Maria Czaplicka

Maria Czaplicka
Maria Antonina Czaplicka
Born 25 October 1884(1884-10-25)
Warsaw, Vistula Land, Russian Empire
Died 27 May 1921(1921-05-27) (aged 36)
Bristol,[1] South West England, UK
Occupation Anthropologist

Maria Antonina Czaplicka (October 25, 1884 - May 27, 1921), also referred to as Marya Antonina Czaplicka and Marie Antoinette Czaplicka, was a Polish cultural anthropologist who is best known for her ethnography of Siberian shamanism. Czaplicka's research survives in three major works: her studies in Aboriginal Siberia (1914); a travelogue published as My Siberian Year (1916); and a set of lectures published as The Turks of Central Asia (1919). Curzon Press republished all three volumes plus a fourth volume of articles and letters in 1999.


Early life and studies

Czaplicka was born in the Stara Praga district of Warsaw in 1884,[2] into an impoverished Polish nobility family. She started her studies with the so-called Flying University (later Wyższe Kursy Naukowe), an underground institution of higher education in Russian-held Poland.[3] She supported herself with a number of poorly paid jobs, as a teacher, secretary, and lady's companion.[4] She also wrote poetry, and a novel for children called Olek Niedziela.[5] In 1910 she became the first woman to receive a Mianowski Scholarship, and was therefore able to continue her studies in the United Kingdom.[6]

She left Poland in 1910,[1] and continued her studies at the Faculty of Anthropology of the London School of Economics under Charles G. Seligman,[1] and at Somerville College, Oxford under R.R. Marett.[7] Marett encouraged her to use her Russian language skills in a review of literature on native tribes in Siberia, which became her book Aboriginal Siberia, published in 1914.[8] At this stage she had never visited Siberia,[8] but the quality of her writing led to Aboriginal Siberia becoming the major reference work in its field.[8]

Yenisei Expedition

Marett had intended the work reported in Czaplicka's Aboriginal Siberia to be the basis for fieldwork in Siberia.[7] In May 1914, she began such fieldwork, leading a joint expedition of Oxford University and University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology staff.[7] Together with English ornithologist Maud Doria Haviland, American painter Dora Curtis, and Henry Usher Hall of the Museum, she arrived in Russia shortly before World War I broke out. After the war started Czaplicka and Hall decided to continue their expedition while the others decided to go back to the United Kingdom. Czaplicka and Hall (accompanied by Michikha, a Tungus woman) spent the entire winter travelling along the shores of the Yenisei River: more than 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) altogether.[9]

Czaplicka prepared several hundreds of photographs of people of Siberia, as well as countless notes on anthropometry and their customs. Czaplicka also received funds from the Committee for Anthropology of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford to collect specimens from Siberia;[10] 193 objects were donated by Czaplicka to the museum's Asian collection.[11] In addition, she collected botanical specimens for the Fielding-Druce Herbarium.[12]

Return to England and death

Czaplicka returned to England in 1915. She wrote a diary of her travel entitled My Siberian Year, which was published in 1916 by Mills & Boon (in their non-fiction "My Year" series); the book became very popular. In 1916, she also became the first female lecturer in anthropology at Oxford University,[1][13] supported by the Mary Ewart Trust.[6] She gave lectures on the nations of Central and Eastern Europe as well as on the habits of the Siberian tribes. She also spoke on Polish issues, including Danzig's post-war disposition.[6]

In 1920, her work was honoured with a Murchison Grant from the Royal Geographical Society,[14] "for her ethnographical and geographical work in Northern Siberia." In spite of this triumph, her financial future was still insecure. Her three-year fellowship at Oxford having expired in 1919, she obtained a temporary teaching position in anthropology in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Bristol.[6]

In 1921, she failed to obtain the Albert Kahn Travelling Fellowship which she had hoped for, and in May of that year she poisoned herself.[1] The University's[which?] Senate expressed its regret and "appreciation of the loss to the University of so distinguished a member of its staff".[15] Czaplicka is buried in the Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford.[13]


In a will written months before she died, Czaplicka left her notes and reports to her colleague Henry Usher Hall. Although she never married, questions have been raised about the relationship between Hall and Czaplicka, and whether she had feelings for him. Hall had married in the U.S. at about the same time of Czaplicka's suicide; it is unknown if Hall's marriage led Czaplicka to kill herself. After Hall died in 1944, some of Czaplicka's early papers were donated to the University of Pennsylvania Museum, but at least one report and a partial manuscript may be lost.[16] Her primary papers are archived at Somerville College, Oxford.[17] Polish museums hold a few private letters of Czaplicka to Malinowski and Władysław Orkan, one of the most prominent Polish poets of the time.

