Junior Fellow: December 2019–November 2020
Research Project: Destruction, Knowledge, and Colonial Ethnography: Encounters with Colonial Scepticism
This research project is part of an ongoing broader project on pre-modern anthropological thinking and the emergence of ethnography in the Spanish, French, and English colonial realms between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Beyond its implications for the history of ethnographical practices, it will argue that this source base offers a distinct colonial perspective to our understanding of the genealogy of scientific doubt in modern thought. It aims to analyse how cultural encounters in America and Asia informed sceptical approaches by attempting to define a typology of scepticism found within ethnographical literature. Significantly, the increasing attention paid to anthropological evidence in Europe raised awareness of cultural diversity and bred scepticism regarding the existence of supposedly innate principles underlying human activities and beliefs. The growing recognition of diversity led to an epistemological change that expressed itself in dissatisfaction with existing analytical concepts for describing humankind. The objective is thus to connect the sceptical tradition to the transformation in the ways in which Europeans studied peoples and cultures (including Jews) during a period that coincided with both scientific advancement and the global discovery of humanity.
Ran Segev is a historian who specialises in knowledge culture and European colonial expansion in the early modern era. He completed his PhD at the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin (December 2015), specialising in colonial Latin America and the Atlantic world.