A valuable contribution to the history of the 'study of man' over the long nineteenth century. Sera-Shriar gives us an intellectual lineage from Prichard to Tylor, opening up new ways of thinking about a form of thought that undoubtedly lay at the heart of imperial expansion and governance.
Victorian anthropology has been derided as an “armchair practice,” distinct from the scientific discipline of the twentieth century. But the observational practices that characterized the study of human diversity developed from the established sciences of natural history, geography and medicine. Sera-Shriar argues that anthropology at this time went through a process of innovation which built on scientifically grounded observational study. Far from being an evolutionary dead end, nineteenth-century anthropology laid the foundations for the field-based science of anthropology today.
An impressive book, providing a new slant on Victorian anthropology and an interesting case study of scientific observation.
What makes for trustworthy observations? And who counts as a trustworthy observer? In this important book, Sera-Shriar reveals how far public disagreement over these questions shaped ethnology and anthropology in Britain during a period often dismissed as the age of the 'armchair observer.' In so doing he not only enriches our understanding of the history of anthropology but also shows by example how to historicize the apparently timeless arts of scientific observation.
Efram Sera-Shriar is a Copenhagen-based historian and writer. He received his PhD from the University of Leeds and has worked in higher education and the museum sector for nearly twenty years. As an associate professor in English studies at the University of Copenhagen, he teaches about the history and culture of the English-speaking world. He is also associate director of research for the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies International at Durham University. Prior to taking on these roles, he was a senior researcher and research grants manager for the Science Museum Group in the UK and lecturer of modern history at Leeds Trinity University.