Reviewed by Nathan Weston (Department of History, University of Washington)
Published on H-German (March, 2008)
Enlightenment Encounters in Anthropology
Scholars who contribute to a growing historiographical genre that might be termed "encounter studies," which finds its heritage in travel literature, anthropology, colonial history, and their study, originate in a similar vein to that of the texts from which they argue. Since the unmatched impact of Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) on the study of (particularly colonial) cultural encounters as an unparalleled influence on the construction of the Other, scholars from diverse academic backgrounds have turned to the question of "the encounter." Some of them have identified anthropology as a rich source of inquiry for traces of cross-cultural engagement. This parallel between Said's recovery of "the Other" and scholars' general reconsideration of anthropological texts from the past has run concurrent to further questioning of the roles of social science in colonial enterprises. Even so, anthropology as a discipline has become a self-conscious beneficiary of greater attention to moments of encounter, as have history, literary criticism, and cultural studies, to name only the most prominent fields.
The collection reflects the next generation of scholarly work on encounters that has continued to attend to questions surrounding anthropology and in this instance, how the field's genesis intersected with the intellectual aims of the Enlightenment. Scholars from a variety of fields provide the sixteen essays contained in the book. In this interdisciplinary endeavor, the work carries forward the spirit of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert's Encyclopedia (1751-72), possibly the central text of the Enlightenment, in its engagement with experts from differing backgrounds collaborating for the common project of the progression of knowledge. The editors, Larry Wolff and Marco Cipolloni, provide the introduction and conclusion respectively with the remaining chapters arranged in three parts: "Philosophical History and Enlightened Anthropology," "Ethnography and Enlightened Anthropology," and "Human Nature and Enlightened Anthropology." What is "Enlightened Anthropology"? As Wolff remarks in his introduction, "Enlightened Anthropology" may be understood as "proto-anthropology" (p. 21). Wolff's introduction provides a straightforward general overview of the intellectual roots of anthropology, which he locates in the Enlightenment engagement with cultural perspective.
Part 1 of the book addresses several eighteenth-century thinkers and the ways their ideas grappled with questions surrounding cultural perspective. J.G.A. Pocock examines the concept of "barbarism" (p. 35) as discussed in Edward Gibbon's third volume of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776). Anthony Pagden analyzes selected philosophes' parallel constructions of Europe and Asia, while Sunil Agnani looks at D iderot's writings about "the Indies" (p. 65), both East and West. Christian Marouby writes about Adam Smith's assessments of economic growth based on particular ethnographic texts, whereas Neil Hargraves dissects William Robertson's History of America (1777) for its treatment of Aztecs, Incas, and the subsequent Spanish conquest. The section concludes with Nicholas A. Germana's investigation of Johann Gottfried Herder's interest in "Morgenland" (p. 119), a figurative space interchangeable with India.
Part 2 focuses more on ethnographic rather than philosophical writings involving European encounters with non-Europeans. John Gascoigne examines the work of Johann Reinhold Forster and his son George, German naturalists who traveled to the Pacific on Captain James Cook's second global circumnavigation; Michael Harbsmeier studies Danish involvement with the inhabitants of Greenland. Giulia Cecere observes Russian imperial ethnographies of Russia's subject peoples; Jean-Philippe E. Belleau researches French ethnographies of Haiti. The book's final part concerns itself with Enlightenment authors who confronted questions related to human nature. Mary Baine Campbell writes on dreams as constructed on both the European as well as the American sides of the Atlantic; Michael Kempe assesses the theory of natural law of German scholar Samuel Pufendorf. Philippe Huneman excavates the origin of psychiatry in the eighteenth-century notion of the "animal economy" (p. 262), a construction of the body as an interconnected system; Jonathan Lamb traces metropolitan narrative representations of colonial societies during the Enlightenment. The volume concludes with Cipolloni's discussion of the movement to Enlightenment cultural perspective via its foundation in Renaissance discoveries.
This collection is well suited for a variety of graduate seminars. The feeling after moving through this text could be called a "cosmopolitan effect," due to the numerous areas of Europe represented and active in "enlightened" anthropological projects. This cosmopolitanism seems appropriate for a study eighteenth-century Europe, considering that nations were less stable entities than they would aspire to be in subsequent centuries. Conjuring the figure of the nation-state suggests future possibilities for inquiries pursued in this text: namely, the conjunction of ideas about anthropology with the formation of nations. Other potentially fruitful questions aim in the opposite direction: for example, how did ancient and medieval authors, writing about trans-cultural encounters, presage anthropological thought? Whatever the specific directions encounter studies eventually adopts in the future, the paths to and from this genre will continue to demonstrate a cosmopolitanism that seeks sources closer to the encounter.
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Nathan Weston. Review of Cipolloni, Marco; Wolff, Larry, The Anthropology of the Enlightenment.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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