Description of the Land of Kamchatka

Description

Opisanie zemli Kamchatki (Description of the land of Kamchatka) is a two-volume work on the cultural and natural heritage of the Kamchatka Peninsula written by the explorer and naturalist Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov (1713–55) and published in the year of his death. The Russians began exploring what became known as the Russian Far East in the time of Peter the Great (1672–1725). Cossacks reached the Kuril Islands in 1713, and in 1725 Vitus Bering began his first expedition. In 1728, during this trip, he discovered the strait separating Asia from North America that today bears his name. Peter’s successors funded additional expeditions to Siberia, the Russian Far East and Alaska, including the Great Northern Expedition of 1733–43. The Second Kamchatka Expedition, which included Bering’s second and successful voyage to Alaska in 1741, was a part of this larger scientific mission. The book’s author, Krasheninnikov, was a young Russian natural scientist and geographer who participated in the Second Kamchatka Expedition. He went ahead of the other scientists on the journey to Kamchatka, where he became a meticulous observer of the local flora and fauna as well as of the cultures and languages of the native peoples of the peninsula, the Koryaks and Itel’men. Krasheninnikov's book became the first published monograph devoted exclusively to Kamchatka. Krasheninnikov benefitted from the scholarship of the more famous German specialists on the expedition, including Georg Wilhelm Steller, Gerhard Friedrich Müller, and Johann Georg Gmelin, but he made many observations that were new to the scientific literature, which made this book a scientific classic. The two volumes contain numerous illustrations of natural and cultural scenes, including the towering active volcanoes of Kamchatka, of significant ports and Russian fortresses along the coast, and of the customs and activities of native peoples and the variegated landscape. This work also covers areas neighboring Kamchatka, including the Kurile Islands and the far western reaches of the Aleutian Islands and parts of North America. The book includes maps of Kamchatka and the Kurile Islands and nearby parts of Eastern Siberia, and it contains a brief and informal dictionary of key Russian terms in the native languages of Kamchatka as well as an index. Krasheninnikov was born in Moscow to a family of humble origins. In 1734, after his expeditions, he returned to Saint Petersburg, where he was named professor of botany and eventually was elected to the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences.

Last updated: June 9, 2017