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Ethnology - anthropology

The term ethnology and/or anthropology refers to the scientific discourse of describing and interpreting cultural otherness, which took a – by no means unprecedented – form similar to today’s interpretation of the term in the period between 1770 and 1830. Ethnology and/or anthropology is the term used to describe a view of society and community that is based on close (if possible, meticulous, internal or emic) observations; holistic in approach, but at the same time detached from its objects; comparative in some aspects; and views the societies and cultures of the world in terms of their coexistence or, for example, in the period under study, in terms of their stadiality. The twentieth-century requirement for the production of this type of knowledge – usually linked to the Polish anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942) and his contemporaries – is the so-called fieldwork, which in the period between 1770 and 1830 was still in its infancy: in these early forms of discourse, it appears more in the form of the description of journeys (to distant lands outside of Europe), travelogues, or the descriptions of societies and cultures.

When we look back at the period under study through the lens of the developments in the history of science in the 1870s, when the first Department of Geography was established at the University of Pest and the geographer János Hunfalvy (1820–1880) gave his first lectures on global social geography and universal ethnography, we should notice two things. On the one hand, another ethnological/anthropological body of knowledge existed in Hungary before and mostly independently of Hunfalvy’s work, and on the other hand, this earlier and in itself heterogeneous body of knowledge was far from being fully integrated into the discourse of universal ethnography that was institutionalized in the 1870s. It was fragmented, it disappeared and was transformed, and can only partly be found in Hunfalvy’s work. The process of the accumulation of such knowledge and narratives, therefore, does not follow a linear evolution from the earliest Jesuit representations of otherness in Nagyszombat (Trnava, today in Slovakia) at the end of the seventeenth century, through the late eighteenth-century Protestant adaptations of travelogues, to Hunfalvy’s university lectures on ethnology/anthropology. At the same time, these fragments, these early forms of universal ethnographic knowledge and narratives are of great importance from the point of view of the transfer, origin (Göttingen, London, Paris, etc.), reception (missionaries and peregrine ministers), adaptation (compilation, translation, etc.) of knowledge and its representations during the Enlightenment and in the Romantic period.

The research shows that between the 1770s and the 1830s, there were several different arenas and local contexts of the emergence of ethnology/anthropology as scientific discourse in Hungary. These arenas were not only territorial or geographical, but also denominational. These disciplines were embedded in and emerged from religious, political, and cultural contexts. This selection of texts offers insights into each of these contexts. As for the areas covered, most texts focus on the Western hemisphere – the Americas, Oceania, and the Artic (including numerous regions of Greenland and Scandinavia) and the description of their indigenous peoples.

The Catholic (Jesuit) context is represented by the section on the Americas in Pál Bertalanffi’s geography from 1757. The text contains fairly detailed information on the discovery and geography of America, but less so on its administrative divisions and internal parts. It is crucial that the text included the distinction, typical of Jesuit historiography, that the societies/states of Mexico and Peru led by “petty monarchs” were of higher standing than the other provinces where, in the Jesuit fathers’ view, the natives “lived wildly and without law”. Bertalanffi’s text promotes the Jesuit version of stadiality, the idea of progressive social development.

Early Calvinist geographers contemporary to Bertalanffi are represented in this selection by István Vetsei Pataki’s Hungarian Geography (Magyar Geografia) from 1757. His excerpt on South America is certainly the most representative of the geographies of the period of the old, demonizing tradition of the indigenous peoples of Brazil, which is evident in both visual and textual sources in Europe and Hungary.

Three of the later geographies linked to the Protestant tradition were also selected, which contain so-called ethnographic profiles. An “ethnographic profile” is a general, comprehensive description of peoples, providing a closer look at their way of life and the details of the surrounding natural environment. László Baranyi’s geography of the newly discovered Pacific Islands, published in 1796, already contains such descriptions. In this book, the indigenous people of New Zealand and Tahiti are treated separately, which, following the descriptions of several narratives on James Cook’s voyages, such as Georg Foster’s (1754–1794), created a typical narrative tradition in Hungary.

This distinction and separate treatment (even though in both cases Polynesian peoples are described) are also visible in the geography of Ferenc Benkő, a teacher from Nagyenyed (Aiud, today in Romania), which is an authentic, complete ethnographic profile complying with the contemporary discourse, and in which the author claims to provide a “natural and political” description. It is also directly based on and is an adaptation of Georg Forster’s Tagebuch (1776–1780).

