Sternberg, Lev Yakovlevich

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STERNBERG, LEV YAKOVLEVICH (1861–1927), Russian anthropologist, born in Zhitomir. He was sentenced in 1886 to ten years' exile in Sakhalin as a member of the Narodnaya Volya (Populist Party). Like his friends V.G. *Bogoraz and V. *Jochelson, Sternberg studied ethnography and resolved to devote himself to this subject. He became an authority on the culture of the Gilyaks of northeast Siberia, and later he and his two friends participated in the great Jessup North Pacific Expedition headed by Franz *Boas, in which he was responsible for investigation of the Gilyak culture. After his return from exile (1897), Sternberg was appointed ethnographer at the St. Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography and wrote a number of papers on the customs and languages of the east Siberian peoples. After the Russian Revolution Sternberg was appointed professor of ethnography at the University of Leningrad and of anthropology at the Geographical Institute, and with Bogoraz helped to develop these academic disciplines in the USSR. An energetic Marxist, he carried forward certain doctrines in that tradition, for example, primitive communism, and its familial correlate, group marriage, according to the theory of Engels; he polemicized on behalf of these views against the doctrines of Schmidt, *Freud, and *Lévy-Bruhl. Yet his ethnological theory was eclectic and "idealistic," stressing the creativity of the human spirit. As a result, his Marxist orthodoxy was impugned but he was permitted to continue his teaching. He was a member of the Academy of Science in St. Petersburg (later Leningrad), and with Bogoraz assisted in the cultural development of the Siberian peoples, utilizing his ethnological knowledge to foster the political modernization of indigenous peoples in transition. Sternberg took an active part in Jewish social and cultural life. He was one of the founders of the "Popular Jewish Group" (the *Vinawer-*Sliosberg group) and edited its periodicals, participated in the Jewish Historical Ethnological Society, and contributed to Jewish periodicals, such as Yevreyskaya Starina, which he edited and where he published papers on the anthropology and social psychology of Jews. Sternberg was one of the group of Jewish scholars in Leningrad who endeavored to continue research on Jewish subjects under the Soviet regime.


L. Krader, in: iess, 2 (1968), 116–9 s.v. Bogoraz (incl. bibl.); E. Kagaroff, in: American Anthropologist, 31 (1929), 568–71; B. Brutskus, in: National Jewish Monthly, 43 (1928/29), 234ff., 241; M.A. Krol, Stranitsy moyey zhizni, 1 (1944); Z. Rudi, in: He-Avar, 16 (1969), 182–91.

[Ephraim Fischoff]