Journal of World History 13.2 (2002) 506-509
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Facing Each Other:
The World's Perception of Europe and Europe's Perception of the World
Facing Each Other: The World's Perception of Europe and Europe's Perception of the World. An Expanding World: The European Impact on World History, 1450-1800, Vol. 31. 2 parts. Edited by ANTHONY PAGDEN. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2000. Pp. xxxvi + 699. $275.00 (cloth).
This collection of twenty-five previously published articles endeavors to map recent historiographical and ethnographic developments in the study of Europe's encounters with non-European peoples. Given the flowering of scholarship on this topic that has resulted from the interdisciplinary movement of the last four decades, such a compilation would seem a worthy, highly desirable project. Unfortunately, deficiencies in editing and production compromise the effectiveness of this two-volume set.
Published between 1964 and 1996 and focused on European contact with Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, these scholarly pieces vary in their continued relevance. Many of the articles remain [End Page 506] quite profound and current in their analyses of the intellectual consequences of European expansion. Jacques Le Goff's conceptualization of the oneiric horizon as an ever-shifting site of exotic fantasy suggests the ways in which Europeans often ended up describing themselves in their attempts to characterize or speak for others. The voice of the other proved to be European after all. W. R. Jones historicizes the concept of barbarity as a construction of civilized men and charts its banishment to the frontiers and beyond as Christianity triumphed in Europe, thus minimizing the social and cultural distinctions among those who were now both European and Christian. Karen Kupperman examines the vulnerability and guilt that informed English attributions of treachery toward those Native American peoples regarded as human but savage. Roy Porter argues that the formulation of Polynesian eroticism resulting from European encounters with Tahiti in the latter half of the eighteenth century reinforced phallic imperialism and transformed exotic sexuality into a signifier of decadence.
In a piece that resonates well with the concerns of much contemporary postcolonial scholarship, Yuri Slezkine describes the efforts of Russian scholars to grasp the "true nature" of imperial subjects appropriated by, but not fully incorporated into, the expanding Russian state. Neither sixteenth-century classifications based on religious difference nor later cultural distinctions derived from ethnographic observation could grasp adequately the cultural complexity of these colonized peoples. In the end, state scholars found themselves confronting diversity within Russia as well as on its frontier. There resulted the recognition that the Russian heartland itself consisted of many borderlands.
Exploration, contact, and encounter deeply affected both formal and more casual investigations into otherness. Joan-Pau Rubiés sees Renaissance ethnology as giving rise to a renewed skeptical tradition in which the languages of Christianity and civilization could no longer integrate different cultures into a single, Christian, global community. With belief in the religious source of human morality shaken, law and government were the only tools left to regulate a "landscape of difference and a plurality of worlds" (p. 112). Travel writing showed itself to be more than just an innocent practice of the voyager or sojourner. Examining European travel writing on Africa, Mary Louise Pratt finds in this genre a diverse, complex, ideological, and powerfully normalizing discourse. Descriptions of manners and customs worked to codify and reify difference, thus domesticating capitalism's newest subjects.
Other contributions contained in these two volumes have traveled less well across time. Wyatt MacGaffey's warnings about European constructions of African history and ethnography, Cornelius Jaenen's [End Page 507] sweeping generalizations regarding "Amerindian" views of French culture in the seventeenth century, and Jalil Sued-Badillo's critique of the colonizing effects of archaeology on the deeper Caribbean past all seem dated, obvious, or preliminary in their arguments. My real concern here is not with the positions of these contributors, but with an editorial failure to examine these relatively early and important statements on...