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Silvia Sebastiani from EHESS, Paris

Tue May 5th 2020, All day
Event Sponsor
Co-sponsored with the British Studies
Room tentatively History room 105

'Doubts about Man': Orangutans and Global Markets in Enlightenment Debates

Abstract: In my paper, I will discuss how Europe’s trade of apes, slaves and goods tested the boundaries of humanity during the Enlightenment. I will look at scientific, political and legal debates raised by the introduction, dissection and public exposition of the so called ‘orangutan’ in European metropoles, paying specific attention to the British context: how does the 'orangutan' contribute to our understanding of Enlightenment ‘science of man’? In what ways has it been used to conceptualize humanity? Eighteenth-century physicians, natural historians, geographers, lawyers, or merchants, while reframing the borders between humans and apes, also contributed to increase the distance between the ‘savage’ and the ‘civilized’ peoples: whereas the human/animal divide narrowed, the divide between human ‘races’ crystallized, becoming wider than in any previous period.