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 lecturer in modern history at Leeds Trinity University, UK. He has published extensively on the history of the human sciences, including his book The Making of British Anthropology, 1813–1871.