Upon her death in 1971, Barbara Aitkin, a student of Marett and friend of Czaplicka's, memorialized Czaplicka with a fund at Somerville College.[16]

Selected works

  • Aboriginal Siberia: A Study in Social Anthropology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914.
  • "The Influence of Environment upon the Religious Ideas and Practices of the Aborigines of Northern Asia". Folklore. 25. pp. 34–54. 1914.
  • "The Life and Work of N.N. Miklubo-Macklay". Man. 14. pp. 198–203, 1914.
  • My Siberian Year. London, Mills and Boon, 1916.
  • "Tribes of the Yenisei. The Oxford Expedition". Times Russian Supplement. 13. p. 6. Sept. 18, 1915.
  • "Siberia and some Siberians". Journal of the Manchester Geographical Soc. 32. pp. 27–42. 1916.
  • "The Siberian Colonist or Sibiriak. In W. Stephens ed. The Soul of Russia. London: Macmillan. 1916.
  • "On the track of the Tungus". Scottish Geographical Magazine. 33. pp. 289–303. 1917.
  • "The Evolution of the Cossack Communities". J. of the Central Asian Society. 5. pp. 42–58. 1918.
  • "A plea for Siberia". New European. 6. pp. 339–344. 1918.
  • The Turks of Central Asia in History and at the Present Day, An Ethnological Inquiry into the Pan-Turanian Problem, and Bibliographical Material Relating to the Early Turks and the Present Turks of Central Asia. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1918.
  • "Poland". The Geographical Journal. 53:36. 1919.
  • "The Ethnic versus the Economic Frontiers of Poland". Scottish Geographical Magazine. 36. pp. 10–16. 1920.
  • "History and Ethnology in Central Asia". Man. 21. pp. 19–24. 1921.


  1. ^ a b c d e Kubica 2007, p. 146.
  2. ^ Kubica 2007, p. 147.
  3. ^ Kubica 2007, p. 148.
  4. ^ Kubica 2007, p. 149.
  5. ^ Kubica 2007, p. 150.
  6. ^ a b c d Collins 1999, Introduction.
  7. ^ a b c Collins & Urry 1997, p. 18.
  8. ^ a b c Znamenski 2007, p. 67.
  9. ^ Nuttall 2005, p. 459.
  10. ^ Twenty-seventh Annual Report of the Delegates of the University Museum (1914). University of Oxford Gazette. XLV.
  11. ^ Pitt Rivers Museum. (2006). Geographical Statistics PRM Asia collections statistics summary Asian countries and colonies. University of Oxford. See for example: Quiver and arrows
  12. ^ Fielding-Druce Herbarium collectors list.
  13. ^ a b Riviere 2009, p. 172.
  14. ^ The Geographical Journal, Vol. 55, No. 5 (May, 1920), p. 400.
  15. ^ Minutes of the University's Senate 1920-21, p. 287.
  16. ^ a b Collins & Urry 1997, p. 20.
  17. ^ CP-SCO Czaplicka Papers, Somerville College, Oxford.


  • Anderson, David G. (Oct., 2005). "Review". The Slavonic and East European Review (University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies) 83 (4): 766–767. ISSN 0037-6795. 
  • Collins, David Norman; James Urry (Dec., 1997). "A Flame Too Intense for Mortal Body to Support". Anthropology Today (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) 13 (6): 18–20.  [1]
  • Collins, David Norman, ed (1999). The Collected Works of M. A. Czaplicka. Vol. 1: Collected Articles and Letters; Vol. 2: Aboriginal Siberia; Vol. 3: My Siberian Year; Vol. 4: The Turks of Central Asia. Richmond: Curzon Press. ISBN 978-0-7007-1001-0. 
  • Hultkrantz, Åke (2005) [1987]. "Arctic Religions: History of Study". In Jones, Lindsay. Encyclopedia of Religion. 1 (2 ed.). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 473–476. ISBN 0-02-865733-0. 
  • Kubica, Grazyna (2007). "A Good Lady, Androgynous Angel, and Intrepid Woman: Maria Czaplicka in Feminist Profile". In Bryceson, Deborah Fahy; Judith Okely; Jonathan Webber. Identity and Networks: Fashioning Gender and Ethnicity Across Cultures. Berghahn Books. pp. 146–163. ISBN 978-1-84545-162-2.  [2]
  • de la Rue, Hélène (1996). "Maria Antonina Czaplicka". In V. Amid. Collectors: Collecting for the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum. 
  • Marett, R. R. (Jul., 1921). "Obituary: Marie A. de Czaplicka: Died May 27th, 1921". Man (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) 21 (60): 105–106. ISSN 00251496. 
  • Nuttall, Mark (2005). "Czaplicka, Marie Antoinette". Encyclopedia of the Arctic. 1. Routledge. pp. 458–459. ISBN 1579584373. 
  • Riviere, Peter (2009). A History of Oxford Anthropology. Berghahn Books. ISBN 1845456998.  [3]
  • Urry, James; David N. Collins: Maria Antonina Czaplicka. Życie i praca w Wielkiej Brytanii i na Syberii; Warsaw, 1998.
  • Znamenski, Andrei A. (2007). "From Siberia to North America". The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195172310.  [4]

External links

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