Now the Great Map of Mankind is unrolled at once; and there is no state or Gradation of barbarism, and no mode of refinement which we have not at the same instant under our View. The very different Civility of Europe and of China; the barbarism of Persia and Abyssinia, the erratic manners of Tartary, and of Arabia. The Savage state of North America, and of New Zealand.1
Written to the historian of America William Robertson (1721–1793) just one year after the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, these words of the philosopher Edmund Burke (1729–1797) expressed a European awareness of being in a privileged position to observe and understand the world's racial and cultural diversity.
In the second half of the 15th century, Europe entered an age of discovery which resulted in new, increasingly dense relationships with territories and populations all over the world. This also involved geographical, geological and other discoveries, as knowledge of the shape and layout of the world and the location of resources entered the Western consciousness. But there was also an important ethno-anthropological aspect to the discoveries, as the variety of peoples and forms of social organization affected European reflections on human society, culture, religion, government and civilization through a continuous interplay between the testimonies of travellers and the work of scholars at home.
The term discovery is controversial as it implies a passivity on the part of indigenous populations, who were "found" by Europeans. This asymmetrical view denies an autonomous existence to indigenous populations before the arrival of Europeans. Since the early 1990s, historians have increasingly replaced the term "discovery" with "encounter", which is perceived as more neutral and implying a reciprocity rather than the subject-object relationship implied by the term "discovery". The term "encounter" is also free of the ideological connotations that terms such as "conquest" and "expansion" imply, and "encounter" is compatible with a transcultural approach to global history. The adoption of a more neutral term does not, however, alter the fact that a process of European penetration into regions of the world previously unknown to Europeans did occur, and through this process Europeans "discovered" for themselves new species and ecosystems, and new peoples and societies. During this process, European perceptions of the encountered "others" were dominated from the outset by a hierarchical perspective. "Diversity" in the sense of divergence from European norms usually implied "inferiority". "Otherness" was associated in the minds of Europeans with lower levels in the hierarchy of civilization.
As "encounter" implies a reciprocal, two-way process, the study of these encounters is not complete without considering the non-European perspective. However, this article will deal primarily with the European side of the encounter.
Encounters: With whom, where and when?
For many centuries, Europe's "others" had been the "barbarian" peoples encountered by the Greeks and the Romans, then the Islamic Arabs and later the Mongols. For five centuries, the Ottoman Turks remained the primary "other" for Christendom. In all these cases, the "others" were enemies who constituted a direct threat to Christian Europe. During the early modern period, however, Europeans encounters were the consequence of a process of expansion on the part of dynamic Western societies during their transformation into modern capitalist economies and nation-states.
The first wave of expansion during the 15th and 16th centuries focused on three main areas. Firstly, there was the Atlantic basin from the Atlantic islands and coastal western Africa to the central areas of the American continent. Secondly, there were the northern seas, stretching eastward from the Baltic to the White Sea and the Siberian coasts and westward to the northern American coasts of Canada, Labrador, the Hudson Bay and the Baffin Island. Thirdly, there was the Oriental seas and northern Asia. The second wave of expansion occurred during the 18th century, mainly in the Pacific region, including Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, and also in the northern seas between Alaska and Siberia. The third wave witnessed expansion into central Africa by Europeans during the 19th century (the so-called "scramble" or "race" for Africa).
Each successive wave brought encounters with new "others" for white Europeans, and – reciprocally – brought several peoples in different parts of the world into the sphere of influence of a self-confident, fair skinned "other" equipped with big vessels, firearms and an insatiable hunger for riches and souls. Together these waves of expansion constitute an age of global plunder which primarily benefitted the Western world, but they also prepared the way for an ever more "transcultural" world.
Besides redistributing the world's resources in Europe's favour and increasing Europe's global power, these processes had two interrelated, long-term consequences. Firstly, they provided a new stimulus to European thinking on nature, man, society, religion, law, history and civilization, and brought into being new areas of intellectual enquiry, such as anthropology, comparative history, linguistics, biology and sociology. Secondly, they produced an impressive array of printed travel accounts and historical writings, through which the deeds of European adventurers, conquistadores and navigators entered into national historical narratives. Travel and voyage accounts such as the Jesuits' multi-volume Relations sur les découvertes et les autres événements arrivés en Canada, et au nord et à l'ouest des États-Unis (1611–1672) and Lettres édifiantes et curieuses (1702 and ff.) provided fundamental information for historians and philosophers, as well as providing inspiration for literary works. Such publications brought the experience of new worlds into the purview of cultivated Europeans.2
Christopher Columbus's (1451–1506) "discovery" of a "new" world marked a qualitative, as well as a quantitative, change. European encounters with different races of people had taken place since antiquity, as recorded by Herodotus (ca. 484–425 BC), whose writings had been rediscovered and translated into Latin just a couple of decades before Columbus's first voyage. Notable sporadic voyages, and diplomatic and religious missions had been undertaken in the 13th century to eastern Asia, to the Mongolian Empire and to the court of the Great Khan, mainly by Italians. Naval explorations beyond Gibraltar by Portuguese and Italian navigators had seen voyages westward and along the southern Atlantic routes and the western coasts of Africa during the 14th and 15th centuries. But voyages that took place from the 1490s onward had an impact which went far beyond their economic or political significance. The arrival of the Spanish in the "New World" would also transform life in Europe and the Americas on the material, cultural and intellectual levels, drawing both Europe and the Americas into an increasingly transatlantic and transcultural relationship, producing what has been described as the "Columbian exchange".3
Perhaps less dramatic but nonetheless of enormous economic significance, were the Portuguese voyages to India, which revitalized Western interaction with southern and eastern Asia. In the West and in the East, the Europeans established contact with different kinds of human societies and cultures. The societies and cultures which Europeans encountered in the Caribbean and in continental North and South America were generally viewed as "savagery". However, Europeans also encountered civilizations which they viewed as more "advanced" in the form of the Aztec, Maya and Inca empires, posing fundamental historical and ethnological questions. In the East, on the other hand, Europeans encountered civilizations that they recognized as ancient, complex and highly structured civilizations, which – unlike indigenous populations in the Americas – did not present them with pliable trade partners or easily subjugated native populations. The perceived "savagery" and "half-civilized" empires which the Europeans encountered in the Americas invited them to conquer these societies and implant new political, economic and legal systems there, as well as new languages and religions.
