World Knowledge and Comparing the World. Ethnographic (Travel) Literature and Comparative Science (1850 - 1950)
In the first funding phase, the project studied practices of comparing in world travel literature, especially in the late 18th and 19th centuries. In close connection with the comparative sciences that emerged during this period, a comprehensive knowledge of the world came into being that was taken up and transformed in travel literature, particularly in the fields of natural history and ethnographic comparative practices. The second funding phase broadens the topics of the project by turning the focus of attention from world travel literature to the further development and institutionalisation of ethnographic knowledge of the world, as well as to the newly emerging connections between travel literature, comparative sciences and ethnology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The first sub-study traces the transformations of ethnographic, travel-literary and natural history practices in scientific forms of thought and communities of practice during the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in German-speaking countries. The research project examines various ethnographic, ethno-psychological and philological comparative procedures that circulated in travelogues, scientific treatises and newly emerging journals, and which combined to create particular formations of practices of comparing.
A second sub-study examines the development and reception of scientific comparison in communities of practice in French (world) travel literature and ethnology between 1900 and the 1950s. In France, complex formations of practices of comparing emerge during this period through close exchanges between academic ethnology and ethnographically based (travel) literature. The focus here is on the experimental construction and critical testing of the ‘comparability’ of different non-European worlds, pursued in the interplay between travel-literary narrative practices, ethnological writing projects and artistic avant-gardes.
The overall objective of the research project is to investigate and define the function of highly diverse practices and dynamics of (ethnographic) comparison with regard to their stabilisation and verification in various formations of comparative practices, and to render visible their contribution to the formation of a specifically European modernity.