The Hoover Institution Library & Archives has acquired the papers of Viktor Porfirievich Petrov (1907–2000), a geographer and historian who wrote numerous books and articles on the history of Russians in the United States and in his native China.

Petrov was born in Harbin, China, in 1907, and graduated from the Russian Institute of Jurisprudence there in 1929. He became a newspaper reporter and resided in various regions of China, including Hong Kong (1937–40), until moving to the United States in 1940. In 1945–46 he was an instructor at the US Navy School of Languages in Boulder, Colorado. After receiving his PhD from American University in 1954, he was an assistant professor, associate professor, and professor at the US Naval Language School in Washington, DC (1946–63). The following two years (1963–65), he was a professor at the Defense Language Institute in Washington, DC. Retiring from that institution, he taught geography at Shippensburg State College, Pennsylvania (1965–67). In 1970 he became professor of geography at California State University, Los Angeles, where he taught until 1974. The next two years he spent teaching at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, until his final retirement in 1976.

Book cover for "Mongolia: A Profile" by Viktor Petrov

Petrov wrote some thirty-five books, most on the history of Russians in America and China, including several fictionalized accounts. Among his works are Geography of the Soviet Union (Washington, DC: V.P. Kamkin, sole distributors, 1959), China: Emerging World Power (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1967), and Mongolia: A Profile (New York: Praeger, 1970).

Most of the works that grew out of his own personal interests were published in Russian. His first book, Pod amerikanskim flagom: v goriashchem Chapeie (1933) was published in Shanghai, China, by Viktor Kamkin, who also published some of his later works in Washington, DC, where Kamkin moved his publishing business. Among the most significant works in Russian are Saga Forta Ross (1961–63), Rossiiskaia dukhovnaia missiia v Kitae (1968), Kolumby rossiiskie (1971), Kamerger Dvora: roman (1973), Gorod na Sungari (1984), and Shankhai va Vampu (1985). The Friends of Fort Ross also published Fort Ross i eo kul’turoe nasledie (1977) in Los Angeles.

Petrov died in Olney, Maryland, on August 18, 2000, at the age of 93.

The newly acquired papers reflect various aspects of Viktor Petrov’s life and career. His correspondence ranges from business letters relating to the sales of his books to personal letters to family members from the 1930s on, as well as substantial research correspondence with colleagues and fellow historians in the Russian Federation and other countries. A particularly important subset of the correspondence is the exchange of letters with Russian friends from China who also emigrated abroad (to Australia, the United States, France, and other countries), relating their trials and tribulations, reminiscing about Harbin, and discussing the fate of yet other friends who left for homes in various lands or disappeared from view. There is also a file relating to Petrov’s difficulties attempting to help his sister and niece emigrate to the United States.

Another subset of materials deals with the Congress of Russian Americans (CRA). Petrov headed its Washington, DC, branch for many years, and much of the material in this series deals with branch activities, as well as the broader activities of the organization in the United States. Because the Washington branch was responsible for the CRA’s ties with members of Congress and government agencies, this series is particularly valuable for understanding the organization’s attempts to influence US-Soviet relations in the 1970s and 1980s. This set of material forms an excellent complement to the records of the Congress of Russian-Americans already held by the Hoover Institution Archives and the papers of its longtime president George Avisov.


Anatol Shmelev Hoover Headshot

Anatol Shmelev

Robert Conquest Curator for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia / Research Fellow

Anatol Shmelev is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Robert Conquest Curator for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia at Hoover’s Library & Archives, and the project archivist for its Radio…

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