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December 2015 Vol. 53 No. 4

University of Nebraska Press

The following review appeared in the December 2015 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Social & Behavioral Sciences

Vermeulen, Han F. Before Boas: the genesis of ethnography and ethnology in the German Enlightenment. Nebraska, 2015. 760p bibl index afp ISBN 9780803255425, $75.00.

In the US, anthropology includes the biological, linguistic, ethnological, and archaeological aspects of studying human beings in groups.  Franz Boas initiated the integration of this holistic American anthropology and disseminated it after 1880.  But in the 18th century, ethnology and anthropology developed as separate disciplines during the German Enlightenment.  Ethnology was "a science of peoples" devoted to the study of cultural or ethnic diversity; anthropology was "a science of humans" devoted to racial, linguistic, and physical categories and differences.  Alongside this distinction was another, between ethnology and ethnography.  Ethnology developed as a theorized, comparative study of peoples; ethnography was empirical and descriptive.  Both are integral to modern sociocultural anthropology, in which comparison and theory require ethnographic data.  Vermeulen (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany) extricates the intellectual lineages of these separate disciplines from the matrix of Enlightenment thought.  Anthropology was the province of naturalists and humanist philosophers and ethnology the province of historians and geographers.  A short review cannot do justice to the sophistication of the author's comprehensive and remarkable research, which departs from histories that view the origins of anthropology in classical Greece or Renaissance exploration.  For all arts and sciences graduate collections.

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