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Lecture | Research Seminar

Romanticism and Enlightenment in the History of Anthropology

  • Han Vermeulen (Max-Planck-Institut)
Monday 18 April 2016
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

The origins of Anthropology

Romanticism has often been mentioned as an important source of inspiration for ethnology as the “study of others.” Lévi-Strauss regarded Rousseau as one of anthropology’s ancestors and Boas called Herder a forerunner of the relativist anthropology he himself was developing. Accordingly, anthropology is often defined as the study of “Other Cultures” (Beatie 1964) or “die Wissenschaft vom kulturell Fremden” (Kohl 1993).

Han Vermeulen, however, shows that ethnography and ethnology, two of anthropology’s basic components, were born during the German Enlightenment. These terms first surfaced in the work of the historians Gerhard Friedrich Müller (1740-45), August Ludwig Schlözer (1767-75) and Adam Frantisek Kollár (1781-83) as the names of a new research program: the descriptive and comparative study of peoples and nations.  

This insight leads to several questions: How do these claims about the origins and identity of anthropology relate to each other? If both biological and socio-cultural anthropology go back to the eighteenth century, what does this unexpected result say about current views on anthropology and its mission? And what about the future for anthropology?

About Han Vermeulen

Dr. Han F. Vermeulen is a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale), Germany. Trained as a cultural anthropologist at Leiden University, he specialized on the history of anthropology, ethnology, and ethnography. He has conducted anthropological fieldwork in North Africa (Tunisia) as well as library and archival research in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, and Russia.

He has published numerous articles and is co-editor of seven books, including Fieldwork and Footnotes: Studies in the History of European Anthropology (London: Routledge 1995), Treasure Hunting? Collectors and Collections of Indonesian Artefacts (Leiden: CNWS 2002), and the two-volume Tales from Academia: History of Anthropology in the Netherlands (Nijmegen/Saarbrücken 2002).  His monograph Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment was published by the University of Nebraska Press in July 2015. 

Research seminars & workshops spring 2016

This research seminar will be chaired by Erik Bähre (Leiden University). All the Research seminars and workshops of the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology are given in English and are open for everyone. Afterwards you can join us in the Bamboo Lounge for drinks.

For more information see Research Seminars and Workshops Spring 2016.  

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