Roza Laptander: Nenets research, and thesis defence during a pandemic

This post was contributed by FEL Executive Committee member Tjeerd de Graaf who lives in The Netherlands.

Roza Laptander is a member of the Anthropology Research Group and the Global Change Research Group at Lapin Yliopisto University of Lapland, and an associate researcher at the Arctic Centre, University of Groningen. Roza is a native speaker of Nenets, one of the endangered Samoyedic languages of Siberia, Russia. Her research interests cover sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, documenting the Nenets language, and the spoken history of the Western Siberian Nenets. In her work she describes Nenets memories about the past, and their present life in the tundra. She recently defended her PhD thesis remotely.

Roza doing fieldwork on the Yamal peninsula Siberia (photo (c) 2020 Roza Laptander).

I first met Roza in the beginning of 2008 in Salekhard (the administrative centre of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, western Siberia, Russia) and invited her to the FEL conference which in that year we organised at the Fryske Akademi (Frisian Academy) in the Netherlands. There she met a Frisian journalist and the next year they were married in Helsinki, following which she came to live in Leeuwarden, in the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands. Since then she has continued her work in Finland and Yamal.

Arctic languages researchers at 2008 FEL conference in Leeuwarden: (l-r) Leila Dodykhudoeva, Lily Kahn, Roza Laptander (photo (c) 2008 Tjeerd de Graaf).

On 29th April 2020 Roza defended her PhD dissertation at the University of Lapland on the topic When we got reindeer, we moved to live to the tundra – the spoken and silenced history of the Yamal Nenets. Since Roza is living the Netherlands, and due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the resulting limitations to travel, the defence of this first ever western PhD by a Nenets scholar took place via the internet. It involved official participants from Saint-Petersburg (Russia), Rovaniemi (Lapland), Tampere (Finland), Aberdeen (UK), and Leeuwarden (Netherlands), and an audience around the world.

Roza Laptander’s PhD thesis defence in progress

Roza dissertation is based on the stories of the Nenets reindeer herders from the Yamal peninsula, Western Siberia. It shows that spoken stories and interviews concerning big changes on the tundra reflect a general mechanism of making Nenets official historical narratives. Through analysing silence in the Yamal Nenets people’s stories, Roza studied the role of silence and silencing, offering a new approach to understanding how small indigenous societies keep alive memories and stories about their past.

Location of the Yamal peninsula

With a population of more than 45,000, the Nenets represent the largest community of Uralic-speaking indigenous northern people of the Russian Federation. The spoken history of the Nenets includes individual life stories; personal biographies; stories about relatives, friends, and neighbours; historical narratives; individual songs; stories of songs and people who made these songs; and collective narratives. There are monologue narratives, dialogues, group talks, discussions, and different versions of a particular story told by many people. In general, all of these stories represent the Nenets’ past from the beginning of the 20th century until today. This elucidates how the Nenets society maintains oral history stories and narratives about past and recent events in the tundra that live in both individual and collective memory.

Roza’s dissertation can be downloaded from the website of the University of Lapland. Information about her defence and thesis is available in English, Russian, Finnish, Saami, Dutch, and Frisian.

Reference

Laptander, Roza. 2020. When we got reindeer, we moved to live to the tundra: the spoken and silenced history of the Yamal Nenets. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 278. University of Lapland Printing Centre, Rovaniemi. ISBN 978-952-337-200-9. ISSN 1796-6310. [download here]

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