Baranskii, Nikolai N.

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Baranskii, Nikolai N.



Nikolai N. Baranskii (1881–1963), the founder of Soviet economic geography, was born in Tomsk, Siberia, and died in Moscow. In his early years Baranskii was a professional revolutionary, participating in many underground activities of the Bolshevik movement. In 1918, after the establishment of the Soviet government, he began to occupy himself with economic geography and from 1926 devoted his time entirely to research, teaching, and publication in the field of geography. In 1929 Baranskii was appointed to the newly created chair of economic geography at Moscow State University, where he exerted great influence. He trained a body of specialists in economic geography and supervised more than a hundred candidate dissertations (roughly equivalent to American or German doctoral dissertations). He also founded or edited several important geographical periodicals and serials (Geograftia v shkole, Voprosy geografii, Geograftia i khoziaistvo), served as geographical editor for the first edition of the “Great Soviet Encyclopedia,” helped secure important decrees by the government and the Communist party of the Soviet Union on the teaching of geography in schools (especially the decree of May 16, 1934), and led or aided in research expeditions from the university to various parts of the Soviet Union to investigate resources and potential projects.

His concepts in economic geography have had a wide influence in the Soviet Union and in other socialist countries. He developed a Marxist approach to economic geography. Geographers who use this approach are actively engaged in practical work in the development of the economy, in accordance with an over-all plan for the continuous expansion of production. Part of this plan is a “transformation of nature,” or the offsetting of unfavorable natural conditions, such as drought, poor drainage, or permafrost, in order to create a more even areal distribution of population and production over the entire country. Baranskii stressed the need for concrete data based on direct field observation as a basis for comprehensive socialist planning. The regional orientation he established in Soviet economic geography emphasized the complex development of the economy by region rather than by type of economic activity.

In a closely related area, he analyzed the geographical division of labor in terms of two major variables, economic advantage and local variation in the productivity of labor. In agriculture, he noted variations in crop yields from place to place, according to differences in natural conditions (rainfall, temperature, or soil) or in social products and practices (reclamation, fertilization, or mechanization). He related variations in industry to proximity to raw materials (including fuel), to the extent of capital accumulation, and to the availability of a labor force. He emphasized also the effect of the historical evolution of human societies, with their differing cultures and attitudes, on the division of labor, as well as such factors as transportation and distance from major markets.

Another field that Baranskii developed was the study of the economic-geographic situation: the development of a particular economic activity in relation to routes, markets, scenes of war, and centers of industry, administration, or culture, as well as to the rate of social–political development.

Shifting the perspective, he studied the economic-geographic development of cities, viewing cities as commanders of a country who organize it in all respects, economic, political–administrative, and cultural. He worked out criteria for the classification of cities, such as characteristics of their economic-geographic situation, the functions they perform, and the size of territory over which a city exerts its influence.

Finally, Baranskii perfected methods of economic cartography and developed principles for depicting economic phenomena on maps. These principles were incorporated in a series of great Soviet atlases. To depict the distribution of manufacturing, he classified industries by branches and established indicators of the relative importance of manufacturing in particular areas. He also applied these principles to maps of ore deposits, energy, transportation and communications, and agriculture, and he examined the problems of producing a synthetic or comprehensive economic map, displaying all branches of the economy at once.

In 1935 Baranskii wrote the basic textbook on the economic geography of the U.S.S.R., which was used in the high schools of the Soviet Union for more than twenty years. He also played a role in the introduction of foreign concepts and methods into Soviet economic geography by his extensive published reviews, his consultation on books to be translated into Russian, and his own translation of some works. Altogether Baranskii published more than five hundred scientific books, monographs, articles, and reviews.

Chauncy D. Harris


(1935) 1956 Economic Geography of the U.S.S.R. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. → First published as Ekonomicheskaia geografiia SSSR.

(1956) 1960 Ekonomicheskaia geografiia; ekonomicheskaia kartografiia (Economic Geography; Economic Cartography). 2d ed. Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdate’stvo Geograficheskoi Literatury.

1957 Ekonomicheskaia geografiia v srednei shkole; ekonomicheskaia geografiia v vysshei shkole. (Economic Geography in the Secondary School; Economic Geography in the University). Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel’stvo Geograficheskoi Literatury. → A collection of Baranskii’s key writings on the teaching of geography. Contains a comprehensive bibliography.


Armand, D. L. et al. 1961 Nikolai Nikolaevich Baranskii. Akademiia Nauk S.S.S.R., Izvestiia Seriia geograficheskaia [1961], no. 5:148–150.

George, Pierre 1965 N. N. Baranski. Annales de geographic 74:195–197.

Gokhman, V. M.; and Nazarevskii, O. R. 1964 N. N. Baranskii i sovetskaia geografiia. Akademiia Nauk S.S.S.R., Izvestiia Seriia geograficheskaia [1964] no. 3:130–133.

Harris, Chauncy D. 1964 Nikolay Nikolayevich Baranskiy. Geographical Review 54:282–283.

Korovitsyn, V. P.; Nikol’skii, I. V.; and Rakitnikov, A. N. 1961 Nikolai Nikolaevich Baranskii. Vsesoiuznoe Geograficheskoe Obshchestvo, Izvestiia 93:292–296.

Maergoiz, I. M.; and Saushkin, Iu. G. 1956 Nikolai Nikolaevich Baranskii. Akademiia Nauk S.S.S.R., Izvestiia Seriia geograficheskaia [1956], no. 5:56–60.

Maergoiz, I. M.; and Trofimovskaia, E. A. 1961 K vos’midesiatiletiiu Nikolaia Nikolaevicha Baranskogo. Vsesoiuznoe Geograficheskoe Obshchestvo, Izvestiia 93:289–291.

Nikolai Nikolaevich Baranskii. 1950 Volume 4, pages 226–227 in Bol’shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia. 2d ed. Moscow: Bol’shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia.

N. N. Baranskii. 1963 Izvestiia December 1: p. 5, col. 1.

N. N. Baranskii. 1963 Pravda December 1: p. 6, cols. 6–7.

N. N. Baransky. 1963 New York Times December 1: p. 84, col. 5.

Saushkin, Iu. G. et al. 1964 Pamiati N. N. Baranskogo—osnovatelia Voprosy geografii. Voprosy geografii 65: 9–13.

Solov’ev, A. I. 1964 Nikolai Nikolaevich Baranskii. Moskva, Universitet, Vestnik Seriia 5: Geografiia [1964] no. 1:56–60.

Vitver, I. A. et al. 1964 Pamiati Nikolaia Nikolaevicha Baranskogo. Vsesoiuznoe Geograficheskoe Obshchestvo, Izvestiia 96:81–82.

Zimm, A. 1964 N.N. Baranskij. Petermanns geografische Mitteilungen 108:102.