Proto-Rassenkunde or Proto-Anthropology?: Göttingen University's Wissenschaft vom Menschen
Demetrius Eudell (Wesleyan University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the contributions of three professors at Göttingen University Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791), Christoph Meiners (1747-1810), and Heinrich Moritz Gottlieb Grellmann (1756-1804) to the history of anthropology and increasingly racialized modes of scholarship and knowing.
Paper long abstract:
This presentation examines the contributions of three professors at Göttingen University to the history of anthropology. As active interlocutors of the German Aufklärung, the work of Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791), Christoph Meiners (1747-1810), and Heinrich Moritz Gottlieb Grellmann (1756-1804) can be situated within the epistemological field of Wissenschaft vom Menschen, or in David Hume's terms, "the science of man." The convergence in the eighteenth century of European travel writing with the emergence of natural history initiated the anthropological and historical turns that provoked a re-formation of the founding Christian origin narrative as well as a reconceptualization of the related ontological question of the being of being human (Was ist der Mensch?). Directly and indirectly responding to this question, the research of Michaelis, Meiners, and Grellmann employed historical, comparative, and linguistic methodologies that influenced scholarship in their respective fields, i.e. biblical criticism, philosophical anthropology/ethnology, and comparative linguistics/Zigeunerforschung ("Gypsy research"). Their work also fitted into the Göttingen pedadogical and scholarly milieu in which scholarship and instruction in topics such as Policeywissenschaft (political and social science), universal history (Weltgeschichte), and statistics (Statistik) became increasingly prevalent. This presentation aims to show how notions of difference constituted an indispensable element in the theoretical architecture of newly-established and reconfigured fields of knowledge at Göttingen, ones not without social and political implications globally for Jews, Blacks, and the Roma.
Writing the history of anthropology in a global era [History of Anthropology Network]