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3 - Ethnology at Home: Robert Gordon Latham, Robert Knox and Competing Observational Practices

Efram Sera-Shriar
Affiliation:
York University
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Summary

Many well-educated persons, and some of them scientific men, have vague notions of our inquiry, and of the means of our investigation.

Richard Cull, 1851

In the summer of 1851, the secretary of the ESL, Richard Cull, presented an essay on ethnological practice and theory. Afterwards, he published his essay in the 1854 volume of the JESL. The main focus of the article was to discuss three continual challenges within the nascent research field. The first was to establish some kind of consensus on the types of evidence researchers were to incorporate into their studies. The second was to formulate an interpretive framework that assisted researchers with their analyses of data. Finally, the third was to identify a clear aim for using this material, including published works and exhibits showcasing foreign people. Cull's remark about the vague conceptual notion of what ethnology entailed is revealing because it brings to the fore a chief exegetic problem for early ethnologists. What was the best way to practise the science? With the growth of the British Empire, an abundance of new ethnographic material returned to Britain. Consequently, some members of the British ethnological community wanted to collect as much of this ethnographic data as possible and store it at a centralized location within the ESL. In doing so, its members and other interested parties would have access to a comprehensive collection in order to further refine and substantiate ethnological discourse and knowledge.

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Publisher: Pickering & Chatto
First published in: 2014

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