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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *