New Books Network

Han Vermeulen

Before Boas

The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

University of Nebraska Press 2015

New Books in AnthropologyNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 11, 2019 Ryan Tripp

The history of anthropology has been written from multiple viewpoints, often from perspectives of gender, nationality, theory, or politics. Winner of the 2017 International...

The history of anthropology has been written from multiple viewpoints, often from perspectives of gender, nationality, theory, or politics. Winner of the 2017 International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize, Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment (University of Nebraska Press, 2015; paperback edition, 2018), delves deeper into issues concerning anthropology’s academic origins to present a groundbreaking study that reveals how ethnography and ethnology originated during the eighteenth rather than the nineteenth century, developing parallel to anthropology, or the “natural history of man.”

Han F. Vermeulen, alumnus of Leiden University and research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany, explores primary and secondary sources from Russia, Germany, Austria, the United States, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Great Britain in tracing how “ethnography” originated as field research by German-speaking historians and naturalists in Siberia (Russia) during the 1730s and 1740s, was generalized as “ethnology” by scholars in Göttingen (Germany) and Vienna (Austria) during the 1770s and 1780s, and was subsequently adopted by researchers in other countries. Before Boas argues that anthropology and ethnology were separate sciences during the Age of Reason, studying racial and ethnic diversity, respectively. Ethnography and ethnology focused not on “other” cultures but on all peoples of all eras. Following G. W. Leibniz, researchers in these fields categorized peoples primarily according to their languages. Franz Boas professionalized the holistic study of anthropology from the 1880s into the twentieth century.


Ryan Tripp is part-time and full-time adjunct history faculty for Los Medanos Community College as well as the College of Online and Continuing Education at Southern New Hampshire University.