Accepted Paper:

Research expeditions and the genesis of ethnography and ethnology  


Han F. Vermeulen (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper is about the importance of research expeditions for the formation of ethnography in the Russian Empire of the early 18th century and of ethnology in the Holy Roman Empire of the late 18th century.

Paper long abstract:

Travel accounts played an important role in the early history of anthropology. They count as primary sources for the development of ethnological theory before Cushing, Boas and Malinowski invented long-term fieldwork. In the Late Enlightenment "itineraria" were studied by philosophers like Rousseau, Voltaire, Ferguson and Meiners to provide data for the presumed development of humankind. Herder cited 80 travelogues in his Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-91). In the Early Enlightenment, however, such accounts had less esteem. The historian Gerhard Friedrich Müller, who launched a comprehensive research programme for the systematic description of all Siberian peoples in 1733-45, was critical about travelogues. To Müller, Reiseberichten were "incomplete" (unvollständig) and thus of little use for comparative purposes. Müller belonged to a new type of traveller, stepping out during the "Second Age of Discovery." He was a "research traveller" (Forschungsreisender), who had been scholarly educated and was commissioned by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences to participate in a multidisciplinary expedition, with a clear focus and official instructions. Müller was fully briefed and motivated to travel around Siberia for ten years to collect empirical material for the comparison of the Siberian peoples among themselves and with peoples of other regions. He developed research methods in the field and instructed colleagues to describe the peoples they visited in the same detailed way and collect their material culture, which was to be sent to the Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg. This combination of factors influenced the genesis of ethnography as a research practice.

Panel P060
Themes in the history of anthropology and ethnology in Europe [Europeanist network]