Many of the geographies of the period, embedded within the Protestant context, document the personal experiences gained as visiting students at the courses and in the Naturkabinet of the University of Göttingen. These include the above-mentioned geography of Ferenc Benkő, and especially the travelogue adaptations of Mihály Dobosy, a Calvinist minister from Szentes. From among his works, three excerpts from the History of Greenland (Grönlánd históriája, 1810) are published here: an excerpt from the Preface on the contemporary discourse of the significance of travelogues, on the University of Göttingen, and its professor, A. H. Heeren (1760–1842); an excerpt on the adornment of the body and “man in a natural state”, recording close-up, meticulous ethnological observations; and finally, a narrative on the contemporary division of humankind, distinguishing five races according to the external, physical traits, based on the system of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), physician, naturalist and the professor of anthropology of the University of Göttingen.

A special part of both Catholic and Protestant geographies is the description of the Inuit (Eskimos) of Canada and the Sami of Scandinavia. Like the others, these descriptions also contain ethnographic profiles of varying lengths of the respective “polar” (Arctic) peoples. These “polar” narratives (by Georg Christian Raff, Mihály Dobosy, etc.) also bear the significant influence of the Göttingen approach to history and the university’s Naturkabinet, but are also based on earlier – and denominationally different (Catholic/Jesuit) – sources.

Finally, the short manuscript on the indigenous peoples of Australia written before 1835 by Pál Almási Balogh (1794–1867), who studied first in Sárospatak and then in Western Europe, shows the influence of French and English authors, although it originates from a Calvinist context. Both the human geography and the colonial ideas of the period and the meticulous empirical approach of the nascent discipline of ethnology/anthropology are evident in the text – without the author ever having visited Australia. The selected excerpt is an excellent indication of the discursive requirements of an ethnographic profile, deploying aspects of the natural environment, habitat, religion, customs, and language.

All in all, the excerpts published here attest to the fact that the adaptation of the late eighteenth-century works that combined the global/universal approach to history and a new discipline encountered in Göttingen, the so-called Allgemeine Völkerkunde (universal ethnography) building on both geography and ethnography, created a whole new kind of scientific discourse and canon. This discourse comprised not only texts and images, but also the knowledge gathered at the Naturkabinet of the University of Göttingen (as a special “lieu de mémoire”) and the objects seen there. It is rather significant that the Protestant German models of science provided non-Austrian/non-Habsburg, non-Catholic models for reformist scholars seeking to innovate in Hungary. However, there were other ways of producing knowledge – including ethnological/anthropological knowledge – at the time, not only the approach followed in Göttingen. Within the Protestant context, for example, there existed the Humboldtian tradition (influenced by Paris and then Berlin), but there was also a distinct Catholic/Jesuit tradition. The Catholic/Jesuit tradition – centered at Nagyszombat – however, also indicates several foreign relations (France, Peru/Ecuador/Bolivia, etc.).

Most concepts featured in the selected texts – characteristically of ethnological/anthropological descriptions – refer to the experience of otherness that is richly documented in the sources. The main concept of the experience of otherness can be further divided into sub-concepts, such as demonization, exoticization, and comparison (for example, Ferenc Benkő compares the hairstyle of Polynesians to that of Romanians in Transylvania). The scientific discourse is extended by the travelogues, the ethnographic profiles discussed above, and the narrative genres and registers of geography and natural history (historia naturalis). Knowledge of the uses of the body is enriched by the geographies with details on grooming, adornment of the body, tattooing, head- and hairdressing, and dancing. In terms of the body concept, the external traits/physical appearance proves to be the most accurate sub-concepts (based on the by now questioned views of Blumenbach and others) in the ethnological/anthropological texts. The concept of historicity is present in the texts in relation to geographical discoveries on the one hand, and the stadial development of society on the other. In the main category of society, we have included – for the time being, without naming certain peoples – the sub-categories of peoples outside of Europe and sin/crime and punishment. Technology appears in the selected texts as crop production on the one hand, and the methods of tattooing on the other. The sub-categories of animals and plants are included in the main category of natural resources. The main category of the republic of letters comprises the following concepts: learned society, peregrination, museum, cabinet of natural history (Naturkabinet), adaptation/translation, while the concept of human resources consists of terms, such as language, religion, and lifestyle. As for instruments, the ethnological/anthropological texts feature sub-concepts, such as weapons, means of transport (e.g., boat), clothing/garments, utensils for food preparation, and tools for making fire. As for the concept of nature, the still popular cultural climate theory appears in the texts, while the main category of cultural landscape includes the sub-concepts of house/hut and harbour. Finally, the main concept of gender comprises the subcategories of external traits, prescriptive actions, and prohibitions.

The conceptual web effectively reflects what is at the core of classical ethnological/anthropological discourse: the basic experience of otherness and a holistic description of the societies and cultures of non-European peoples embedded in the natural environment, although the texts are, in the modern sense, not based on fieldwork. Descriptions of material culture and technology, customs, rituals, and language together made up an ethnographic profile in the period as demonstrated by the selected excerpts.