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The construction of an authoritative text: Peter Kolb's description of the Khoikhoi at the Cape of Good Hope in the eighteenth century

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Peter Kolb (1675–1726), a German astronomer and mathematician, was an unlikely candidate to write the book that became the most well-known source of the Cape of Good Hope and the Khoikhoi in the eighteenth century. This essay uses Kolb's work as a case study for the transformation of one man's personal observations into a variety of works that were quite different from the originals in scope and intention. First, the essay discusses the genesis of Kolb's book, Caput Bonae Spei Hodiernum, and focuses on the Khoikhoi. I argue that Kolb's genius lies in emphasizing communalities among Europeans and Khoikhoi, as well as the rationality of Khoikhoi customs. The second part of the essay establishes that Kolb's book did indeed become the most authoritative source of the Cape in the eighteenth century. Over the course of that century, the book was radically modified in translations and abridgements to cover only certain essential topics, and increasingly to emphasize the otherness of the Khoikhois.


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