Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America

A new post in the smallpox series: An epidemiological aspect was at work in the conceptualisation of a European self in the mirror of American otherness.

In the journal of his voyage to the Carolinas published in 1709, John Lawson connects the arrival of syphilis in America to Columbus, describing the striking consequences for the Santee,1 a Siouan population near the river of the same name in present-day South Carolina, which declined from about a thousand in the seventeenth century to less than ninety at the beginning of the eighteenth.2

On behalf of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, to whom he dedicated his New Voyage, Lawson set out from Charleston on 28 December 1700, and arrived at the mouth of the Pamlico River (Pampticough) on 24 February 1701,3 drawing a wide arc in Carolina territories. It crossed and described an unmapped area, about which Europeans’ knowledge was largely lacking. The observer clearly identified the role of diseases of European origin, smallpox above all, in the rapid decline of populations such as the Sewee, another nation probably of Siouan stock, whose numbers, estimated at around eight hundred in the seventeenth century, were reduced to seventy-five in 1715:4

the Sewees have been formerly a large Nation, though now very much decreas’d since the English hath seated their Land, and all other Nations of Indians are observ’d to partake of the same Fate, where the Europeans come, the Indians being a People very apt to catch any Distemper they are afflicted withal; the Small-Pox has destroy’d many thousands of these Natives.

John Brickell too, in his 1737 Natural History North-Carolina, largely based on Lawson’s text,5 developed Lawson’s attention to medical matters and added some original considerations. Speaking of the diseases afflicting European settlers and Indian nations in Carolina, while treating more extensively the most widespread at the time, gout and syphilis, he mentioned smallpox as a plague imported from Europe. The consequences in terms of demographic dynamics, in favour of the European colonists, were already clear: “The Small Pox proved very fatal amongst them in the late War with the Christians, few or none ever escaping Death that were seized with it. This Distemper was entirely unknown to them before the arrival of the Europeans amongst them”.6  The disease was fatal: “neither has the small Pox ever visited this Country but once, and that in the late Indian War, which destroyed most of those Savages that were seized with it”.7

The Plague seemed to have remained unknown, but the contribution of smallpox to the rapid decimation of American populations was clearly identified alongside other causes, which were part of the stereotypical image of the American “savage” in the eighteenth century: wars between nations – a state of perpetual belligerence – and intemperate alcohol consumption above all:8

[…] the Small Pox, their continual Wars with each other, their poysoning, and several other Distempers and Methods amongst them, and particularly their drinking Rum to excess have made such great destruction amongst them, that I am well informed, that there is not the tenth Indian in number, to what there was sixty Years ago.

The diachronic and diatopic variations in terminology are clear indications of the stratification and upheavals affecting the cultural construction of American societies as instances of a pre-civilised humanity on the part of Euro-American observers. The variety of American societies flattens out under labels such as ‘Indian’ or ‘Savage’9 Alongside the linguistic-conceptual category used to designate the ‘other’, there is an oscillation between the traditional designation of the colonists as ‘Christians’ and the use of a category that is decidedly less consolidated but destined to particular fortune: that of ‘Europeans‘. This agglutination is conspicuous in a colonial context in which the competition between imperial powers, British and French above all, was still far from being resolved. 10 An epidemiological aspect was at work in the conceptual schematisation of a European self in the mirror of American otherness.

John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (London 1709). Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).


[1] For Native American nations, the exonyms currently used in secondary literature are adopted in the text, giving in brackets any variants adopted in primary sources. In general on nomenclatural confusion: M. Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des Lumières, 1971; Paris, Albin Michel 1995, pp. 26 and ff..

[2] J. Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina, edited and with an Introduction by H. Talmage Lefler, 1709; Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press 1967, pp. [24-25], see also editorial note 22.

[3] New Style calendar year, for Lawson was 1700.

[4] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. [17], see here editorial note 11 on Sewees.