During subsequent exploration and expansion, Europeans encountered other indigenous populations during the 16th and 17th centuries in the Americas, South Africa, Indonesia, Oceania, as well as northern and central Asia. Europeans categorized these as "savage societies" of hunters and fishers, or "barbarian societies" of nomadic herdsmen. From the second half of the 17th century, however, the efforts of Jesuit missionaries and of French, English, and German orientalists led to the discovery of an entirely different, culturally developed kind of "otherness": Arabic literary traditions; the Brahminic or Vedic religious culture of India; Confucian philosophy in China; the Baalbek and Palmyra civilizations in the Near East; and the Indo-Iranian Avestic and Indian Sanskrit linguistic and literary traditions which inspired the so-called "Oriental Renaissance" and "Oriental Enlightenment".4
In the final years of the 18th century, new regions of the African continent began to be explored by Europeans. British rule was consolidated in India in the early 19th century. The early and mid-19th century also witnessed the beginning of the colonization of Australia and New Zealand; the French expeditions to Tonkin, Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1850s; British involvement in Afghanistan and British efforts to gain entry into the markets of China; as well as German, Belgian and Italian imperialist activities in western and eastern Africa. The conquest and settlement of the American West continued throughout the 19th century until the frontier was officially declared closed in 1890.
At the end of the 19th century, there was hardly a region of the world – regions of China, Japan, the Arctic and Antarctic continents were the exceptions – into which Europeans had not extended their economic and military power, and their culture. The encounters which European expansion set in motion processes which resulted in a world increasingly defined by transcultural and transnational phenomena. These processes dramatically altered the demographic and ecological history of the globe, for example, through the mass displacement of Africans by the slave trade, through colonization and the transplanting of social, religious and juridical ideas and practices, through the increasing enmeshment of overseas regions in European political history and diplomacy, through mass migrations of intermittent intensity from Europe to the Americas and subsequently from the rest of the world to Europe, and through a massive diversification of the range of goods available on the European market and the gradual emergence of the world economy. The consequences of these events have been the subject of numerous historical studies, which are summarized below.
Who are they, where do they come from, how do they live?
Europe's discovery of the Americas "not only opened a new source of wealth to the busy and commercial part of Europe, but an extensive field of speculation to the philosopher, who would trace the character of man under various degrees of refinement, and observe the movements of the human heart, or the operations of the human understanding, when untutored by science or untainted with corruption".5
Europeans viewed the newly "discovery" Native Americans as "savage" societies. The term "savage" came to denote people and societies that were not only different in language or religion. In antiquity and during the medieval period, the term "barbarians" was used to denote people who were different in terms of language, culture or religion. But in the early modern period, as a result of the encounters mentioned above, the term "savages" came to mean people who supposedly did not meet the basic prerequisites of civilized society, who lived by the laws of nature, or without any laws, learning, religion or morals.
Two prevalent attitudes towards the Native American quickly emerged. According to one attitude, they were living testimony to a lost golden age before the fall from innocence. According to this attitude, the natives were fully human and thus had the capacity to acquire all the perceived benefits of European civilization, including Christian doctrine and, accordingly, salvation. As potential members of the Catholic Church and subjects of the crown of Castile, they should not be enslaved, it was argued, and they should be granted the same rights as any other Spanish subjects. According to this view, it was the duty of the Spanish crown to establish a political order that would protect its American subjects from the colonists' rapacity.
However, the other prevalent attitude defined the Amerindians as only semi-human beings or even "beasts", lacking all the fundamental prerequisites of civilized people. They were not "good", it was argued, but "bad savages": cruel, immoral, stupid, incapable of hard work, devoid of moral and political norms, and with a propensity for inhumane practices, such as sodomy, cannibalism and human sacrifices. They were clearly not fully human beings and had to be subjected to a superior political authority, which would bring them the blessings of European and Christian order. While the attitudes described above were undoubtedly coloured by debates about legitimate authority in the newly acquired territories, the Amerindian peoples also posed serious questions of a philosophical and doctrinal nature. Their very existence on a landmass separated from the Eurasian-African landmass by a vast ocean raised questions about the re-population of the world after the biblical flood by the inhabitants of the Ark, as described in Genesis. The fact that they had apparently not been introduced to Christianity, or the other two monotheistic religions of the Old World, called into question other aspects of the Bible narrative and of Christian doctrine.
Moreover, some of the newly discovered people, while physically human, had apparently no equivalent forms of economic organization, political authority or religion. They were nomads, gatherers, hunters, fishers, or were at best herdsmen or simple cultivators of the soil. They lived in small, often temporary villages and had few domesticated animals. They did not possess iron tools. They had no formal religions equivalent to the monotheistic religions of the Old World. To Europeans, their social life seemed to lack rules and conventions for regulating sexual intercourse and family relationships. Those who lived in the more sophisticated urban societies and state structures of the great Mesoamerican empires were viewed as being not much more advanced technologically and culturally than the "savages" and were frequently referred to as "barbarians" to distinguish them from the "savages". These European impressions and observations were recorded in a vast historical, juridical, religious and philosophical literature. Its rapid growth accompanied the process of European expansion in the New World, providing the educated European public with an opportunity to familiarize itself with phenomena from the other side of the Atlantic. At least three major problems emerged during these discoveries. They related to the origins and nature, the history, and the future of the Native American peoples.
Debates about the origins and nature of the Amerindians gave rise to a variety of competing explanations over the subsequent centuries. According to a biblical, monogenetic view of mankind, they were the descendants of Adam, according to which view they had survived the biblical flood by migrating to land that was not submerged. Another polygenetic view held that they were the product of an act, or acts, of creation separate to the one described in Genesis, with God creating different human beings according to the differing geomorphology of the various regions of the world. Diffusionism and evolutionism were two further theories deviating from traditional Christian doctrine which were proposed to account for the existence and origins of the Native Americans.
Connected with the above considerations was the problem of social forms and of history. European culture gradually developed a tendency to analyse different cultures and social organizations, which later developed into the disciplines of ethnography, anthropology and historical sociology. The first important contributions in this field came not from secular, but from religious authors – the missionaries. Missionaries devoted themselves to the task of understanding new cultures. In their endeavours, they linked the debate about civilization to the issue of evangelization. It is therefore no surprise that some of the most acute analyses of Amerindian societies often came from men of the church, such as the Jesuit José de Acosta (1539–1600).6 Acosta moved in the direction of mature socio-anthropological thought, dispensing with the simplistic stereotypes of the "good" or "noble savage", and the "bad" or "ignoble savage". Exploring concepts of "barbarism" and "savagery" more deeply, he reached a new understanding of how natural, educational and environmental factors affect the political life and historical development of human communities. His discussion of the difficulties of evangelizing among people with a radically different culture and language are noticeably more modern than previous writings on the issue of evangelization. What is particularly relevant about Acosta's analysis is the link between ethnology and history which he established in his analysis of barbarism.
Acosta's comparative ethnology identified several varieties of barbarians and homines sylvestres feris similes ("men of the woods akin to wild beasts") distinguishable by varying forms – or just the absence of – recognizable verbal communication, political organization and religious observance. But his ethnological descriptions also offered a clue to history. He held that all races of men, before being fully civilized, had undergone an historical development through three successive levels of barbarism. In other words, the present state of the American peoples represented the primitive state of mankind. Were the Indians capable of rising to higher levels of organization? Acosta's Christian providentialism held no place for any hopeless confinement in savagery. But the Indians could improve only under the guidance of the politically and religiously superior Europeans.
Acosta also showed how orthodox Christian diffusionism could be reconciled with history by applying the theory that migration and the persistence of nomadic conditions were unfavourable to civilization. Defining the Native Americans as the offspring of Japhet, Acosta suggested that they had probably migrated to the Americas via an as yet unknown passage in northeast Asia. The Native Americans had thus migrated further than all other peoples in the aftermath of the biblical flood, losing more of the culture they had previously possessed in the process, and having no opportunity to regain that culture in the absence of cities and sedentary agriculture, which Acosta, in common with other Europeans, considered to be essential prerequisites of civilized society. In this way, Acosta's explanation of the Amerindians was entirely consistent with the theory of the "fall of natural man", which defined the intellectual encounter of early modern Europe with Amerindians.7 Acosta's work is thus an example of how the intellectual debate prompted by observation of Amerindian societies led to the emergence of ethnography and a better understanding of the history of human society.
The development of historical sociology was one of the most enduring intellectual consequences of Europe's encounter with "savage" societies. Acosta's work had a lasting influence, particularly on the Jesuit Joseph-François Lafitau (1681–1746), whose writings on American savagery8 helped to progress ethnological theory, particularly by highlighting the importance of the symbolic dimension of all cultural systems and by drawing parallels between contemporary "savage" societies and the history of European peoples. Particularly interesting was the idea that in America the Europeans had moved not only in space, but also in time, encountering their own past. John Locke's (1632–1704) well-known statement that "In the beginning all the world was America" became one of the most enduring expressions of the intellectual conceptualization of the encounter. Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657–1757) elaborated on this idea by comparing myths, fables and oracles that he identified as the constituents of a primitive mentality common to all people in the early stages of development.9 David Hume (1711–1776) and Charles de Brosses (1709–1777) reflected on how forms of religious worship had evolved from fetishism and idolatry, to monotheism and rational deism. These musings supported the idea that the Amerindians' were inferior, an idea that became particularly prevalent in the 18th century with the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–1788), the Dutch philosopher Cornelius de Pauw (1739–1799), William Robertson and the French writer Guillaume Thomas Raynal (1711–1796).
Alongside the development of more sophisticated, relativistic theories of "savagery" which stressed the role of environment, education and opportunities, the stereotypes of the "good" or "noble savage", and the "bad" or "ignoble savage" (which were not necessarily considered mutually exclusive) persisted in Western thought.
The idea of the "noble savage" contributed to the development of primitivistic attitudes which exalted the simple, natural life, unspoiled by civilized society. According to this view, the "savage" societies were societies of uncorrupted virtue, love of liberty and pure, authentic customs. James Adair's (ca. 1709–1783) History of the American Indians (1775)10 provided a sympathetic depiction of the Indian tribes of the Upcountry South, which the author perceived of as members, "freemen and equals", of a new American society. The positive stereotype of the virtuous and natural "other" also implied criticism of European civilization as corrupt and immoral. Two of the most notable examples of this use of the "noble savage" stereotype were Baron de Lahontan Louis Armand's (1666–1716) description11 of the North American Indians he visited in the late 17th century, and, on a more refined philosophical level, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712–1778) Discours sur l'inégalité12. Thematizing the ills of European society through the device of wise, honest and perceptive Mohawks, Hurons, Hottentots, Tahitians and even Incas, Mexicans, Persians and Chinese was common in literary writings, as well as in painting and stage productions.
The negative stereotype of the "ignoble savage" was a predictable result of persistent conflicts between aggressively expanding white settlements in North and South America, and in Australia, New Zealand and Africa, and the hunting or pastoral societies of nomadic aborigines, who were considered an obstacle to progress and civilization. Competition for the control of land and natural resources fuelled the antipathy which helped to perpetuate the stereotype of the "ignoble savage". But the stereotype was also supported by writings which purported to be more scientific. In his influential Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière13, the French naturalist Buffon sought to draw a connection between the physical and social condition of the American "savage" and the supposed "newness" of the American continent and of its natural history, the supposed "feebleness" of its flora and fauna, and the "infancy" of its human beings and its backward social development as a result of the continents being populated so late. The stereotype of the "bad" or "ignoble savage" continued to influence perceptions of the Americas in 18th and 19th century Europe.14
The "ignoble savage" also played a prominent role in 18th-century European historical and sociological thought which sought to construct a theory of civilization and historical progress, as well as a hierarchy of human societies on the basis of "progress". The Scottish four-stage theory was the most notable example of this. This hierarchical thinking completely rejected the notion that the desirable ends of life could be attained by means other than the property ownership, exchange, money, trade, and consumption of goods which "civilized society", the protection of "civil jurisprudence", and the ideological basis of Christianity provided. It was argued that societies which had passed through all the historical stages of development, culminating in a capitalist, urban civilization, clearly possessed a material and intellectual superiority to those that had not. Undeveloped societies could not progress by themselves, but only under the benevolent guidance of more advanced societies.
Progress was defined as a linear historical path with "civilization" as the end goal. The happiness of humans – a secular version of salvation – or the fulfilment of the providential or historical destiny of a people, were seen as being dependent on the accomplishment of "civilized" ways of life. Regular encounters between what were considered to be less-developed and more-developed societies appeared to support this concept of a hierarchy of civilizational development. While European Enlightenment thought also contained scepticism towards the idea of European society as the pinnacle of human development, it ultimately paved the way for positivistic and evolutionist theories in the 19th century. Encounters with non-Europeans, which had had a strong Eurocentric aspect from the beginning, seemed to confirm the ideas of the Europeans regarding their place in the hierarchy of civilizational development. During the 18th and the 19th centuries, Eurocentric thinking further developed pre-existing ideas of European racial, cultural, scientific and technological superiority. The idea of the "White Man's Burden" not only justified the conquest of non-European peoples, but interpreted it as the duty of Europeans to spread their superior culture.
From the late 17th century onward, Europe had encountered new populations in two other geographical areas: sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific. After the initial Portuguese involvement on the Atlantic coast, European involvement in sub-Saharan Africa was later maintained by the French and, in particular, by the British, who dominated African trade during the 18th century. The interior of Africa remained unknown for a long time and European encounters were confined to the coastal regions. Negative views and generalizations dominated European perceptions. Africa was depicted as a land of despotism and of abject, immutable, and pervasive "savagery" – a subject better befitting natural sciences than history. Two predominant factors influenced this perception. Blackness and the slave trade combined created a negative image of the African peoples in European minds. For Europeans, dark skin was a vivid and immutable symbol of difference and, together with many other physical details, reinforced European notions about the difference, the inferiority, of Africans. From the late 17th century, the origin of dark-coloured skin became the object of intense anatomical, physiological and medical debate, which went beyond previous explanations, such as the "curse on Cain" and climatic factors.
The supposed connection between external racial physical traits, and moral and intellectual qualities (as discussed in Buffon and, in more overtly racial terms, in Hume and Edward Long (1734–1813)) was not defined as a direct cause-and-effect relationship until the late 18th century, when the monogenetic unity of mankind and the equality of the human races were fundamentally questioned. While several important travel accounts from the late 17th century offered a more nuanced view of western Africa with its political entities, and ethnic and historical complexities, Europeans continued to consider black Africans in terms of old stereotypes: uncivilized, barbarian, indolent, unreliable, mentally and materially enslaved and lacking any of the virtues – especially religious virtues – required for progress. Slavery apologists went so far as to maintain that Africans were destined to be victims of Arab slave-traders or despotic local rulers, and would thus be better off under European masters. Some voyagers and authors, however, offered more complex – even positive – portrayals of west African societies, such as the French naturalist Michel Adanson (1727–1806), and the Scottish philosophers John Millar (1735–1801) and Lord Henry Kames (1696–1782).
Towards the end of the 18th century, a more balanced and informed depiction of Africa began to emerge thanks to abolition campaigners such as Anthony Benezet (1713–1784), as well as explorers such as Mungo Park (1771–1806). Park's exploration of the Niger region in the 1790s produced revelations in geography and, especially, in ethnology. His portrayal of the population of the region as having well-established political structures contradicted the traditional view of this population as uncivilized. In general, abolitionist writing drew on primitivist examples when describing African peoples, frequently depicting them as innocent victims whom rapacious Europeans had torn from their simple and natural way of life. In other areas which gradually became the object of European observation, such as South Africa, aboriginal populations15 were regarded until well into the 19th century as the most degraded representatives of the human kind, an example of extreme barbarity, and even sub-human.
Having been denied a place in the historiography of the Enlightenment and having been ignored by the Hegelian idealist philosophy of history, in the 19th century Africa continued to appear as a land of great contradictions to Europeans. Its interior contained legendary primitive populations such as the Congo Pygmies first encountered by German botanist and ethnologist Georg Schweinfurth (1836–1925) in the early 1870s, while the southern and eastern regions of the Horn revealed highly organized, militarily formidable populations capable of challenging European expansion and even inflicting defeats on weaker European powers, as witnessed by the Italian experience in Ethiopia. This was not, however, enough to fundamentally change prevailing negative stereotypes of Africa as socially and economically backward, and generally inferior. The subsequent development of physical anthropology, with its obsession with the measurement, definition and classification of human races, strengthened the association between exterior appearance, moral qualities and potential for civilization in the minds of Westerners.
During the period between the end of the Seven Years War (1763) and the outbreak of the French Revolution, Europeans greatly expanded their knowledge of the Pacific Ocean thanks to navigators and scientists such as George Anson (1697–1762), John Byron (1723–1786), Samuel Wallis (1728–1795) and Philip Carteret (1733–1796), Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), Johann Reinhold Forster (1729–1798) and his son Georg (1754–1794). The three epic voyages of James Cook (1728–1779) between 1768 and 1779, typical scientific expeditions organized by the Royal Society, enormously increased the European knowledge of the Pacific routes and wind patterns, island systems, flora and fauna, and populations. They also paved the way to the British colonization of Australia, which was to become the second largest British settlement colony, and to the discovery of the Terra Australis Incognita.
