Looking beyond history: The optics of German anthropology and the critique of humanism

Late nineteenth-century German anthropology had to compete for intellectual legitimacy with the established academic humanities (Geisteswissenschaften), above all history. Whereas humanists interpreted literary documents to create narratives about great civilizations, anthropologists represented and viewed objects, such as skulls or artifacts, to create what they regarded as natural scientific knowledge about so-called 'natural peoples'-colonized societies of Africa, the Pacific, and the Americas. Anthropologists thus invoked a venerable tradition that presented looking at objects as a more certain source of knowledge than reading texts. Visual representations, especially of the colonized, not only allowed anthropologists allegedly objective insight into humanity but also put them in direct contact with popular audiences of ethnographic spectacles, exotic photography, and even pornographic images. Anthropologists thus sought to create a peculiar kind of anthropological vision that both differentiated them from humanists as 'objective' natural scientists but also distinguished them from the leering 'Schaulust' that they believed characterized popular consumption of exotic images. To do so they invented technologies of visual representation that eschewed the subject position figured by linear perspective. These novel optics dispensed with the leering subject posited by popular spectacles and the knowing subject posited by humanism and created an anti-humanist form of knowledge.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1016/S1369-8486(01)00017-6
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 15,879
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Joel Snyder (1980). Picturing Vision. Critical Inquiry 6 (3):499.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

9 ( #245,889 of 1,725,158 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #349,161 of 1,725,158 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.