[5] J. Brickell, The Natural History North-Carolina: With an Account of the Trade, Manners, and Customs of the Christian and Indian Inhabitants […], Dublin, Printed by James Carson 1737. On the vexata quaestio of plagiarism of Lawson see: P. G. Adams, John Lawson’s Alter-Ego: Dr. John Brickell, «The North Carolina Historical Review», 34, 3, 1957, pp. 313-326.

[6] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 397.

[7] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 253.

[8] Brickell, The Natural History, p. 308.

[9] On the conceptual and linguistic evolution of ‘savage’: S. Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi, 1972; Turin, Einaudi 2014, p. 4 and passim; J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1999-2015, 6 vols., vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires, 2005, pp. 2-3, 158 and ff. On the ‘savage’ and the formulation of ideas of development and progress and with the framing of human variety within a universalist perspective in the eighteenth century: S. Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress, New York, Palgrave Macmillan 2013.

[10] Dynamics that can usefully be read in terms of a complex interaction between «inner-European process of Europeanization and something once referred to as the “Europeanization of the Earth”», W. Schmale, Processes of Europeanization, 2010, in EGO – European History Online,, ad vocem, par. 2.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America," in Geographies of Time, 01/05/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Smallpox, North America and a global Europeanness

A new post in the smallpox series: geographies of diseases in the eighteenth century and the dawn of a consciousness of globalisation

During the eighteenth century, the development of historical-geographical knowledge and philosophical disputes in the Old World connected the themes of disease, contagion and inoculation to discussions of the physical difference of the American humanity and the environmental and climatic conditions that determine it.

The Histoire Philosophique et Politique des établissemens & du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes connected, for example, the speed of the course of diseases to the climate in the Americas,1 exemplifying the reflections of the coeval neo-Hippocratic medical climatology of the Enlightenment that informed the treatment of these themes also in Abbé Prévost’s Histoire générale des voyages and in Robinet’s Dictionnaire universel des sciences.2 The climatic and environmental elements were seen to interact in a complex way with customs, habits and lifestyles, and with differences in constitution between genders and races. In Raynal’s Histoire, the geography of diseases, so to speak, is the product of a stratification and articulation of factors between natural history and physical and socio-cultural variety.3

This series discusses the theme of smallpox in some eighteenth-century witnesses, with particular regard to travel accounts significant for the observers’ interest in American societies. These accounts are placed against the backdrop of the attempts of description and systematic explanation mentioned above, but stand out for the weight they give to direct observation and testimony, often combining cognitive ambitions with tasks in policy, diplomacy, colonial administration, in the context of specific imperial apparatuses, and particular biographical experiences.

These examples constitute the background for a deepening of the theme in Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Here, the construction of medical knowledge closely linked to the expansion projects of the republican government.4  By adopting as sources the reports of the expedition, the correspondence between some of the protagonists, the coeval medical publications that influenced the preparation of the expedition, this particular perspective of analysis will allow to focus on smallpox as a catalyst of a proto-consciousness of European globalization processes by the actors involved. The awareness of the devastation brought by epidemic phenomena coming from the Old World plays an important role in the very genesis of the Jeffersonian project of documentation of the North American native populations whose extinction is noted or foreseen. Thus, in the journals kept by the participants, recur notations of the role of smallpox, alongside syphilis and other not always identified plagues, in the destruction of specific nations or human groups.


[1] G.-T. Raynal, Histoire Philosophique et Politique des établissemens & du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, A Geneve, Chez Jean-Leonard Pellet, Imprimeur de la Ville & de l’Académie, 1780, University of Chicago, ARTFL Project,, see t. 3, Livre onzieme, chap. XXXII – Maladies auxquelles les Européens sont exposés dans les isles de l’Amérique, p. 233; and XXXI – Caractères des Européens établis dans l’archipel américain.