Such encounters brought Europeans into contact with peoples which they believed had experienced little or no external contact before. While historical genetics has since established the migration paths and mixing of populations of the Australian landmass and in the Pacific region, Europeans in the 18th century believed the Pacific Islanders and the Australian Aborigines had lived in complete isolation. The belief that these populations had been isolated from European culture and influences was supported in the minds of the Europeans by their perception of the Pacific Islanders as extremely primitive and barely human other than in their physical appearance. As discussed above, the adoption of European culture was a prerequisite for the attainment of civilization according to prevalent European attitudes.
In spite of similarities, attitudes were not identical in the various European countries. French explorers tended towards a sentimental, idealizing interpretation. The British were also enchanted by Tahitian life, but were less inclined to view it as a natural, unspoiled, joyful society. They noted examples of inequality, oppression and strife. While describing Tahiti and Tonga in terms of a paradise, perceptive scholarly voyagers such as Johann Reinhold and Georg Forster could not help dwelling on more substantial problems, such as "the Causes of the Difference in the Races of Men in the South Seas, their Origin and Migration"16 and pondering the possible consequences of European intrusion. Subsequent encounters with the less hospitable Maori populations in New Zealand and the Australian Aborigines appeared to confirm the Europeans' initial ambivalence towards the native populations they were encountering for the first time. The killing of James Cook in 1779 during his third voyage served to reinforce misgivings further.
Encounters with peoples of the Pacific Ocean and particularly with the Tahitian natives had an important impact on the European imagination,17 as did direct contact with Tahitians such as Aoutourou and Omai (ca. 1753–1780), who were brought to Europe by Bougainville and Cook respectively. In France, the reaction was influenced by primitivism and the revival of the "noble savage" stereotype, as witnessed by Denis Diderot's (1713–1784) Supplement au voyage de Bougainville18. In Britain, a more scientific and practical attitude prevailed, as exemplified by Johann Reinhold and Georg Forster's travel account19. Scottish philosophers of history incorporated the peoples of the Pacific into their ongoing discussions of the stages in the evolution of societies and of the relationships between environment and progress. The newly encountered peoples of the Pacific were viewed as living proof of the superiority of Western civilization, though what was perceived as their benign innocence also elicited many sympathetic relativistic comparisons. The South Seas explorations of the late 18th century thus contributed to European philosophical debates as well as preparing the way for trade, missionary activity and colonization in the region. The voyages also added new examples and new varieties to the catalogue of "savage" peoples.
Other civilizations, other histories
Europe's relationship with the rest of the Eurasian continent was defined by a different dynamic. The discoveries were no less important from a European perspective, but encounters there – which were the starting point of longstanding relationships – were primarily with populous, highly advanced, powerful countries. Furthermore, these encounters were influenced to a greater extent by European knowledge and attitudes which had developed over centuries.
European knowledge of southern and eastern Asia had been garnered from encounters beginning with Alexander the Great (356–323 BC), and continuing with the Roman Empire and the travels of medieval merchants and missionaries. Attitudes to the orient were also shaped by a travel literature which owed a good deal to legend and myth. In 15th-century Europe, the existence of ancient and powerful civilizations in Asia was broadly accepted, though dependable knowledge about them was scarce. Naval exploration from the late 15th century brought Europe into increasingly close contact with the Far East, as first the Dutch – then the French, the English and other nations – became involved in a region which to European eyes was vast and complex.
Trade and religion were the primary concerns of the Europeans from the start and coloured their initial impressions. From the voyage of Vasco da Gama (ca. 1469–1524) onward, Europeans learned about the vast geographical spread of the Islamic religion, which Christian Europe was committed to containing, and the powerful civilizations which the Islamic world contained. Secondly, they discovered how closely interconnected the Asian economy was, stretching from China and Indonesia to eastern Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea up to northern Egypt and the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Thirdly, they discovered how impenetrable China was, and Japan also –after a promising start. It proved very difficult to gain access to China's domestic market and China's centre of political power remained remote and inaccessible. It was also very difficult to break into the highly structured maritime trade linking India to southern China, the Philippines, Japan and Korea. While the Portuguese had more success than others in establishing themselves as a maritime power in Asia, the experiences of the first three centuries of renewed contact with Asia taught Europeans that Asian civilizations were perfectly capable of rivalling the Western newcomers. In Safawid Persia, Mughal India, and especially in Qing China, the degree of political and administrative organization, the economic resources, population sizes, architecture and urban centres, as well as the technological and manufacturing skills, and cultural and artistic refinement were on a par with – or surpassed – anything in Europe.
The European encounter with the Orient during the early modern era was mainly the work of individuals or small groups. Europeans – lay and clerical – residing in Asia numbered in the hundreds, rather than thousands. Until the late 18th century, Dutch Batavia and Spanish Manila were the only large colonial towns with a consistent European population. Sojourns in Asia were normally comparatively short due to health difficulties caused by the climate and tropical diseases. Before the 19th century, direct, intensive contact at the local level was rare. This also applied to European governors, diplomats and officials, who regulated European trade and financial activity in the region. Representatives of European trading companies cooperated in their daily activities with local banyans (Hindu trader), merchants, bankers, interpreters and domestic servants. Co-habitation and intermarriage was less common, except in Dutch Batavia, where it was encouraged from quite early on. Examples of Anglo-Indian intermarriage and social relations only began to emerge from the late 18th century onwards. Official representatives of the East India Company and members of their staffs in towns across India began to socialize with, and even marry, Hindu or Muslim bibi (name for a lady in Urdu and Persian) or courtesans and mistresses, adopting Indian customs as a result. The phenomenon of the "white Mughals" represented a "succession of unexpected and unplanned minglings of peoples and cultures and ideas".20 In the early decades of the 19th century, a new racist attitude erected a barrier between the British and their Indian subjects. Until the late 18th century, then, the European encounter with the Orient was not – with the partial exception of Dutch Indonesian possessions – characterized by large-scale white settlement, territorial acquisitions and political control; and subsequent European involvement in the region involved these phenomena to a considerably lesser degree than elsewhere in the world.
