoyeds or Juraki.

The Nenets language belongs to the Samoyedic group within the Ural family of languages.

Traditionally, the Nenets practice animism, a religion that preaches the supremacy of spirits over human life and sustenance and believes that every river, lake and natural phenomenon is owned by a host spirit.

The Nenets have traditionally subsisted on reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. They refer to themselves as ‘children of the reindeer’. Indeed, nearly all aspects of their lives depend on reindeer. Reindeer herds are grazing all year round, watched by shepherds and dogs.

Chum, the traditional Nenets tepee, has been known since time immemorial. To the Nenets, chums are not only homes, they are miniature embodiments of the entire world. The vent on top is what allows to maintain connection with the Moon and the Sun, while the poles represent the air as an element enveloping the Earth. More well-to-do families would own larger chums.

The folk legacy of the Nenets is represented mainly by the vernacular legends, or rather epic songs, Jarabz and Siudbabz. The Nenets signing culture uses verse only rarely. Most of the songs are improvisations meant to convey feelings.

The nomadic life in the Arctic, the Nenets history, the world perception of a tundra man are all topics of the Nenets prose and poems by Nikolay Vylka, Prokopy Yavtysy, Liubov Neneyang, to name a few.

Indigenous peoples

Жизнь среди снегов. Быт и культура коренных и малочисленных жителей Крайнего Севера // Портал Интеллектуального центра-научной библиотеки им. Е.И. Овсянкина. — 22 февраля 2019 г. — Режим доступа: https://library.narfu.ru/