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Week 8. "Savage" and "Civilized": Early Modern Ethnography, Art, and Empire

The impulse to depict and classify human diversity in text and image had long been central to travel writing and geography, yet it gained new impetus in the early modern age of colonial and imperial expansion. Against the backdrop of unprecedented global travel, expanding print culture, and an empirical turn in art and science, new genres of ethnographic representation emerged particularly (though not exclusively) in Europe and China. Focusing on a variety of artistic and textual representations and their claims to being true to life, this seminar examines the role of ethnography in developing imperial categories of "savage" and "civilised".

Core Readings

Rebecca Parker Brienen, Visions of Savage Paradise: Albert Eckhout, Court Painter in Colonial Dutch Brazil (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007), pp. 72-94 and pp. 209-218 (colour plates). Link.

Laura Hostetler, 'Introduction: Early Modern Ethnography in Comparative Historical Perspective', in: David M. Deal and Laura Hostetler (eds.), The Art of Ethnography: A Chinese "Miao Album" (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2006), pp. xvii-lxvii. Link.


Rubiés, Joan-Pau, and Manuel Ollé, 'The Comparative History of a Genre: The Production and Circulation of Books on Travel and Ethnographies in Early Modern Europe and China', Modern Asian Studies 50.1 (2016), pp. 259-309. Link.

Emma Jinhua Teng, 'An Island of Women: Gender in Qing Travel Writing about Taiwan', in: Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton (eds.), Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005), pp. 38-53. Link.

Primary Sources

John White water colours (1585) - British Museum & Virtual James Town.

Albert Eckhout, Brazilian portraits (1641) - Nationalmusseets & Wikipedia gallery.

Ke meng gu yang Miao tu: be fen juan (“Illustrated album of the Kemeng Guyang Miao people”, ca. 1736). Library of Congress.

An Album of the Miao Minority (1786). Library of Congress.

Seminar Questions

  1. What is the nature and significance of the changing visual conventions traced by Brienen?
  2. How are Eckhout's paintings recognisable as “ethnographic portraits” and what are the visual messages conveyed in them?
  3. Which tools are needed to “read” a Miao album? What can you infer about hegemonic Chinese categories of “civilised” and “savage” from their illustrations?
  4. What role do technological and cultural developments play in the development of travel writing and ethnography in early modern Europe? To what extent did this differ from China?
  5. How were ideas about civilisation and savagery gendered? How was this tied to imperial power?

Further Readings

Alú, Giorgia, and Sarah Patricia Hill, 'The Travelling Eye: Reading the Visual in Travel Narratives', Studies in Travel Writing 22.1 (2018), pp. 1-15. Link.

Boogaart, Ernst van den, Civil and Corrupt Asia: Images and Text in the Itinerario and the Icones of Jan Huygen van Linschoten (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

Braude, Benjamin, 'The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identities in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, The William and Mary Quarterly 54.1 (1997), pp. 103-142. Link.

Brienen, Rebecca Parker, 'Joanna and her Sisters: Mulatto Women in Print and Image, 1602–1796', Early Modern Women 10.2 (2016), pp. 65-94. Link.

Campbell, Mary Baine, Wonder and Science: Imagining Worlds in Early Modern Europe (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2014). Link.

Chengda Fa, James M. Hargett (ed.), Treatises of the Supervisor and Guardian of the Cinnamon Sea: The Natural World and Material Culture of Twelfth-Century China (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2011). [Primary source]. Link.

Eche, Antoine, 'Ethnography and armchair visual artistry: Charles Nicolas Cochin’s illustrations of the Histoire générale des voyages', Studies in Travel Writing 22.1 (2018), pp. 39-58. Link.

Erickson, Peter, and Clark Hulse (eds.), Early Modern Visual Culture: Representation, Race, and Empire in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000). Library.

Françozo, Mariana de Campos, '“Inhabitants of rustic parts of the world”: John Locke’s collection of drawings and the Dutch Empire in ethnographic types', History and Anthropology 28.3 (2017), pp. 349-374. Link.

Fuller, Mary C., Voyages in Print: English Travel to America, 1576-1624 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Gaudio, Michael, Engraving the Savage : The New World and Techniques of Civilization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008). Link.

Hostetler, Laura, Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Hostetler, Laura, 'Qing Connections to the Early Modern World: Ethnography and Cartography in Eighteenth-Century China', Modern Asian Studies 34.3 (2000), pp. 623-662. Link.

Leitch, Stephanie, Mapping Ethnography in Early Modern Germany: New Worlds in Print Culture (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010). Link.

Leitch, Stephanie, 'Visual Images in Travel Writing', in: Nandini Das and Tim Youngs (eds.), The Cambridge History of Travel Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 456-473. Link.

Loomba, Ania, and Jonathan Burton, Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007). Link. [Primary source excerpts].

Miles, Steven, 'Strange Encounters on the Cantonese Frontier: Region and Gender in Kuang Lu's (1604-1650) Chiya', Nan Nü 8.1 (2006), pp. 115-155. Link.

Pagden, Anthony, The Fall of Natural Man: the American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

Probasco, Nathan J., 'American Bodies and Landscapes in Early English Colonisation', Studies in Travel Writing 22.1 (2018), pp. 16-38. Link.

Rubiés, Joan-Pau, 'Travel Writing and Ethnography', in: Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 242-260. Link.

Schmidt, Benjamin, Inventing Exoticism: Geography, Globalism, and Europe's Early Modern World (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). Link.

Schwartz, Stuart B. (ed.), Implicit Understandings: Observing, Reporting, and Reflecting on the Encounters Between Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early Modern Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Shin, Leo K., 'Thinking about "non-Chinese" in Ming China', in: Peter N. Miller and François Louis (eds.), Antiquarianism and Intellectual Life in Europe and China, 1500-1800 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), pp. 289-309. Link.

Sloan, Kim, A New World: England's First View of America (London: British Museum, 2007).

Teng, Emma Jinhua, Taiwan's Imagined Geography: Chinese Colonial Travel Writing and Pictures, 1683-1895 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), Ch. 6: 'Picturing Savagery: Visual Representations of Racial Difference', pp. 149-172.

Van Groesen, Michiel, Representations of the Overseas World in the de Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634) (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008). Link.

Voigt, Lisa, and Elio Brancaforte, 'The Traveling Illustrations of Sixteenth-Century Travel Narratives', PMLA 129.3 (2014), pp. 365-398. Link.

Ward, Julian, Xu Xiake (1586-1641): The Art of Travel Writing (London: Routledge, 2001), Ch. 5: 'The Exotic Southwest', pp. 131-156. Link.

Yuming He, 'The Book and the Barbarian in Ming China and Beyond: The Luo chong lu, or "Record of Naked Creatures"', Asia Major 24.1 (2011), pp. 43-85. Link.

John White watercolour

Eckhout Tupinamba man

Miao album image