Trade in Asian goods and fabrics had a profound effect on the economic, political, diplomatic and social spheres in Europe. European consumption patterns and social habits were increasingly shaped by new products coming over from Asia, which came into vogue: spices, tea, tulips, fine printed muslins and calicoes, silk garments and accessories such as pyjamas, shawls or fans, wallpaper, furniture in exotic and lacquered woods, fine blue porcelains, Oriental gardening, later opium. These expensive luxury goods especially adorned aristocrats but also the bourgeois upstart and became status symbols. The European balance of trade was deeply affected by this growth in import from Asia. European trading companies therefore strove to develop new finance systems for their so-called "investment" in exports from their factories in Asia. In order to establish favourable trading conditions European governments tended to engage in more permanent relationships with Asian states and to actively interfere with their internal affairs. The effect on Asian economies and societies was no less profound. From the 16th century and to a greater degree from the late 18th century onward, an increasing volume of images, narrated accounts, and literature of various kinds disseminated information about, and impressions of, the Far East throughout Europe. These had a considerable effect on European culture and, in particular, on European and Western concepts of the Orient.21
While European culture possessed concepts and representations of Asia from the time of Herodotus and Aristotle (384–322 BC), this "knowledge" was limited in scope and referred to a little portion of Asia. The travels of the brothers Niccolò (fl. 1252–1294) and Maffeo Polo (fl. 1252–1309), father and uncle of Marco (ca. 1254–1324), and the catholic missionaries sent to the Great Khan's court expanded this knowledge a little. But the lack of regular contact and the scarcity of accurate information meant that European concepts of Asia owed more to legend than fact and, on the eve of da Gama's voyage to India, Asia was still a largely unknown part of the world to Europeans. Up to that point, the continuing influence of ancient Greek sources meant that the predominant concept of Asia was of ancient, refined and wealthy civilizations, dominated by centralized imperial monarchies with despotic forms of government.
Subsequent encounters with the Islamic world in the form of the menacing Ottoman Empire reinforced this view of Asian "otherness" and "strangeness" and added religious overtones to it. Asia was perceived as a more or less undifferentiated land mass where, for mainly climatic and environmental reasons, political despotism, slavery and heretical and idolatrous religions dominated immutable societies. The perceived high degree of refinement of Asian societies meant that Europeans viewed Asian societies as being on a par civilizationally. However, the impression of profound "otherness" persisted and was reinforced by religious and cultural differences, as well as linguistic barriers to communication. Difficulties in promoting European economic interests and the spread of Christianity in various parts of Asia accentuated negative perceptions of those areas. The representation of the Moghul and the Chinese empires as despotic persisted in European thought and was strengthened by influential travel accounts like those by Thomas Roe (ca. 1581–1644), François Bernier (1620–1688) and Jean Chardin (1643–1713) and by the writings of political theorists such as Montesquieu (1689–1755). These authors depicted the various political entities between the Sublime Porte at Constantinople and the Qing court in Peking as being of a kind and characterized by despotic and arbitrary rule.
However, countervailing interpretations did exist. A trend in 18th century thought offered an alternative interpretation of the Orient. Prominent Enlightenment intellectuals such as Voltaire (1694–1778) attempted to challenge prevailing negative views of Asia. Scholars of Asian history and law, such as Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (1731–1805), disproved the perception of the lack of written laws, private property, dependable justice and regular administration of public affairs in the Orient. However, these common prejudices continued to affect how most Westerners evaluated the position of the Asian countries on their scale of civilizational development. Thus, two contrasting attitudes emerged. One was distinctly Eurocentric and identified the causes of Oriental "otherness" in negative terms. The other identified the Orient as a positive alternative model, not just different to, but in many ways better than, contemporary Europe.
During the late 18th century, the most common Europe perception of Asia was that of an "immobile" society. What had previously frequently been interpreted in a positive way as stability was now interpreted as an incapacity on the part of Asian societies to improve and progress in the same Europe was progressing. At the same time, it was acknowledged that many Asian countries had nonetheless achieved much in the past, with their high-level manufacturing, and technological and artistic traditions. An established school of thought in France, Great Britain, and Germany maintained that Asia was the cradle of civilization, from which science, philosophy and religious doctrines had been transferred to the West.
At the same time, Europeans believed that contemporary Asia was stagnant, and the economic and technological gap between Europe and Asia was widening, particularly in the case of those countries that refused to open their markets. New expressions entered the language of economics and general discourse, such as "stationary state"22, which was frequently applied to contemporary China. One attempt to explain this supposed immobility discussed environmental and cultural causes. It was argued that, in the case of the Islamic countries and Confucian China, the combination of climate and religious beliefs had resulted in indolence, idleness and lack of initiative. However, the role of the physical environment was not considered to be of primary importance. The perceived link between immobility, the absence of civil and political liberties, and the consequent lack of individual security in the case of contemporary Asian societies only confirmed European beliefs about the link between freedom, progress and civilization, as exemplified by contemporary Europe.
This form of Sinophobia became the prevalent attitude towards China in the late 18th century and vastly outweighed the Sinomania which had caused the "crisis of the European mind"23 and the element of Enlightenment culture and thought which had a respect for well-administered monarchical government and nobility based on merit, as well as for the promotion of agriculture, of moral teachings as the basis of social intercourse, and of tolerance in religious matters. Appreciation of Chinese civilization was often motivated by Christian scepticism. Chinese historical traditions based on recorded astronomical observations suggested a chronology of historical time that was incompatible with the bible and thus handed a powerful weapon to those in Europe who believed that the world was much older than the Judaic scriptures suggest. Scepticism towards the Christian, and particularly the Catholic, view of world history, and advocacy of natural religion and of tolerance contributed to Sinomania. Sinomania was not only an intellectual trend; it manifested itself – perhaps more enduringly – in artistic tastes and material goods.
