Introduction: The Natural Turn in Early Modern Russian History

Anna Graber, Clare Griffin, Rachel Koroloff, Audra Yoder


This introduction to the Vivliofika special issue, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, illuminates the rich scholarship examining ideas about nature in the early modern Russian context. Starting with the basic question of how early modern Russians conceived of the natural world, the authors explore the numerous ways in which this question has been asked and answered by Russian historians and historians of science from the mid-twentieth century on. Acknowledging that these questions have recently been treated differently, the authors argue for a ‘natural turn’ in the scholarship. This introduction brings together Anglophone and Russophone literature to sketch the state the field before offering a relatively brief but nuanced history of the concept of the ‘Three Kingdoms of Nature’ (Tria Regna Naturae) which frames the project as a whole. The authors show how the early eighteenth-century articulation of the Tria Regna Naturae sat at the confluence of ancient Greek, early Christian, and more modern, cameralist attempts to classify and divide, and thereby understand the natural world. Muscovite and early modern Russian approaches to the question of the natural world were influenced by this Western historiography, and yet they stood apart from those traditions in interesting ways detailed by the essays in this volume. Ultimately the authors here advance new methods for understanding how early modern Russians understood the natural world, methods which focus on the practices of knowledge making in general, and those of transcription, translation, and illustration in specific.


classification, collections, cosmology, herbalism, knowledge-making, medicine, translation, Tria Regna Naturae, Tri Tsarstva Prirody, Natural History, the natural turn, witchcraft

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ISSN: 2333-1658