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Seaborne Ethnography and the Natural History of Man

Bronwen Douglas
The Journal of Pacific History
Vol. 38, No. 1 (Jun., 2003), pp. 3-27
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25169617
Page Count: 25
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Seaborne Ethnography and the Natural History of Man
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Abstract

This paper examines intellectual interchanges between European theorists in the science of man and sailors, naturalists and artists on scientific voyages in Oceania during the century after 1750. I argue that travellers' narratives and ethnographic representations were not mere reflexes of dominant metropolitan discourses, but were also personal productions generated in the tensions and ambiguities of cross-cultural encounters. I identify countersigns of indigenous agency embedded in such materials and evaluate their trajectory from the interactions which provoked them, through varied genres and media of voyagers' representations, to their contorted appropriation by European savants. My examples are drawn from British and French accounts of visits to New Holland and Van Diemen's Land between 1770 and 1802. In this paper, Aboriginal Australians, especially Tasmanians, serve as synecdoche for the indigenous inhabitants of Oceania generally, using the regional term in its extended early 19th-century sense which encompassed the present Indonesia and Australia along with Papua New Guinea, Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

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