African studies in the USSR are at present concentrated in Moscow and Leningrad. The two centers have individual characteristics and, in the case of Africa, fairly defined fields of academic interests. Some introductory remarks on the disciplines concerned and on the general organization of higher studies in the Soviet Union will be relevant, before examining African studies in detail.
Regional studies have developed strongly inside the Soviet Union, first because the living material for such studies is within the confines of the state; secondly because a society which is consciously remolding its future to a specific pattern needs such basic knowledge, and thirdly because of a tradition in and love of the study of popular cultures going well back into the 19th century. Such studies cut across academic disciplines; field work is predominantly undertaken by “complex expeditions” which, to the core of ethnographers, add archaeologists, linguists, folk-lorists, art historians, and sociologists. Ethnography in the Russian sense is mainly concerned with material culture; folklore deals entirely with recording oral tradition and poetry. In a paper read at the VIth International Congress of Anthropologists and Ethnographers in Paris in June, 1960, Professor Tolstov, President of the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences, explained the Institute's academic conceptions as follows:-
“If one can call economic geography the bridge between geography and economics, then ethnography can be called the link between geography and history. We see ethnography as a complex of academic disciplines which branches outward from a core of ethnography proper”.