Associate Professor Bruce Buchan

Griffith University



This paper will present a new 3-year research project (funded by Sweden's Riksbankens Jubileumsfond) in which I and my colleague (Dr Linda Andersson Burnett, Linnaeus University) will examine the colonial implications and applications of Enlightenment notions of 'universal humanity' by exploring the 'borders' of this much misunderstood concept. Specifically, we will focus on how Scottish Enlightenment notions of humanity hinged on the emergence of a colonial ethnography combining Linnaean natural history with moral philosophical theories of stadial historical progress exemplified in the writings of colonial ‘travellers’ educated in medicine and botany at the University of Edinburgh.  By focusing on the ‘borders of humanity’ we employ techniques of intellectual history to trace the definitional limits at the core of the concept of humanity.  We will explore these limits in a selection of case studies of knowledge formation and circulation at the University of Edinburgh, and in colonial engagements within Europe (in both Sápmi and the Scottish Highlands), and beyond with both Creole and Indigenous peoples in diverse global and colonial settings.  In this presentation, I will focus on how ideas of 'race' were entwined with Scottish stadial theory in the teaching of moral philosophy, natural history and medicine at the University of Edinburgh in the late Eighteenth century. This analysis will allow us to chart how European ideas of humanity and human diversity, imbibed through Edinburgh University’s curricula, were carried to colonial settings, applied and transformed by colonial encounters. These complicated intellectual and colonial connections are especially evident in the career of Mungo Park (1771-1806), whose writings on race and war in Africa became entwined with slavery in the Caribbean.

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