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Protecting Ukrainian Cultural Heritage: New Digital Archive of Anthropologist Fedir Vovk

By Martin Rohde

The digitized archive of Ukrainian anthropologist Fedir Vovk, developed by Central European institutions, presents historical documents and photographs from Eastern Europe. Recently completed with support from IOS fellow Martin Rohde, the project focuses on the preservation of cultural heritage during wartime. The archive is now accessible online and provides insights into a significant historical period.

Martin Rohde (Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, Regensburg) and Herbert Justnik (Volkskundemuseum Wien), together with the Scientific Archive of the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NA IA NANU), carried out a project for the conservation and digitization of cultural heritage in Ukraine from July to December 2023. The international pilot project was funded by the ERSTE Foundation (Vienna) and the Photoinstitut Bonartes (Vienna), while it was institutionally supported by the Volkskundemuseum Vienna. The colleagues in Kyiv around Oleksandra Buzko have digitized a large part of the invaluable archival fund of the anthropologist, archaeologist and ethnologist Fedir Vovk. In addition to a high-quality photo scanner, packaging materials have been supplied that can protect the fragile photo collection according to contemporary standards of conservation. The collection of glass negatives in particular is in a partially damaged condition, but also positives from the late 19th and early 20th century are also highly vulnerable materials and require specific storage in order to be preserved for the future.


A file with Vovk’s correspondence in the Archive, Copyright: Nika Havrysh, December 13, 2023.

While large parts of the archival fond have been digitized, selected digital copies have been published on the website, which was prepared by the team. Here you will also find in-depth research material, including a bibliography of works by Vovk and works on Vovk. Further contributions on selected materials on the website will follow. First reactions are highly promising for collaborative efforts in analyzing the exciting materials. Especially when it comes to Vovk’s photographs from European museums outside of the Russian Empire, from excursions in Switzerland and France, or from different regions in Ukraine, such collaborations will be highly desired. Furthermore, there is a large portion of French documents in the archival holdings, which may be analyzed in different international projects.


Vovk with his wife Oleksandra (NA IA NANU, fond 1, op. 1, spr. 419-a)

In 1847, Fedir Vovk was born into a Ukrainian family in the region of Poltava in the Russian Empire. After studying in Odesa and Kyiv, the young scientist and socialist went to Geneva to support the intellectual Mychajlo Drahomanov in his scientific and journalistic projects. After Vovk’s return to the Russian Empire in 1878, he was politically persecuted. He fled to Romania and then went permanently into exile, first back to Geneva and finally to Paris in 1887. Here, he lived largely into precarious circumstances. He began to study again at the age of 40. At the prestigious Ecole d’Anthropologie, he was trained as an expert in anthropology, archaeology and ethnology by globally renown experts. At the same time, he imparted knowledge about Eastern Europe in general and Ukraine in particular to the French scientific community. His multiple award-winning dissertation thesis was written in French. In 1905, he was allowed to return to the Russian Empire with impunity. He became the curator of the ethnographic department of the Museum of Alexander III, and lecturer (“Privatdozent”) in anthropology and archaeology at the University of St. Petersburg.

Drawing by Vovk’s son Volodia about the Russian Revolution in 1905 (NA IA NANU, fond 1, op. 1, file 238-g)

In the Russian capital, and in the Russian scientific community in general, Vovk found himself in various conflicts with Russian scholars, while he propagated science according to French standards and sought to establish his own anthropological and archaeological school. He was particularly trying to engage with Ukrainian students, while he also supported Ukrainian circles in St. Petersburg. In 1918, Vovk was appointed to a professorship at the University of Kyiv in now independent Ukraine, but died on the way there, in Belarus.

Ethnography. Ukraine. Katerynoslav region (NA IA NANU, fond 1, op. 1, spr. 246-e)
Ethnography. Construction. Kyiv region, Volyn, etc. (NA IA NANU, fond 1, op. 1, spr. 219-a)

The digitized fund is not only interesting because of Vovk’s scholarly projects and networks. It is the collection of a man who embodies a highly complex European life story, and who, apparently, did not throw away a single piece of paper during the greater part of his adult life. From invoices for laboratory equipment to a drawing by his son depicting, where the latter depicted his understanding of the Russian Revolution of 1905, there are all kinds of conceivable materials. Many unexpected treasures have already been found during the project, and we suspect that this process will continue for some time to come, especially through the numerous unidentified photos. From scientific and social history to photography and art history, the materials can be used for a wide variety of projects – and we hope that making them available digitally will inspire such initiatives.

Ethnography. Western Ukraine. Clothes, „types” (NA IA NANU, fond 1, op. 1, spr. 247-g)
“Anthropological types” of Transcarpathia, 1900 (NA IA NANU, f. 1, op. 1, file 29-g)
“Anthropological types”. Boykos (NA IA NANU, fond 1, op. 1, spr. 29-c)
Fedir Vovk at a desk; negative on glass (NA IA NANU, fond 57, spr. 6966), Copyright: Nika Havrysh, January 17, 2024.

The website provides a selection of personal documents, work and research materials, and in particular Vovk’s numerous photographic collections. In addition, a very detailed finding aid has been made digitally available and was also translated from Ukrainian into English, so that the multilingual sources become more accessible for researchers and other interested persons. The website offers the possibility to request further materials from the largely digitized collection via e-mail, which are not posted on the website.


About the author
Dr. Martin Rohde is currently a Schrödinger Fellow of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and visiting fellow at the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (IOS) from March 2023 to March 2024. In 2022, Martin Rohde initiated the highlighted cooperation project and supported it during his time at the IOS.


OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Redaktion ostBLOG (14. Februar 2024). Protecting Ukrainian Cultural Heritage: New Digital Archive of Anthropologist Fedir Vovk. ostBLOG. Abgerufen am 20. Juli 2024 von https://doi.org/10.58079/vty4


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