Skip to main content

Anthropology lecture Jan. 25: Spatial navigation among Dolgans

A group of men sit and stand around snow machines somewhere in the Arctic with snow.

Lera Vasilyeva, U.S. Fulbright Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at Boise State presents “Spatial navigation among Dolgans: What do the traces in the snow tell?” at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, in the Liberal Arts Building, Room 106.

Vasilyeva’s talk focuses on navigation methods used by the Dolgans of the Eastern Taimyr Peninsula, Russia. Their contemporary winter means of transport – snow machines – replaced reindeer sleds, but navigation skills used while driving have a lot in common. She will discuss the techniques used by the Dolgans to set the course and to maintain it, ranging from wind direction tracking to using celestial bodies. An equally important navigation technique is movement along traced lines, such as riverbeds or traces left by previous drivers. There are also cultural limitations to the choice of course of driving, such as avoiding sacred places or gender restrictions. The presentation looks at all these factors to provide insight into how a Dolgan driver makes decisions driving a snow machine. The material will be discussed in the context of mental/cognitive map theory and the concept of environmental engagement.

Vasilyeva, a U.S. Fulbright Scholar and Boise State Anthropology Research Fellow with the Center for Arctic Social Studies at European University in St. Petersburg, Russia, focuses her research on mobility practices, social construction of space, and perception of infrastructure in the Russian North in her Fulbright project titled, “Roadless Societies: Off-road vehicles and infrastructural self-organization in the Russian Arctic and Alaska.” She conducts fieldwork in several regions on the Arctic coast, primarily the Taimyr Peninsula.

She has a book chapter in the upcoming volume “The Siberia World (Routledge)” titled “Infrastructural Brokers in a Logistical Cul-de-sac: Taimyr’s Wild Winter Road Drivers.” Her previous projects include: “Russian Harbors of Transarctic Route: Space and Societies of Russia’s Arctic Coast on the Eve of a New Period in the History of Northern Sea Route” and “‘Children of the Nineties’: Strategies for the Present and Plans for the Future.”

The Boise State departments of Anthropology and World Languages, along with the College of Arts and Sciences Humanities and Social Sciences Initiative, the Center for Global Engagement and the School of Public Service sponsored this event.