- The Anthropology of the Enlightenment
This volume brings together sixteen contributors from history, philosophy, and literary studies to explore the roots of ethnographic enquiry and philosophical debates that were to grow into anthropology. There is a fine introduction by Larry Wolff and a thought-provoking conclusion by Marco Cipolloni that reflects on recent as well as eighteenth-century questions about “old” and “new” worlds, the idea of the “modern,” and the legacy of the eighteenth century in the nineteenth. Although the discipline of anthropology itself has virtually no representation among the authors, the volume comprehensively covers the three themes into which the book is divided: philosophical history, ethnography, and human nature.
Philosophical history is represented with chapters by J. G. A. Pocock (on Gibbon and the redefinition of Europe), Anthony Pagden (on Orientalism and Occidentalism), Sunil Agnani (on Diderot and the “two Indies”), Christian Maraouby (on Adam Smith), Neil Hargraves (on William Robertson), and Nicholas A. Germana (on Herder’s India). The most intriguing essays are those of Pagden and Hargraves. Pagden situates Enlightenment concerns with Asia amid broader historical concerns and with an eye to perceptions of Asia in comparison to views of Africa and the Americas. Hargraves compares Robertson’s representations of supposedly passive Peruvians and more ferocious Mexicans to expose the contradictions and complexities in Enlightenment perceptions of Native American character.
Ethnography is represented by John Gascoigne (on German anthropology in the Pacific), Michael Harbsmeier (on northern perspectives on Europe), Giulia Cecere (on Russian “Orientalism”), and Jean-Philippe E. Belleau (on Haiti). Among these, Harbsmeier’s account of the “real” Persian Letters stands out. Harbsmeier discusses the records of the journey of Greenlanders Pooq and Qiperoq to Copenhagen in 1724, and subsequent visits by Greenlanders in 1728 and 1731, 1746 and 1776. The Greenlanders reported the cleverness and the engineering skills of the Danes, but also noted the ill effects of alcohol on Danish sailors and the presence of madmen who had to be locked up for the whole of their lives. Harbsmeier contrasts these reports with those of Canadian Inuit in London in 1772 and further distinguishes their representation by Europeans. In the Greenlandic case, we have [End Page 597] records of real dialogues between the protagonists themselves and therefore have a unique source akin to Montesquieu’s fictitious account of non-Europeans on the continent.
Human nature is discussed by Mary Baine Campbell (on the Jesuits in Nouvelle France), Michael Kempe (on debates on Pufendorf in the Enlightenment), Philippe Huneman (on psychiatry), and Jonathan Lamb (on incipient anthropology and colonial settlement). This is an odd collection, reflecting as it does respectively on Cartesian thought in the Jesuit Relations, Pufendorf’s natural law in eighteenth-century France and Germany, the physiological and psychiatric notion of “animal economy” in diverse Enlightenment traditions, and philosophical ideas elucidated in colonial reflections.
The blurb on the back of the book states that “the modern enterprise of anthropology, with all of its important implications for cross-cultural perceptions, perspectives, and self-consciousness, emerged from the eighteenth-century intellectual context of the Enlightenment.” That is of course true in some sense, but it cannot be taken simply at face value. Neither the English word “anthropology” nor its equivalents in French or German meant anything like what “anthropology” means today, except loosely in the case of some branches of physical or biological anthropology. Johnson’s Dictionary, for example, defines anthropology simply as “the doctrine of anatomy,” while the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica gives “a discourse on human nature.” As John Gascoigne mentions in his chapter, German equivalents of “ethnology” and “ethnography” are found in German-language texts produced in St. Petersburg, Vienna, and Göttingen (144–45). It is certainly true that there were anthropological ideas floating among the philosophes, and notions of “anthropology” and “ethnology” existed in France when the English language had only “natural history” and “moral philosophy” as rough equivalents.
Michael Kempe presents a wonderful discussion of debates on Pufendorf’s ideas of natural law in the Enlightenment, including...