The shift from Sinomania to Sinophobia was a change in intellectual attitudes, rather than a change in tastes in consumer goods. Two circumstances, in particular, contributed to this change. The Society of Jesus was discredited by controversy and ultimately suppressed in 1773. As a result, the sympathetic attitude towards China and Chinese culture which had informed the writings of many Jesuit missionaries active in China decreased in influence. Prior to the suppression of the order, the Jesuits had originated a considerable volume of translations and original literature about Chinese civilization, which was aimed at accentuating the image of China as a powerful empire, thereby underlying the importance of their missionary activities there. Together with the work of French academics like Nicolas Fréret (1688–1749) and Joseph de Guignes (1721–1800), the Jesuits' study of the Chinese language and their collections of Chinese texts formed the basis of modern sinology in the West. The second circumstance promoting Sinophobia was the growing impatience of Great Britain and other European powers with the Chinese authorities' restrictions on European trade. British expansion and supremacy in India meant that the Chinese market could not remain closed and Britain and other European powers adopted a more forceful approach on the issue. This growing impatience and antipathy towards China manifested itself more generally in European culture. Influential commentators such as Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886), Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) dispensed with sympathy for China and advocated a more forceful approach, such as the "gunboat diplomacy" of the 1830s and 1840s.
In the meantime, the British defeat of the French in 1763 led to the start of direct British rule in north-eastern India, and to a more intensive study of, and interest in, India's past and present. In order to be able to contribute to the debate on how India should be governed and to comment, as Edmund Burke did, on the misgovernment of the first decades of British administration, a more detailed knowledge of the country was necessary. India's past, Hindu civilization and religion, its ancient Muslim traditions, and its more recent history begun to be studied by the first generation of Sanskritists and scholars of Islamic law and culture, headed by William Jones (1746–1794). Before becoming a pejorative term in the post-colonial era, "Orientalism" – an expression which came into use in the early 19th century – denoted the discovery of Oriental cultures by European academic (and religious) scholarship in the second half of the 17th century, and also the vogue for Oriental styles and subjects in European art and in European culture generally which began in the early 19th century. The latter phenomenon was doubtlessly responsible for distorted representations of Oriental culture and society, which was often reduced to stereotypes of a fabulous, exotic, mysterious and sensual Orient. The contribution of the first wave of erudite Orientalism to subsequent scholarship should not, however, be underestimated. Among the scholars, travellers, and missionaries who participated in this first wave of Orientalism were Anquetil-Duperron, the French discoverer of the Avestic religion, translator (in 1772) of the Zend-Avesta and critic of the theory of "Oriental despotism" (in his Législation orientale of 1778); Joseph de Guignes, who did ground-breaking work on the ancient history of China and Central Asia; the British Orientalist Charles Wilkins (1749–1836), who first translated the Bhagavad-Gita24; and William Jones, the scholar of Hindu mythology, Vedic religion and ancient Hindu and Muslim law who translated the classical play Sakuntala25 from Sanskrit and was the first to propose a common Asiatic source for many European languages.26 Among the most significant contributions of this scholarship was the discovery of Oriental – mainly Islamic and Hindu – written legal traditions and jurisprudence. Ancient legal codes, collections of sentences, edicts and ordinances were translated; institutional forms and administrative practices were studied. Agrarian relationships, land ownership patterns, and economic systems were better understood as they came under British rule. The realization that many Asiatic societies possessed a regular administration of justice, protection of property rights, contracts and individual rights helped to undermine the Western prejudice of "Oriental despotism".
The concept that modern Europeans, Asians, Africans and native Americans had a common Asiatic origin, as suggested by comparative linguistics, provided some with welcome evidence supporting the biblical narrative of creation. Orientalism and Christianity were thus by no means contradictory. Sylvestre de Sacy (1758–1838), Friederich Schlegel (1772–1829), Henry Thomas Colebrooke (1765–1837), Max Müller (1823–1900) and others continued scholarly research of the Orient in the 19th century. The discovery of Hinduism, Buddhism and the literary, religious and mythological Sanskrit traditions, as well as India's history, art and architecture, which resulted from British presence in India, continued to inspire enthusiasm and admiration among many Europeans throughout the 19th century. While many aspects of "Orientalism" are inextricably linked to British imperialism, it is nonetheless possible to discern a genuine scholarly Orientalist tradition, which cannot be dismissed as merely providing a justification for the imperialist and capitalist exploitation of Asia or as being coloured by power relationships. It should also be noted that many Asian cultures underwent something of a rejuvenation or renaissance, as witnessed by the so-called Bengal renaissance of Rajah Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833) and Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) and similar movements elsewhere, which sought to reconcile Asian tradition and Western modernizing influences.
Close encounters of a third kind
A distinct aspect of European discoveries and encounters with "otherness" is the transportation of non-Europeans to Europe and the West. The presence of non-Europeans in Europe and the West in the early modern period is a broad and varied subject. It is possible to categorize these non-Europeans in a number of ways: Did they come voluntarily or were they brought by force (like, for example, bondservants)? Did they move permanently (like, for example, prisoners of war) or temporarily? Did they travel to the West in a large group (like colonial slaves) or small group? Flows of migrants are an example of voluntary, large-scale and (usually) permanent movements of people. These flows were predominantly from Europe to elsewhere in the world for a long period, though this trend was reversed in the second half of the 20th century. However, non-Europeans previously came to Europe as trainee interpreters, diplomatic envoys and religious converts. The often short-term sojourn of these native Americans, Asians and Africans played a considerable role in the formation of European images and concepts of the "other".
From the very beginning of European exploration and expansion overseas, there was a widespread practice of seizing individuals, families, or groups belonging to "exotic" ethnic groups and transporting them to Europe. They were captured and transported to be trained as interpreters (the problem of linguistic communication was immediately recognized as crucial27); to act as sources of information for officials, navigators and colonial entrepreneurs; and to receive a religious education, though these activities were frequently combined with temporary periods of servitude. However, non-Europeans were often abducted merely as living samples of "otherness" and, conversely, as embodiments of European superiority and supremacy. These people were frequently exhibited in "ceremonies of possession".28 In fact, whatever the primary reason for their capture and transportation to Europe was, very many non-Europeans participated in public displays of various kinds, in which they featured as examples of human "otherness".
