The Soviet Polar Census of 1926-1927

Digitised Household Records (version 4-4)

From the summer of 1926 until the autumn of the following year, the Central Statistical Adminstration of the Soviet Union conducted a unique experiment in Northern science. With the hope of understanding better the people inhabiting its vast boreal and Arctic frontier, the government initiated a highly detailed and unique survey of all indigenous and settler residents. The Polar Census was designed to provide a baseline survey of demography, economy, and livlihood to guide reforms to northern economies. For various complex political reasons, this rich dataset was never fully used in its day. The intention of this digitised version of selected regions in Central and Western Siberia, and the Russian North, is to provide scholars today with the opportunitiy of analysing northern settler and aboriginal households at a time before collectivization and industrialisation changed these regions fundamentally. This digitised data archive from the 1926-27 Polar Census provides a unique register of subsistence, economy and adaptation which can be used to understand arctic and boreal subsistence economies generally.

The project of cataloguing, photographing, and digitising the household records has been supported by several funding agencies. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada supported the initial work with the data records held in Krasnoiarsk for the Turukhansk Polar Census expedition. The Norwegian Research Council is supporting the digitisation of household records in the Russian North and Western Siberia in Murmansk, Arkhangel’sk, Yekaterinburg, and Syktyvkar.

The various polar census expeditions did not only gather statistical data. They were complex expeditions which documented local lives broadly using community diaries, photographs, and through collecting artefacts, folklore and geneologies. A rich selection of photographs from the Turukhansk Polar Census expedition has been organised into a bilingual website with support from the British Academy. An edited collection, in Russian, containing excerpts from correspondence, travel diaries as well as photographs of the Turukhansk expedition was published in 2005 with support from the Economic and Social Sciences Resarch Council of the UK. The ESRC also supported the publication of a DVD data archive containing digital images of the primary documents organised with a geographical index.

Our international research team has prepared several articles giving the full context and preliminary analyses of the materials of the Polar Census expeditions. Two articles in English give the history and context of the Turukhansk Polar Census expedition (Savolskul with Anderson 2005; Anderson 2006). An article in Russian, presented here in draft form, give the history of the Urals Polar Census expedition (Glavatskaya 2006a, Glavatskaya 2006b, Glavatskaya 2007). A working paper is in progress comparing the Polar Census expeditions in the Russian North on the Kola Peninsula, in Arkhangelsk guberniia and the Komi Autonomous Region (Klokov et al 2006 and Klokov 2006).