[2] D. Droixhe, Les maladies des Antilles et de l’Amérique du Sud dans l’Histoire des deux Indes. Climat, environnement, santé, in Autour de l’abbé Raynal: Genèse et enjeux politiques de l’Histoire des deux Indes, éd. par A. Alimento et G. Goggi, FerneyVoltaire, Centre international d’étude du XVIIIe siècle 2018, pp. 125-169. On the connection between physical degeneration and climate in Raynal: A. Gerbi, La disputa del nuovo mondo. Storia di una polemica: 1750-1900, a cura di S. Gerbi, con un saggio di A. Melis, 1955; new ed. Milan: Adelphi 2000.

[3] Raynal, Histoire, t. 3, Livre onzieme, chap. XXXII. The moral geography of the behaviour of Europeans in the West Indies affects their exposure to disease, as they indulge in pleasures that habit makes less harmful to men born in those climates, t. 3, chap. XXXI, p. 234. On the other hand, scurvy also afflicts the savages of Hudson Bay because of the unhealthiness of some aspects of their lifestyle. However, the adoption of the moeurs of policés peoples is not necessarily beneficial to the natives: «Peut-être aussi les mœurs des peuples policés, sont-elles plus contraires que leur climat à la santé des sauvages?», t. 4, Livre dix-septieme, chap. VI – Climat de la baie d’Hudson. Habitudes de ses habitans. Commerce qu’on y fait, qt.. p. 187. See also on climate and health in Louisiana: t. 4, Livre seizieme, chap. VI – Etendue, sol climat de la Louysiane; VII – Caractère général des sauvages de la Louysiane, & celui des Natchez en particulier, esp. p. 98.

[4] On of the evolution of Jefferson’s attitudes towards state power, international relations, territorial expansion and the use of force: F. D. Cogliano, Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson’s Foreign Policy, New Haven and London, Yale University Press 2014; for an in-depth study of Jeffersonian concepts and policies towards indigenous peoples: B. W. Sheehan, Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian, New York, W. W. Norton and Company 1973 (Sheehan’s theses are echoed by J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, New York, Vintage Books 1996, pp. 239, 404 note 54); A. F. C. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press 1999.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Smallpox, North America and a global Europeanness," in Geographies of Time, 01/04/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

«in the raging time of the small pox»

A new series on smallpox and the documentation of American otherness in the late Eighteenth century

The series in brief

This post inaugurates a series focussing on the perception of the effects of smallpox on the demographic decline of the native North American populations by some English-speaking writers in the eighteenth century. The series will highlight the awareness expressed by contemporary observers of the circulation of new infectious diseases imported from Europe into North America, and of the effects of these diseases – of which smallpox is a critical but far from unique case – on the decimation or incipient extinction of native peoples.

The aim of this series is to show how this awareness favoured, in English-speaking observers, the agglutination of the category of “European”, and an urgent need to document American human diversity before its disappearance.

Works by John Lawson, John Brickell, James Adair, and Cadwallader Colden are considered before dwelling on the Lewis and Clark expedition and on Thomas Jefferson’s role in the expedition’s cultural aims and interests in medicine.

Redman Coxe, Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, Philadelphia, Printed and sold by James Humphreys at the corner of Walnut and Dock-streets 1802. illustration preceding the title page, comparison of the development of smallpox and vaccine sores
Redman Coxe, Practical observations on vaccination, or, Inoculation for the cow-pock, Philadelphia, Printed and sold by James Humphreys at the corner of Walnut and Dock-streets 1802. illustration preceding the title page, comparison of the development of smallpox and vaccine sores at 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18-20 days after inoculation or contraction. In the same volume appear a letter by Jefferson in support of the vaccine practice and the data recorded by Jefferson during the Monticello experiments. Copy at Yale University, Cushing, Whitney Medical Library, no known restrictions on reproduction for academic use.

Diseases and epidemics in the Euro-American encounter: attributions of meaning and imperial constructions

The deep connection between geographical, historical, proto-ethnographic and medical knowledge of the American territory and its inhabitants, projects of colonial government and commercial expansion, is clearly visible in the accounts of the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis, together with Lieutenant William Clark between 1804 and 1806, in the Louisiana territory newly acquired by the young republic.

