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".
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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.
- What is the nature and significance of the changing visual conventions traced by Brienen?
- How are Eckhout's paintings recognisable as “ethnographic portraits” and what are the visual messages conveyed in them?
- Which tools are needed to “read” a Miao album? What can you infer about hegemonic Chinese categories of “civilised” and “savage” from their illustrations?
- 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?
- How were ideas about civilisation and savagery gendered? How was this tied to imperial power?
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