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Sofiya Grachova

Sofiya Grachova graduated with a PhD in History from Harvard University in 2014, focusing on the history of Jewish medical anthropology in Russia (1830-1930). She has held a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellowship at the European University Institute and a Visiting Fellowship at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). In the fall of 2016, as a Fellow at the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich, she will conduct research on the history of racial science in Ukraine.

Physical Anthropology, Medical Ethnography, and Cultural Hierarchies: The Cases of Ukrainians and Eastern European Jews (1890s to 1930).

The proposed paper examines how Ukrainian and Jewish physical anthropologists engaged with the notion of universal cultural hierarchies, and how such notions contributed to their respective nationalist ideologies. My particular focus is on the interaction between the practices of local (i.e. Russian) imperial rule and the intellectual underpinnings of Western colonialism, and on the impact of high colonialism on Eastern and Central European physical anthropology.

Both Russian imperial bureaucracies and international projects of colonial expansion operated on the presumption that various ethnic groups around the world possessed unequal stages of cultural development. Physical anthropologists, internationally, helped legitimize this idea by naturalizing cultural differences, most notably through the concept of race. However, the particular constellation of the notions of race and culture, I argue, varied in local anthropological thought depending on the political projects in which particular anthropologists were engaged, as well as from the evolution of international colonialism.

From the turn of the twentieth century, the work of Jewish anthropologists, such as Samuel Weissenberg (1867-1928) and Arkadii Elkind (1869-1919), revolved around the question of whether Jews in general, and Eastern European Jews in particular, constituted a culturally advanced nation (Kulturvolk). A positive answer to this was supposed to help Russian Jews advance in the hierarchy of imperial society by allowing for Jewish civil equality with the allegedly “native” Eastern Slavic population. In contrast, for Ukrainian physical anthropologists of the time, including the celebrated “father of Ukrainian anthropology” Khvedir Vovk (Fedor Volkov, 1847-1918), the issue of cultural hierarchy was mostly irrelevant. Instead, figures such as Vovk concentrated on the search for objective, scientifically describable and quantifiable differences between Ukrainians and other Slavic peoples. However, as I show, World War I and the concomitant rise of the ideologies of anti-colonialism and national self-determination, made both Ukrainian and Jewish anthropologists redefine the position of their own ethnic groups in the universal system of relations between colonizers and colonized.