Bruce Buchan: "To 'attract the attention of travellers': Instructions, Race and the Science of Colonisation, 1768-1800"

  • Datum: –16.00
  • Plats: Engelska parken 6-3025 (Karin Johansson-rummet) och online (Zoom)
  • Arrangör: Institutionen för idéhistoria
  • Kontaktperson: Maria Florutau
  • Seminarium

Instructing Colonial Natural History Seminar

Forskningspresentation av Bruce Buchan, Griffith University. För att delta via zoom, kontakta:


In 1784 the famed Scottish anatomist, William Hunter, declared to his students that only in the last 300 years had: “European science made a push westwards”. Daring “to go in search of another hemisphere,” Hunter continued, science “found it, and took possession of the whole.”[i] Hunter left his audience in no doubt that the greatest conquest of knowledge was the emerging “science of man”, won from new terrains and innumerable peoples now made subject to Enlightenment categories of knowledge across the globe. Far from being a merely parochial European consideration, this empire of science was truly universal in aspiration. Just over a decade after Hunter’s declaration, the professor of natural history and medicine in Philadelphia, Benjamin Smith Barton, likened natural historians in America to its colonial conquerors. “I may, without vanity, compare myself to the new settler in the wilderness of our country”, Barton wrote in 1798. Here in America, he declared: “I found no cultivated spot. … [but] succeeded in opening a path, which will serve to direct the traveller in his pilgrimage of science.”[ii] Natural historians following his trail, Barton wrote, will be like intellectual settlers who: “take possession of another, and perhaps richer, soil” by mapping the “physical and moral history of whole nations...”.[iii] In Hunter and Barton’s avowedly colonial conceptualisations of science lies a strangely neglected chapter in the history of humanity in the era of Enlightenment. In the reduction of all human populations and every human variation to categories of supposedly scientific knowledge, humanity became both subject to and an object of colonial Enlightenment. In this paper, I trace the extension of that colonisation of humanity in a series of instructions provided to a succession of British and French colonial voyages to the Pacific between 1768 and 1800.