Field Notes from an Armchair Ethnographer: Nicolaas Witsen’s Noord en Oost Tartarye

By Erika Monahan

Noord and Oost Tartarye. Nicolaas Witsen. Amsterdam, 1705. SUB Goettingen.This is the panorama of Tobol'sk that appears in the second edition of Nicolaas Witsen's Noord and Oost Tartarye published in 1705 in Amsterdam. The curious history of this image illustrates the "entangled" production of key early modern texts that spread knowledge about Eurasia. This same panorama appears in two other contemporary texts: that of Eberhard Ides' Three Years Travel from Moscow Overland to China (1706, etc.) and Cornelius de Bruin's Travels into Muscovy, Persia, and Part of the East-Indies (English version 1737). Witsen had a hand in both of these publications. At one step of remove, he may have advocated for the expeditions of Ides and de Bruin directly to Peter the Great. Witsen oversaw the publication of Ides and acted as a sponsor to de Bruin (even though de Bruin's work was published a few years after Witsen's 1717 death). This panorama of Tobol'sk is just one of several images that repeats in the books of Witsen, Ides, and de Bruin.

The story of how the panorama of Tobol'sk found its way into Witsen's text is interesting. First, the panorama of Tobol'sk that appears in the original 1692 edition is a dressed-down version of that which appears in the 1705 version (the image before you here). The 1692 Tobol'sk panorama is the same as the panorama of Tobol'sk that appears in Semen Remezov's (c. 1640-post 1720) Khorograficheskaia kniga. Since Remezov was a mapmaker from Tobol'sk and Witsen never saw Tobol'sk with his own eyes, we can only assume that Witsen worked from Remezov's image. (Indeed, there is a high degree of verisimilitude with the upper and lower towns of Tobol'sk illustrated.) There are, however, two slight wrinkles in the chronology, which I will address in my talk, that push us to think a bit more about the vectors of transmission and the composition of the networks behind the production of these texts.  

Erika Monahan Erika Monahan is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of New Mexico. Her publications include: The Merchants of Siberia:  Trade in Early Modern Eurasia (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, forthcoming); "Torgovlia i veroispovedanie:  Istoriia roda Shababinykh," [Commerce & Confession:  A History of the Shababin Clan"] in Потомки Пророка в Сибири XVI-XXI вв. [Descendants of the Prophet in Siberia, XVI-XXI vv.] by A.K. Bustanov with contributions by S.N. Korusenko and Erika Monahan (Moscow, forthcoming); "Tsardom of Russia, 1547-1721," in Encyclopedia of Empire, ed. John MacKenzie (Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 4,000 words, forthcoming).