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George Vernadsky

George Vernadsky (August 20, 1887 – June 20, 1973), Russian: Гео́ргий Влади́мирович Верна́дский) was a Russian-American historian and an author of numerous books on Russian history.

Contents

European years

Born in Saint Petersburg on August 20, 1887, Vernadsky stemmed from a respectable family of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. His father was Vladimir Vernadsky, the first President of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He entered the Moscow University (where his father was professor) in 1905 but, due to the disturbances of the First Russian Revolution, had to spend the next two years in Germany, at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and the University of Berlin, where he imbibed the doctrines of Heinrich Rickert.

Back in Russia, Vernadsky resumed his course at the Moscow University, graduating with honors in 1910. His instructors included the historians Vasily Klyuchevsky and Robert Vipper. The young scholar declined to continue his career in the university after the 1910 Kasso affair and moved to Saint Petersburg University where he taught for the next seven years, during which he was awarded the Master's degree for his dissertation on the effects of Freemasonry on the Russian Enlightenment.

George Vernadsky and his sister Nina at a young age.

Politically close to the kadet party (of which his father was one of the leaders), Vernadsky began his career as a supporter of liberal ideas, authoring the biographies of Nikolai Novikov and Pavel Milyukov. During the years of the Russian Civil War (1917-1920), he lectured for a year in Perm. He then taught in Kiev and then followed the White Army to Simferopol, where he taught at the local university for two years.

After the fall of Crimea to the Bolsheviks in 1920, Vernadsky left his native country for Constantinople, moving to Athens later that year. At the suggestion of Nikodim Kondakov, he settled in Prague, teaching there from 1921 until 1925 at the Russian School of Law. There, in association with Nikolai Trubetzkoy and P.N. Savitsky, he participated in formulating the Eurasian Theory of Russian history. After Kondakov's death, Vernadsky was in charge of the Seminarium Kondakovianum, which dessiminated his view of Russian culture as the synthesis of Slavonic, Byzantine, and nomadic influences.

A History of Russia by George Vernadsky

American years

In 1927, Michael Rostovtzeff and Frank Golder offered Vernadsky a position at Yale University in the United States. At Yale, he first served as a research associate in history (1927-1946), and then became a full professor of Russian history in 1946. He served in that position until his retirement in 1956. He died in New Haven on June 20, 1973.

Vernadsky's first book in English was a widely read textbook on Russian history, first published in 1929 and republished six times during his lifetime. It was translated to numerous languages, including Hebrew and Japanese. In 1943, he embarked on his magnum opus, A History of Russia, of which six volumes were eventually published, despite the death of his co-author, Professor Karpovich, in 1959.

The book demonstrated Vernadsky's novel approach to Russian history which is conceived by him as a continuous succession of empires, starting from the Scythian, Sarmatian, Hunnic, and Gothic; Vernadsky attempted to determine the laws of their expansion and collapse. His views emphasised the importance of Eurasian nomadic cultures for the cultural and economic progress of Russia, thus anticipating some of the tenets advanced by Lev Gumilev.

Bibliography

  • (1936) Political and Diplomatic History of Russia
  • (1943–69) A History of Russia (Yale Press) ISBN 0-300-00247-5
  • (1947) Medieval Russian Laws (Translated by George Vernadsky)
  • (1953) The Mongols and Russia
  • (1959) The Origins of Russia
  • (1973) Kievan Russia (Yale Press) ISBN 0-300-01647-6.

References

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