Natural History of Empire: Edinburgh and Enlightenment Ethnography

Linda Andersson-Burnett (Linnaeus University) and Bruce Buchan (Griffith University)

Friday 6 May 2016, 3 – 4.30 pm

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh

This paper will present a new research project that will examine the relationship between the notion of ‘universal humanity’ and eighteenth-century colonialism. It will explore how Enlightenment notions of humanity hinged on the emergence of a colonial ethnography combining Linnaean natural history with Scottish moral philosophical theories of stadial historical progress exemplified in the writings of colonial ‘travellers’ educated in medicine and botany at the University of Edinburgh.  By focusing on the ‘borders of humanity’ it will employ techniques of intellectual history to trace the definitional limits at the core of the concept of humanity.  The paper will explore these limits in a selection of case studies of knowledge formation and circulation at the Universities of Edinburgh and Uppsala and in colonial engagements within Europe (Sápmi and Scottish Highlands) and with Creole and Indigenous peoples in Asia, America and Australia.  This will make it possible to chart how European ideas of humanity and human diversity, imbibed through Edinburgh University’s curricula, were carried to colonial settings, applied and transformed by colonial encounters.

Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar Series 2016

Monday 9 May 2016, 4.30 – 6 pm.

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, The University of Edinburgh.

Emily Knight, University of Oxford: ‘The Death of a Child: Posthumous Portraits of Children in Eighteenth-Century Britain’

Sarah Burdett, University of York: ‘“Weeping Mothers Shall Applaud”: Sarah Yates as Margaret of Anjou on the London Stage, 1797’

The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars series is convened by Felicity Loughlin, Freya Gowrley, and Maeve O’Dwyer. For a full programme, please click here.

Symposium on Hume: an Intellectual Biography by James A. Harris

A symposium to mark the publication of Hume. An Intellectual Biography by James A. Harris.

Friday, 11 March, 2 – 5.30 pm

Venue: Meadows Lecture Theatre, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School, Doorway 4, Teviot Place, Edinburgh.

2.00 – 2.15 pm: Introduction (Thomas Ahnert)

2.15 – 3.15 pm: Hume on Human Nature and Politics
Chair: Knud Haakonssen (Erfurt and St Andrews)                                                Commentators: Tim Stuart-Buttle (Cambridge) and Mikko Tolonen (Helsinki)

3.15 – 3.30 pm: Coffee and Tea (Jim McMillan Room, 1.31)

3.30 – 4.30 pm: Hume as Historian and Man of Letters
Chair: Nicholas Phillipson (Edinburgh)
Commentators: Moritz Baumstark (Munich) and Catherine Jones (Aberdeen)

4.30 – 5. 30 pm: Response by James Harris and general discussion.

Participants must register. If you are interested in attending, please email

The event is supported by Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History, and the Edinburgh Eighteenth-Century and Enlightenment Studies Network.

Challenging the Boundaries of Humankind: Orangutans and savage men in the British debates about slavery (1770s-80s)

Dr Silvia Sebastiani (EHESS)

Monday 22 June, 4 pm

G.13, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, William Robertson Wing, Old Medical School

This paper aims to historicize the boundaries of humankind within a specific context, and around a particular object: the orangutan, or rather the chimpanzee, according to current classification. The paper will aim to show that the orangutan is at the heart of the debates on slavery in 1770s Britain, at the very moment in which England and Scotland approved antislavery laws.

The hypothesis is that the positions in favour of the animality or of the humanity of the savage or black slave drew directly from the repertoire of facts and proofs provided by comparative anatomy. This paper will therefore trace the uses to which the work of the anatomist Edward Tyson was put. His dissection of an orangutan in 1698, and his point-by-point comparison with the human body, marked a shift in medical practices that affected the philosophical and historical definition of man throughout the eighteenth century.

The paper will deal with two specific cases that emphasize the historical relationship between orangutans and humans, albeit from different positions and with distinct goals: the Scottish judge and erudite linguist James Burnet, Lord Monboddo, who, following Jean-Jacques Rousseau, saw the orangutan as the example of the primordial man; and the historian of Jamaica, Edward Long, an English planter and judge of the Admiralty Court, who stressed the resemblance between the orangutan and black slaves, in order to defend slavery within the British Empire. Developing at the crossroad between different fields of knowledge and channels of information, this controversy acquires a global dimension, mobilizing a broad range of actors and spaces.

Silvia Sebastiani is Maître de conférences, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris

Atlantic Frederick: cultural transfer between the Anglophone world and eighteenth-century Prussia

Dr Thomas Biskup (University of Hull).

Friday 22 May, 2.30pm

Meadows Lecture Theatre (G.07), School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Old Medical School, Doorway 4.

Engaging critically with the widely-held view that eighteenth-century Prussia was only a continental power, this paper will explore intellectual, artistic, and mercantile links between Prussia, Britain, and the trans-oceanic world. A particular focus will be on King Frederick II “the Great’s” appropriation of British references and global trade for his vision of an enlightened model monarchy, and it will be discussed if the concept of Atlantic history can be used for Prussia’s connections with the wider world.

Thomas Biskup is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Hull.

Edinburgh Eighteenth-Century and Enlightenment Studies Colloquium

Colloquium programme

17 April 2015, 9.30 – 5 pm.

Venue: G.16, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh.

9.30 – 10.15 am: Coffee and Tea

10.15 – 10.30 am: Introduction (Thomas Ahnert)

10.30 – 11.30 am: Margot Finn, ‘Books and their Readers in British India c.1780-1840: A Long Enlightenment?’

11.30 am – 12.30 pm: Barbara Taylor, ‘Enlightenment and the Perils of Solitude’

12.30 – 1.30 pm: Lunch

1.30 – 2.30 pm: John Henry, ‘The Newtonian Moment: How Action at a Distance became Part of Mainstream Physics (uniquely) throughout the long Eighteenth Century.’

2.30 – 3.30 pm: John Robertson: ‘The Enlightenment in History and Philosophy’

3.30 – 4.00 pm: Coffee and Tea

4.00 – 5.00 pm: Discussion on Opportunities for Collaboration in Enlightenment and Eighteenth-Century Studies

7.00 pm: Dinner


Participants must register. If you are interested in attending, please email

Conventions and Factions in Hume’s Political Philosophy: How Party Conflicts might Potentially Overturn Conventional Institutions

Naohito Mori (Kochi University)

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities

Friday, 19 September, 3.30 – 5.00 pm

Hume’s discussion of factions has received considerable scholarly attention. A recent example is Andrew Sabl’s Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England. Sabl examines Hume’s thinking on the relationship between conventions and factions, and argues that factions (‘pseudo-‘ or ‘negative conventions’ in his categorization) can be basically regulated and tamed by conventions.

In this paper, by contrast, I will argue that conventions are not necessarily able to regulate factions in Hume’s view. I will attempt to show, by focusing on Hume’s characteristic wording which commonly appears in both his arguments on factions and on conventions, that factions have quite similar effects on human minds as conventions have (more similar and much stronger than Sabl indicates by his term ‘pseudo-conventions’), and that this quasi-conventional and influential status of factions is the reason to which he attributes the fact that they can potentially overturn the fundamental rules of society.

Naohito Mori is Associate Professor in the History of Social and Economic Thought at the Department of International Studies, Kochi University, Japan.