Current Project

Anthropology, Ethnography and Ethnology in Europe, Asia and America

This research project focuses on the interrelation between anthropology and ethnology in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, including Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland, and the USA. It starts from the main result of the previous project, namely, that anthropology and ethnology developed in separate scholarly domains, historia naturalis and historia civilis, respectively (Vermeulen 2015). Not only naturalists such as Linnaeus and Buffon, or anatomists such as Blumenbach, Camper, and Soemmerring, but also philosophers such as Kant, Meiners, and Herder formulated a “science of man” in which the anthropology of the humanists was based on a more solid, empirical foundation. In a parallel domain, German-speaking historians such as Müller, Schlözer, and Kollár developed ethnography (Völker-Beschreibung) and ethnology (Völkerkunde) as a field specializing in the empirical, comprehensive, and comparative study of peoples and nations, a field now called socio-cultural anthropology.

The questions are: Did these nascent sciences develop as independently as it appears? What was the relation between anthropology and ethnology during the Enlightenment and the long nineteenth century? How were terms such as “humans” (Menschen), “races” (Rassen), and “peoples” (Völker) defined, delimited, or correlated? To what extent did the relations between both sciences-in-the-making change in the period under discussion and what factors influenced their development? What intellectual developments inspired Franz Boas to accept and enhance the four-field approach in the United States from 1886 on?

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