Before Boas


Before Boas

The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

Han F. Vermeulen

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

746 pages
10 images; 6 maps; 12 tables


July 2015


$75.00 Add to Cart

September 2018


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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July 2015


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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July 2015


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About the Book

The history of anthropology has been written from multiple viewpoints, often from perspectives of gender, nationality, theory, or politics. Before Boas delves deeper into issues concerning anthropology’s academic origins to present a groundbreaking study that reveals how ethnography and ethnology originated during the eighteenth rather than the nineteenth century, developing parallel to anthropology, or the “natural history of man.”

Han F. Vermeulen explores primary and secondary sources from Russia, Germany, Austria, the United States, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Great Britain in tracing how “ethnography” originated as field research by German-speaking historians and naturalists in Siberia (Russia) during the 1730s and 1740s, was generalized as “ethnology” by scholars in Göttingen (Germany) and Vienna (Austria) during the 1770s and 1780s, and was subsequently adopted by researchers in other countries.

Before Boas argues that anthropology and ethnology were separate sciences during the Age of Reason, studying racial and ethnic diversity, respectively. Ethnography and ethnology focused not on “other” cultures but on all peoples of all eras. Following G. W. Leibniz, researchers in these fields categorized peoples primarily according to their languages. Franz Boas professionalized the holistic study of anthropology from the 1880s into the twentieth century.


Author Bio

Han F. Vermeulen is an alumnus of Leiden University, the Netherlands, and a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale), Germany.


"A short review cannot do justice to the sophistication of the author's comprehensive and remarkable research, which departs from histories that view the origins of anthropology in classical Greece or Renaissance exploration."—Riva Berleant-Schiller, Choice

"Vermeulen's monograph on the "genesis" of ethnography and ethnology will sit as a large and imposing bookend on any history of anthropology shelf for many years to come."—Huon Wardle, American Anthropologist

"This important book rewrites the early history of anthropology in new and surprising ways."—James Urry, Australian Journal of Anthropology

"Before Boas represents a major contribution to the history of anthropology that must be taken into serious consideration by every scholar in our field."—Sergei Kan, Ethnohistory

"Vermeulen's work is meticulous and fascinating, and the layers of ideas, biographies, and historical details make this a compelling book to read and contemplate."—Anne Good, Terrae Incognitae

"Deserving to be called a sensation."—Horst Bredekamp, Süddeutsche Zeitung

"This is a unique and detailed study of the eighteenth century origins of ethnology or ethnography that offers a new insight in reexamining the scope and subject matter of these disciplines in their earlier stages."—Madhuvanti Karyekar, Museum Anthropology Review

"Before Boas will grow in importance with the elapsing of time. Certainly, it will become soon a landmark (if it has not become yet) and will definitively consecrate Han F. Vermeulen as a prominent specialist in this fascinating academic field."—Gheorghiţă Geană, Anuac

"This rich book will be useful to researchers concerned with ethnography, anthropology, folklore, the history of science, and postcolonial and whiteness studies. By showing how the world’s peoples were placed on the scholarly agenda, Before Boas will put scholars in all of these fields on firmer footing."—Stephanie Leitch, ISIS

"A profoundly useful book."—Rachel D. Koroloff, Ab Imperio

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Series Editors’ Introduction
1. History and Theory of Anthropology and Ethnology: Introduction
2. Theory and Practice: G. W. Leibniz and the Advancement of Science in Russia
3. Enlightenment and Pietism: D. G. Messerschmidt and the Early Exploration of Siberia
4. Ethnography and Empire: G. F. Müller and the Description of Siberian Peoples
5. Anthropology and the Orient: C. Niebuhr and the Danish-German Arabia Expedition
6. From the Field to the Study: A. L. Schlözer and the German Invention of Völkerkunde
7. Anthropology in the German Enlightenment: Plural Approaches to Human Diversity
8. Epilogue: Reception of the German Ethnographic Tradition
References Cited


2017 International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) Book Prize Winner

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