The institutional, scientific and symbolic value in North American history of the mission and the documentation collected could hardly be overestimated. Among Thomas Jefferson’s objectives in promoting it to Congress, geographical exploration and the establishment of diplomatic relations with native peoples go hand in hand with plans for colonial expansion, the search for a Northwest Passage to the Pacific and other possible advantages for the American fur trade.1

Among the expedition’s programmes there are also important aspects in the medical field, explored in depth by a historiography interested above all in the disciplinary history of medical knowledge and practices,2 with a prevalence of contributions written by doctors and medical historians, while reflections in the field of cultural history and aimed at reconstructing the perspective of the populations encountered by the expedition were rather rare.3 The expedition’s interests in the field of anatomical study and the inoculation of the smallpox vaccine as an instrument of diplomacy are set against the widely known background of the decimation of native populations by pathogens of European origin, of which smallpox is a sadly known and not unique occurrence.4  The role of germs, diseases, epidemics in the Euro-American encounter is in turn understandable as part of broader environmental and biological scenarios and processes of European expansion into America.5

The observation of the decimation of native populations by diseases to which European settlers were immune through early exposure dates back at least to Ralph Lane and Thomas Hariot’s 16th century. Equally old is the attribution of this mortality to a divine will, to a providential plan favourable to the colonists, proposed for example by Hariot.6 During the 17th century, disease had a profound effect on demographic dynamics in North America, and continued to reverberate on a cultural and religious level. While between 1616 and 1636 approximately ninety percent of the native populations of Massachusetts, Wampanoag and New England died from smallpox and other epidemics, Ferdinand Gorges, John Winthrop and William Bradford conceptualised what they observed in terms of a providential narrative. The semantisations of diseases and epidemics in a religious sense had profound repercussions on the dynamics of Christian missionary work.7  Interpretations of plagues as a form of punishment or divine sign in the Christian context, and later debates about the endemic origin of pathogens, fed the substratum of the hierarchisation of American ‘savages’ in a racial sense.8 Teleological visions of smallpox as written in the destiny of native populations were repeated until the late nineteenth century.9

The attribution of meaning to diseases and inequalities between groups in terms of mortality is to all effects part of the ideological tools of imperial constructions (not only) in the North Atlantic context. Individual and collective responses to epidemic phenomena incorporate elements at the intersection of medical theories, economic and political interests, and racial ideologies. Rationalisations of these phenomena, the cultural malleability of their interpretation always reveal specific social and political points of view. In the words of David Jones:10

Disparities can be seen as proof of natural hierarchy, as products of misbehaviour, or as evidence of social injustice. These assessments motivate or undermine interventions, influencing whether observers prevent an epidemic’s spread, treat its victims, or exploit its opportunities.


[1] M. Lewis and W. Clark, Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806, edited, with introduction, notes and index, by R. G. Thwaites, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company 1904, 7 vols., and vol. 8: Atlas accompanying the original journals, in quest’edizione: vol. I, Thwaites, Introduction, xvii-lviii, e V. H. Paltsits, Bibliographical Data, lxi-lxxxiv.

[2] E. G. Chuinard, Only One Man Died: The Medical Aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Glendale, CA, Arthur H. Clark Company 1979; B. C. Paton, Lewis and Clark: Doctors in the Wilderness, Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2001; D. J. Peck, Or Perish in the Attempt: The Hardship and Medicine of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Foreword by Moira Ambrose, Illustrations by R. F. “Bob” Morgan, Helena, MT, Farcountry Press 2002. Obiettivi divulgativi sono prioritari in Paton.

