Cover image for Enlightenment Anthropology: Defining Humanity in an Era of Colonialism By Carl Niekerk

Enlightenment Anthropology

Defining Humanity in an Era of Colonialism

Carl Niekerk

Coming in April

$119.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09686-5
Coming in April

270 pages
6" × 9"
4 b&w illustrations
2024

Max Kade Research Institute: Germans Beyond Europe

Enlightenment Anthropology

Defining Humanity in an Era of Colonialism

Carl Niekerk

“Niekerk reconstructs the emergent discipline of anthropology as a major feature of the European Enlightenment, emphasizing not only its scientific ambitions but also its political inspiration and intention: a ‘radical’ opposition to the enslavement of non-European populations and to the excesses of colonialism. He sketches a line from Buffon to Camper, Blumenbach, and Herder, adding original characterizations of the contributions of Raynal and de Pauw. This is a rich and rewarding study.”

 

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
In this book, Carl Niekerk probes the origins of modern anthropology in the European Enlightenment, foregrounding how the knowledge transfer between an international array of natural historians and public intellectuals—including Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; Voltaire; Denis Diderot; Johann Friedrich Blumenbach; Immanuel Kant; and Johann Gottfried Herder—shaped the emerging discipline and its central debates. Reexamining how these many voices crossed paths and diverged, Niekerk sharpens our understanding of how anthropology, as we know it today, came to be.

As a “natural history of man,” anthropology during the Enlightenment argued that humans across the globe belonged to a single species and that human diversity could be explained as the product of time and space, climate and geography. While this knowledge could be emancipatory—fostering curiosity rather than superiority around questions of difference among some thinkers—it also contributed to the emergence of new notions, especially “race” and “culture,” that were used by many to justify slavery and the colonial project.

With an emphasis on how we can use the ambiguities and deficiencies of the past to help guide our thinking and actions today, this book will appeal to a widely interdisciplinary audience, including anthropologists, historians and philosophers of science, intellectual historians, Germanists, and scholars of the European Enlightenment.

“Niekerk reconstructs the emergent discipline of anthropology as a major feature of the European Enlightenment, emphasizing not only its scientific ambitions but also its political inspiration and intention: a ‘radical’ opposition to the enslavement of non-European populations and to the excesses of colonialism. He sketches a line from Buffon to Camper, Blumenbach, and Herder, adding original characterizations of the contributions of Raynal and de Pauw. This is a rich and rewarding study.”
“In lucid and accessible prose, Niekerk situates Enlightenment anthropology at the nexus of an international debate about the definition of the human and the universal, alongside scientific discourses that rely on concepts of race and culture to limit that humanity. Persuasive and innovative, Niekerk’s book about the emerging field of anthropology and its antecedents makes a significant and original contribution to the fields of philosophy, literary and cultural studies, and history.”

Carl Niekerk is Professor of German and Affiliate Professor of French, Comparative and World Literature, and Jewish Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is the editor of The Radical Enlightenment in Germany: A Cultural Perspective and author of Zwischen Naturgeschichte und Anthropologie: Lichtenberg im Kontext der Spätaufklärung.

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Note on Editions, Translations, and Abbreviations

Introduction: What Is Enlightenment Anthropology?

1. The Emerging Anthropological Paradigm: Buffon Contra Linnaeus

2. Ape, Man, and the Origins of Humankind

3. Colonialism and the Politics of Enlightenment Anthropology: De Pauw, Raynal, and Diderot

4. Race: An Enlightenment Problem

5. Culture: Herder Reads Enlightenment Anthropology

Conclusions

Notes

Bibliography

Index