This phenomenon has received increasing attention recently, particularly with regard to 19th century Europe and the United States, when such human exhibitions acquired a systematic, commercial and even scientific character. For many Europeans, these encounters were the only possibility of seeing representatives of non-European groups in the flesh. However, the purposes and contexts of these abductions and encounters, as well as their effect on European perceptions of "otherness" varied from the 15th to the 20th centuries. It must also be noted that the practice of abducting members of other ethnic groups is by no means a purely European phenomenon. It was common among very many non-European people and, indeed, was in some cases a two-way process where Europeans and non-Europeans came into contact and conflict.29 The forcible transportation of people from their places of origin to far-away places may have been an intrinsic aspect of the process of European discovery and expansion30, but it was not an exclusively European phenomenon.
Recent research has provided much information about this phenomenon in early modern Britain and 19th and 20th century France, Britain and the USA.31 It has been calculated that in the two and half centuries before the American Revolution, 175 American natives had been transported or had travelled to Britain as envoys or captives.32 While not all of these people were transported for exhibition purposes, the idea of exhibiting them was never very far away, even when the primary role of the non-Europeans was that of informers, apprentice interpreters, future guides and intermediaries, or guinea pigs for Europeanization experiments. There are even cases of North American Indians being transported to 17th and 18th century France and Britain with the purpose of dazzling them with the splendour of the respective royal court and the military power of the respective realm, in order to gain their allegiance and loyalty in colonial conflicts.
An instructive connection can be made between these captives in early modern and modern Europe and the ceremonial practices of the ancient world, in particular the Roman "triumph". With its ritual public exhibition of the defeated barbarians, particularly chiefs, kings, generals and nobles, the triumph can be considered an antecedent and a source of inspiration for later exotic exhibitions.33 A primary purpose was to exhibit captives as tangible evidence of victory, as the "physical realization of empire and imperialism".34 One important difference between ancient triumphs and modern exhibitions was that modern exhibitions were not always war captives. Native Americans defeated in conflict were indeed captured and dispatched as slaves to Europe from the first phase of discovery. There are examples of North American Indian prisoners being taken as war trophies to England, and being subjected to the same treatment as Turkish prisoners displayed in parades in Italian and other European cities in the 16th century. But captives – there are also some examples of Native Americans travelling by consent – were also brought to Europe not as prisoners of war, but rather as curiosities. Interest in these exotic people was partly an extension of the Renaissance impulse to catalogue, and thereby tame, the natural world, but the freak show or "cultural spectacles of the extraordinary body"35 also provided the symbolic context of their reception.36
From the early 16th century, individuals, families and small groups of exotic people – Inuits, North American Indians, Lapps, Brazilians, etc. – had been brought to Europe and displayed or employed in either public or private ceremonies.37 The vivid impression which encounters with exotic peoples left on Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), whose reflections on cannibalism and on barbarism may have been inspired by his encounter with a Tupi tribesman, who probably came to France with a contingent of Brazilian Indians employed in the Royal Entry of Henry II (1519–1559) in Rouen in 1550, may not be typical of their effect on the European public generally. However, the regular appearance of such "others" in European cities could not but have an effect on the common people's views on human diversity, though this is difficult to quantify. Exhibitions occurred at first almost exclusively during public ceremonies, at princely courts or in aristocratic mansions. Later on, they took place in marketplaces, taverns, coffee houses, theatres, showrooms and exhibitions halls, and at national and international industrial or colonial exhibitions, and subsequently became an aspect of the entertainment industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. Engraved portraits, printed descriptions and subsequently also photographs of these presentations circulated widely, purporting to convey the physical appearance, clothes, artefacts, weapons and tools of these exotic "others".
From the late 18th century, as European dominance of the non-European world increased further, representatives of a much more diverse range of ethnic groups began to arrive in Europe and the West as part of a more systematic commercial exploitation of the interest in them. Not only Native Americans, but also Africans and Asians, began to be transported to Europe to adorn the temporary European museums of mankind. At the height of this vogue in the second half of the 19th century, they were taken on extensive tours, often lasting several months and visiting several countries. Purporting to show living "others" in their "native" dress, re-enacting their customary ways of life in reconstructions of their "natural" environment, these "human zoos" with their "black villages" were not only a form of entertainment, but a public enactment of the perceived superiority of the white race as reflected in the backwardness of "savages". Notwithstanding the occasional protests of humanitarian, religious or political associations, French anthropologists and ethnologists in 19th century established the practice of studying living people as though they were insouciant beings, photographing, measuring and classifying them by physical traits. "Scientific" and "popular" racism both contributed to the objectification of non-Europeans in exhibitions and "human zoos".
From the late 15th century, when the first "savages" were transported to Europe, to the first decades of the 20th century, when exotic people were a regular feature in colonial and imperial exhibitions, many aspects of this phenomenon changed. The triumphal parades of Columbus and Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) through Seville, Toledo or Barcelona were echoed by the contingents of colonial troops taking part in European military parades into the 20th century. In the meantime, however, an industry had come into being to exploit European interest in "savage" and exotic humans. Capitalist entrepreneurs like the German wild animal importer Carl Hagenbeck (1844–1913) and the American impresario Phyneas T. Barnum (1810–1891) transformed ancient practices of freak or alien exhibition into a large-scale commercial entertainment industry in the age of leisure, mass entertainment and consumerism. Ethnic shows were much more diverse and their audiences considerably larger. The phenomenon of the "professional savages" eventually emerged with members of ethnic groups entering contractual or quasi-contractual agreements to appear as warriors, hunters, horsemen and dancers in ethnic shows. What did not to change, however, was the core ideological message conveyed by such spectacles: non-European people were depicted as inferior, as mere objects for the entertainment of Europeans. These ethnic exhibitions afforded the opportunity to a Western mass audience to personally encounter human "otherness" and to realize how remote it was from European civilization. The sense of dislocation, as well as cruel and degrading treatment, meant that the lot of the human exhibits was frequently a miserable one. Even after death, many were denied the dignity of being treated like human beings, as their corpses were handed over to comparative anatomists and others for further study and display.