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The Enchanted Glass: Early Modern Ethnography

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Chapter Summary

Francis Bacon thought that the mind of man was "like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture". His warning was never truer than in relation to cultural anthropology and ethnography. Human society is refracted through many enchanted glasses. Just how reliable as sources of anthropological information were the travel books that Locke read? Were they good ethnography? Without reliable ethnographic material and reliable informants the whole edifice of anthropology as an intellectual discipline becomes insecure. Modern anthropologists like to distinguish their profession by the claiming that they are independent observers who are not employed by a company, a missionary organization or a government. But indirectly the finance for their research has come in the past from sources that had an interest in establishing colonial control over undeveloped parts of the globe.

Keywords: cultural anthropology; enchanted glass; ethnography; Francis Bacon



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