Dokuchaev, Vasilii

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dokuchaev, Vasilii Vasil’evich


Born Feb. 17 (Mar. 1), 1846, in the village of Miliukovo, in present-day Sychevka Raion, Smolensk Oblast; died Oct. 26 (Nov. 8), 1903, in St. Petersburg. Russian naturalist and founder of modern genetic soil science and zonal agronomy.

Dokuchaev graduated from the natural sciences division of the physics and mathematics department of the University of St. Petersburg in 1871. In 1872 he was appointed curator of the university’s geological collection. In the same year he was elected an active member of the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists, and in 1873, of the city’s mineralogical society. In 1874 he began lecturing at the Institute of Civil Engineering (the School for Structural Engineering until 1877). As a decent in 1880, and as a professor beginning in 1883, Dokuchaev lectured at the University of St. Petersburg on mineralogy and crystallography.

From 1871 to 1877 he studied the loose deposits and structure of the river valleys of the Upper Volga basin, the upper reaches of the Dnieper, and the Western Dvina. On the basis of his observations, Dokuchaev advanced the idea of a succession of erosion cycles and chronological stages in the relief. The results of his research were summarized in his master’s dissertation, The Methods of Formation of River Valleys in European Russia (1878). The monograph Russian Chernozem, his doctoral dissertation (defended in 1883), brought Dokuchaev worldwide fame and is deservedly regarded as the foundation of genetic soil science. Dokuchaev was the first to describe soil as a special natural-historical body formed by the interaction of the factors of soil formation: the parent rock, climate, flora and fauna, relief, and geological age of the country. The study of soils, their genesis and properties, and the control of fertility is inseparable from these factors. Dokuchaev also took into account man’s effect on soil fertility.

From 1882 to 1886, Dokuchaev directed research on the quality of the land in Nizhny Novgorod Province, for which purpose studies were conducted on the soil cover, the grain crop yield, and the effect of manure. The results were published in Data for the Land Assessment of Nizhny Novgorod Province’, he also compiled soil and geological maps. Dokuchaev was the first to suggest a natural-historical method of soil evaluation, which is important in modern techniques of land assessment and land cadastre. He presented a scientific classification of soils (based on the genetic principle) in 1886. After studying the soils, vegetation, and geological conditions of Poltava Province between 1888 and 1894, he reached a number of important conclusions concerning the conformity of soil genesis to natural laws. A collection of Russian soils was displayed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889, along with Dokuchaev’s published works, which were awarded a gold medal. In Our Steppes Then and Now (1892), Dokuchaev outlined a plan for combating the drought that had struck the chernozem zone in Russia in 1891. The plan specified a number of measures to cope with all of the natural phenomena of the steppe zone. Because of the variety of natural and economic conditions in Russia, Dokuchaev insisted that agronomic and forest-improvement measures be devised to suit the peculiarities of a given zone. As director of the Novo-Aleksandriia Institute of Agriculture and Forestry he established Russia’s first subdepartment of soil science in 1895. He instituted fundamental reforms in the teaching and curricula of the institute; his efforts served as a model for the subsequent reorganization of higher agricultural education in Russia.

Dokuchaev’s theory of latitudinal (horizontal) and vertical “natural-historical zones” was the foundation of the Russian scientific school of physical geography. Dokuchaev distinguished seven world zones (boreal, northern forest, foreststeppe, steppe, dry steppe, desert, and subtropical). He developed a theory of soil evolution based on the idea that soil-forming processes are the “ever changing functions” of natural factors.

Dokuchaev considered the earth to be in a state of continuous development. He found internal relationships between the individual phenomena of animate and inanimate nature. He linked his research to the needs of agriculture. His ideas had an impact on forestry, reclamation, hydrogeology, dynamic geology, and other sciences.

The V. V. Dokuchaev gold medal and prize were established in March 1946 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. They are awarded by the presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR for outstanding research in the field of soil science. The Soil Institute of the V. I. Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural sciences, the Scientific Research Institute of Agriculture of the Central Chernozem Zone (Kamennaia Step’, Voronezh Oblast), and the Kharkov Agricultural Institute are all named after Dokuchaev.


Sposoby obrazovaniia rechnykh dolin Evropeiskoi Rossii. St. Petersburg, 1878.
Russkii chernozem: Otchet Vol’nomu ekonomicheskomu obshchestvy. St. Petersburg, 1883.
Nashi stepi prezhde i teper’. St. Petersburg, 1892.
Materialy k otsenke zemel Nizhegorodskoi gubernii. Estestvennoistoricheskaia chast’: Otchet Nizhegorodskomu gubernskomu zemstvu, nos. 1-14. St. Petersburg, 1884-86. (Jointly with others.)
Mesto i rol sovremennogo pochvovedeniia v nauke i zhizni. St. Petersburg, 1899.
K ucheniiu o zonakh prirody: Gorizontal’nye i vertikal’nye pochvennye zony. St. Petersburg, 1899.
Izbran. soch., vols. 1-3. Moscow, 1948-49.
Soch., vols. 1-9. Moscow, 1949-61.


Chebotareva, L. A. “Vasilii Vasil’evich Dokuchaev.” In V. V. Dokuchaev, Soch., vol. 9. Moscow, 1961.
Sobolev, S. S. “Razvitie idei V. V. Dokuchaeva.” In V. V. Dokuchaev, Soch., vol. 9. Moscow, 1961.
Polynov, B. B., I. A. Krupenikov, and L. A. Krupenikov. Vasilii Vasil’evich Dokuchaev: Ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva. Moscow, 1956.
Krupenikov, I., and L. Krupenikov. Puteshestviia i ekspeditsii V. V. Dokuchaeva. Moscow, 1949. V. V. Dokuchaev i geografiia (1846-1946). Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. (Collection of articles.)
Gerasimov, I. P. “Velikii russkii uchenyi V. V. Dokuchaev (k 125-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia).” Pochvovedenie, 1971, no. 8.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.