Osip Kowalewski

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kowalewski, Osip Mikhailovich


(also Józef Kowalewski). Born Dec. 28, 1800 (Jan. 9, 1801), in the village of Brzostowica Wielka, present-day Volkovysk Raion, Grodno Oblast; died Oct. 20, 1878, in Warsaw. Polish-Russian Mongolian expert; professor (1833) and academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1847). Honorary member of the Asiatic Society in Paris (1839).

In 1820, Kowalewski graduated from the University of Vilnius, where he specialized in ancient languages and classical literature. In 1824 he was arrested for belonging to the secret society Friends of Science, headed by A. Mickiewicz. He was freed a year later and sent “under special supervision” to Kazan, where he began to study Eastern languages (Arabic, Persian, Tatar) at the university and wrote his History of the Kazan Khanate. From 1827 to 1831 he lived in Transbaikalia, Mongolia, and China and studied the living languages, literature, and ethnography of the Mongolian peoples. From 1833 to 1860, Kowalewski was a professor at the University of Kazan. In 1862 he became a professor of the Warsaw Main School, which was reorganized as a university in 1869.

Kowalewski’s principal works include A Short Grammar of the Mongolian Written Language (1835), A Collection of Mongolian Texts (vols. 1–2, 1836–37), and A Mongolian-Russian-French Dictionary (vols. 1–3, 1844–49), which was awarded the Demidov Prize by the Academy of Sciences. Kowalewski left a number of unpublished works devoted to Mongolian studies and Buddhism, some of which (“History of the Mongols,” vols. 1–2, and “Introduction to the History of the Mongols”) are preserved in the collection of Oriental manuscripts in the Leningrad branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and in the manuscript collection of the Central State Archive of the Tatar ASSR. Most of his unpublished works, including a six-volume description of Mongolia, China, and Buriatia, were transferred to Warsaw, where they were destroyed in a fire in 1863.

The school of Mongolian studies founded by Kowalewski produced such eminent scholars as D. Banzarov, V. P. Vasil’ev, and A. A. Bobrovnikov.


“Katalog sanskritskim, mongol’ skim, tibetskim, mandzhurskim i kitai-skim knigam i rukopisiam, v biblioteke Kazanskogo universiteta khraniashchimsia.” Uch. zap. Kazanskogo un-ta, 1834, vol. 2.
“Poezdka iz Irkutska v Urgu.” Kazanskii vestnik, 1829, part 26, May-June, book 5.
“Soderzhanie mongol’skoi knigi pod zaglaviem: More pritch.Uch. zap. Kazanskogo un-ta, 1834, vols. 1–2.
Buddiiskaia kosmologiia. Kazan, 1837.
“O zabaikal’skikh buriatakh.” Kazanskii vestnik, 1829, part 27, books 9–10.


Kotwicz, W. Józef Kowalewski—orientalista (1801–1878). Wroclaw, 1948. (Contains bibliography.)


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