The Witsen Project: an annotated re-edition of N. Witsen's "North and East Tartary" (1705) in Russian and Dutch


The most important book ever written by a Dutchman about Russia is "Noord en Oost Tartarye"
( "North and East Tartary", 2 folio size volumes, 1000 pp., 130 illustrations) published in Amsterdam in 1705 and dedicated to tsar Peter the Great. Its author, the Amsterdam mayor Nicolaas Witsen, surveyed and disclosed in this collossal study all information available at that time about the still very unknown Northern parts of Russia and Asia. As a very wealthy member of the the Dutch political elite, pivot of the Dutch-Russian relations of his era and trustee of the United East-Indian Company (VOC) Witsen could collect an enormous mass of maps, travelogues, manuscripts and objects. He corresponded with many Europeans living in Asia and Russia and intimately knew a number of highly placed Russians. Witsen assisted Peter I in many ways during and after the tsar's stay in Holland. "North and East Tartary" is a most remarkable result of the commercial and scientific flourishing of the Dutch republic during its Golden Age, which was also a period of intensive Russian-Dutch collaboration.

Russian scholars have since long acknowledged the importance of Witsen's book as a unique source for the history, languages, geography and ethnology of the Northern parts of their country. However, "North and East Tartary" has remained inaccessible to them, because this book is a bibliographic rarity written in 17th century Dutch. For modern Dutchmen "North and East Tartary" is also difficult to understand, because very many puzzling details can nowadays only be explained by Russian experts.

An annotated re-edition of "North and East Tartary" in the Dutch and the Russian language would therefore be equally profitable to scholars and other interested readers in Russia and the Netherlands.
This is the aim of the Witsen project initiated in 1997 by the Institute for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Amsterdam.

Two years ago the first, preliminary, phase of this project was financed by the agency "Cross" of the Dutch Ministry of Education with a subsidy of f 150.000. During this phase a complete Russian translation of "North and East Tartary" was made and also a comprehensive inventory of items in the text which might need annotation or explanation. At the same time, research was done on a number of topics by Dutch and Russian scholars.

During the second phase of the project, which probably will take another three years, the necessary annotations and comments will be prepared. The organisation of this work will be discussed at a conference of the Russian and Dutch participants in St.Petersburg at 10 and 11 September 2001. For the second phase we already received f 270.000 from Dutch sponsors which can be used to cover the personnel costs of the Dutch scholars. We request NWO to subsidize the personnel costs of the Russian partners and a number of material costs during this second phase of the project.

The publication of two annotated editions of "North and East Tartary", one in Russian and one in Dutch, will form the third and last phase of the Witsen project.





Prof. dr. B. Naarden

Verbonden aan

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Geschiedenis, Archeologie en Regiostudies


Drs. D. Balakaeva, Dr. Ya.E. Bodarskii, Dr. M.E. Bychkova, A.E. Chekunova, Drs. J. Driessen, Dr. J.H. Jager, Prof. dr. A.I. Komissarenko, Drs. W. Lucassen, L.R. Pavlinskaya, Dr. A.A. Petrov, A.M. Pevnov, Dr. B.P. Polevoi


01/05/2002 tot 29/03/2013