Efram Sera-Shriar (York University, Canada)
Discussant: Prof Peter Mandler (Department of History, University of Cambridge).
From the era of Bronislaw Malinowski forward, the public image of anthropology
has been intertwined with the notion of fieldwork. Within anthropology as well,
fieldwork has so dominated disciplinary memory that Malinowski’s Victorian
predecessors have tended to be dismissed as ‘armchair anthropologists’.
Recently however, historians of anthropology – drawing on wider re-evaluations
within the history of science – have begun to fill in the apparent gap between
the armchair and the field. Building on these efforts, this paper offers a new
interpretation of nineteenth-century British anthropology and its observational
practices. Looking in particular at figures including James Cowles Prichard,
William Lawrence, Robert Knox, Robert Gordon Latham, James Hunt, Thomas Huxley,
Charles Darwin and Edward Burnett Tylor, this paper shows both that British
observational practices – when it came to human diversity – emerged out of a
mix of previously existing sciences, notably natural history and medicine, and
that, in response to criticisms and self-criticisms, these practices became
more refined over the decades. The reforming innovations surveyed in this paper
include methodological lectures and handbooks, the use of questionnaires and
informants, the display of extra-European peoples in Britain, and field studies
avant la lettre.
Open to all. No registration required.
Part of the Field Notes: Histories of Archaeology and Anthropology Seminar series.
For more information about the group, please visit the link on the right hand side of this page
Poster images from Flickr creative commons by d.schille