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Birthday anniversary of Pyotr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, Russian geographer

14 January 1827

2 (14) January, 1827 in the Ryazan province, into a family of a retired captain was born Pyotr Petrovich Semenov (from 1906 – Semenov-Tyan-Shansky), Russian geographer, botanist, entomologist, traveler, collector, public figure; an honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1873) and the Academy of Arts (1874), Head of the Russian Geography Society (1873) and the Russian Entomology Society (1874), a member of the State Council of the Russian Empire (1897); organizer of the first census of the population in Russia in 1897.

Until the age of 15 Semenov was brought up in the countryside, then he moved to Petersburg with his mother, where he entered the School of Guard warrant officers and cavalry cadets. Soon he became an auditor of Petersburg University, Physics & Mathematics Faculty, Natural Sciences Department. In 1849, upon the graduation, Semenov joined the Russian Imperial Geographical Society and from that time on contributed a lot to its activities.

In 1851, Semenov traveled to the river basins of the Oka and the Don, which resulted in the research work "The Don flora in its relations with the geographical distribution of plants in European Russia." For this work he was awarded a Master's degree in botany. The following year he traveled to Europe. In the University of Berlin he met with great German Encyclopaedist Alexander von Humboldt.

Until 1855 Semenov studied profoundly geography and geology in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. Soon, on behalf of the Russian Geographical Society, he completed translation of the work of German geographer Carl Ritter "Earth science of Asia" and undertook an expedition to study the mountain range of Tien Shan. Over the next two years the scientist visited Altai, Tarbagatay, Semirechensky and Zailiyskiy Alatau, the Lake of Issyk-Kul. He was the first European traveler to penetrate into the Tyen Shan and the first to visit the highest mountain group - Khan Tengri. At this time, he build up rich collections on natural history and geology of Russia. In 1867, a brief overview of the results of his travels appeared in the "Memoirs of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society." Other materials were used for the elaboration of an addendum to Ritter’s work "Geographical and Statistical Dictionary of the Russian Empire," published by the Society under the direction of Semenov.

In 1858, Semenov was invited to participate in the preparation of the emancipation reform and drafting of the Regulations of 19 February (March 3), 1861. In 1864-1874   he headed the Central Statistical Committee, and in 1874-1897 – the Statistical Council of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. During this time he set up a new system of official statistics.

For more than forty years (1873-1914) Semenov headed the Russian Geographical Society and a quarter-century – was at the head of the Russian Entomological Society (1889-1914). With the help of organized expeditions of Russian travelers N. M. Przhevalsky, G. N. Potanin, P. K. Kozlov, V. I. Roborovsky, I. V. Mushketov, N. N. Miklouho-Maclay, V. A. Obruchev. In 1882 the scientist was appointed a senator of the 2nd (peasant) Department of the Governing Senate. During these years he also became an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Fine Arts. Having built up a rich collection of paintings by Flemish and Dutch artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, the second in Europe by its scope, Semenov published an extensive work, "Essays on the history of Dutch painting."  Later he handed over to the Hermitage a few hundred pictures and several thousand of engravings. In 1893 he participated in the drafting of the collection, "Siberia, the Great Siberian Railway", published by the Ministry of Finance for the World Exposition in Chicago, and wrote several articles and essays on various issues of geography. In 1895, Pyotr Petrovich wrote, "The history of a half-century activity of the Geographical Society," in 3 volumes.

In 1897, under the guidance of Semenov was prepared and conducted the first general census of the population of Russia. The scientist was the creator of the scheme of economic regions of European Russia, and, in fact, founded of Russian economic geography.

In 1906, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first trip to the Tyan Shan, the emperor issued a decree of addition to the name of P. P. Semenov the title of Tyan-Shansky. The scientist was elected a member of more than 60 academies and scientific institutions in Europe and Russia. Later, the name of Semenov-Tyan-Shansky was given to mountains, ridges, glaciers in the Middle and Central Asia, the Caucasus, Alaska and Spitzbergen, and about a hundred new forms of plants and animals. One of the peaks of the Mongolian Altai is named "Pyotr Petrovich."

February 26 (March 11), 1914 Pyotr Semenov-Tyan-Shansky died and was buried in the Smolensk Orthodox Cemetery. The world's largest collection of insects collected by the traveler during his trips to the Trans-Caspian region and Turkestan, and numbering 700,000 copies, is held by the Zoological Museum of the Academy of Sciences.


Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:

Pyotr Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky (1827-1914): [digital collection]