Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

Synopsis

The history of anthropology has been written from multiple viewpoints, often from perspectives of gender, nationality, theory, or politics. Before Boas delves deeper into issues concerning anthropology's academic origins to present a groundbreaking study that reveals how ethnology and ethnography originated during the eighteenth rather than the nineteenth century, developing parallel to anthropology, or the "natural history of man."

Han F. Vermeulen explores primary and secondary sources from Russia, Germany, Austria, the United States, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Great Britain in tracing how "ethnography" was begun as field research by German-speaking historians and naturalists in Siberia (Russia) during the 1730s and 1740s, was generalized as "ethnology" by scholars in Göttingen (Germany) and Vienna (Austria) during the 1770s and 1780s, and was subsequently adopted by researchers in other countries.

Before Boas argues that anthropology and ethnology were separate sciences during the Age of Reason, studying racial and ethnic diversity, respectively. Ethnography and ethnology focused not on "other" cultures but on all peoples of all eras. Following G. W. Leibniz, researchers in these fields categorized peoples primarily according to their languages. Franz Boas professionalized the holistic study of anthropology from the 1880s into the twentieth century.

Excerpt

Ethnography is … that part of anthropology (in the English
sense of the word, the whole science of man) … which deals
with the “cultures” of human groups.

—ROBERT H. LOWIE, 1937

This book aims to serve historians and students of anthropology, ethnography, and ethnology; of modern German and Russian history; of science and society during the Enlightenment. In writing an intellectual history of anthropological and ethnological theory and practice in Europe and Asia during the eighteenth century, I argue that ethnography and ethnology originated in the German Enlightenment long before these studies were established in other parts of Europe and America. Drawing on primary and secondary sources from archives and libraries in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Russia, I demonstrate how “ethnography” commenced as field research among peoples in Siberia (Russian Asia) during the 1730s and 1740s, was generalized as “ethnology” in the academic centers of Göttingen (Germany) and Vienna (Austria) during the 1770s and 1780s, and subsequently adopted by scholars in other countries. The first two developments occurred in the Russian and Holy Roman Empires, continental polities with multiple indigenous populations. In the epilogue, developments in nineteenth-century France, Russia, and the Netherlands are discussed, and the subject is followed up to the work of E. B. Tylor in Great Britain and Franz Boas in the United States.

The primary material suggests that there was considerable con-

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