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What is Armchair Anthropology?

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From the era of Bronislaw Malinowski forward, the public image of anthropology
 has been intertwined with the notion of fieldwork. Within anthropology as well, 
fieldwork has so dominated disciplinary memory that Malinowski’s Victorian
 predecessors have tended to be dismissed as ‘armchair anthropologists’.
Recently however, historians of anthropology – drawing on wider re-evaluations
 within the history of science – have begun to fill in the apparent gap between
 the armchair and the field. Building on these efforts, this paper offers a new
 interpretation of nineteenth-century British anthropology and its observational
 practices. Looking in particular at figures including James Cowles Prichard,
 William Lawrence, Robert Knox, Robert Gordon Latham, James Hunt, Thomas Huxley,
 Charles Darwin and Edward Burnett Tylor, this paper shows both that British
 observational practices – when it came to human diversity – emerged out of a 
mix of previously existing sciences, notably natural history and medicine, and 
that, in response to criticisms and self-criticisms, these practices became
 more refined over the decades. The reforming innovations surveyed in this paper
 include methodological lectures and handbooks, the use of questionnaires and 
informants, the display of extra-European peoples in Britain, and field studies
 avant la lettre.

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