[3] Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country: The Native American Perspective, ed. by F. E. Hoxie and J. T. Nelson, Urbana, University of Illinois Press 2007; see also the namesake exhibition on Newberry Library’s website,; The Salish People and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ed. by Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee and Elders Cultural Advisory Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

[4] R. T. Boyd, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectiouus Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, 1774-1874, Seattle and Vancouver, University of Washington and UBC Presses 1999; R. T. Boyd, Smallpox in the Pacific Northwest. The First Epidemics, «BC Studies», 101, 1994, accessed via Anthropology Faculty Publications and Presentations, 141,; D. S. Jones, Epidemics in Indian Country, 2014, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, American History, doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.27; W. H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, Garden City, NY, Anchor Press-Doubleday 1976, specialmente cap. 5.

[5] A. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, Westport, CT, Greenwood 1972; J. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies, New York and London, Norton 1997; W. H. McNeill, The Global Condition. Conquerors, Catastrophes, & Community, Princeton, Princeton University Press 1992.

[6] D. S. Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics: Meanings and Uses of American Indian Mortality since 1600, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press 2004, pp. 20-45, anche per le successive note su Lane, Bradford e Hariot.

[7] N. Salisbury, Spiritual Giants, Worldly Empires: Indigenous Peoples and New England to the 1680s, in The World of Colonial America: An Atlantic Handbook, ed. by I. Gallup-Diaz, London and New York, Routledge 2017, pp. 153-170 vedi pp. 156-160.

[8] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics; J. E. Chaplin, Was Knowledge Power? Science in the British Atlantic, pp. 281-300, in The World of Colonial America, ed. by Gallup-Diaz, specialmente p. 286.

[9] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics, 105.

[10] Jones, Rationalizing Epidemics, 3.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “in the raging time of the small pox”: Il vaiolo e la documentazione dell’alterità americana tra fine Settecento e primo Ottocento, Diciottesimo Secolo, 6 (2021): 67-82, doi: 10.36253/ds-12544; ISSN: 2531-4165. This article is available in full green open access:

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "«in the raging time of the small pox»," in Geographies of Time, 01/03/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Vocabularies, Accounts, (Hi)Stories

Remarks on linguistic historicisation, concluding the Languages and/in time series

By paying close attention to the relationship between the vocabularies and the narrative accounts in travel journals, it is possible to trace the subtle changes gradually taking place in the relationship between the use of written sources and the value placed on direct observation. Writings such as Sagard and Carver’s represent different stages in a process of complex negotiation between first-hand experience as a validating factor of knowledge and pre-existing cultural notions. Far from being a linear process, this negotiation produced different outcomes in each case, making it necessary for an in-depth analysis of each source within its specific cultural and historical context. These early vocabularies are a fascinating example of the thematisation of issues connected to how orality is documented, and of the axiological and temporal hierarchisation of linguistic forms and media, as the Dixon-Beresford account makes particularly evident. Vocabularies also reflect the gradual definition of a system of scientific disciplines from which indigenous American forms of knowledge are excluded. As made plain by Colden and Carver’s reluctant use of French sources, this, in turn, helped to consolidate the idea of a distinct European – and, later, Euro-American – cultural identity and civilisation, notwithstanding the existence of competing imperial projects.

While the way these lists are presented indicates a certain degree of objectivity in the way they were compiled, they are also evidence of the communicative common ground which the writer wished and/or was able to construct. They reveal the traveller’s interests and they faithfully reflect the specific circumstances of the encounters which occurred. These encounters might or might not have fulfilled the writer’s professed ambitions, as was particularly evident in the widely differing experiences of Long and Dixon. In other words, the range and content of each vocabulary reflects the specific nature of the setting in which the collection was made – whether it was a fleeting encounter, kept short by other commitments, or a prolonged sojourn, with the purpose of talking about the soul and winning the savages over to Christianity, or a meeting designed to create stable networks for trading and political alliances. Until the end of the eighteenth century, many of these encounters were the very first contacts between Euro-Americans and native Americans. From Lawson’s to North Carolina and the travels of Carver, to Cook and Portlock and Dixon’s North Pacific coast expeditions and the exploration of the surrounding areas by Lewis and Clark, the compilers of these lists had often no European precedents to refer to.

Through what appeared in them and, above all, through what did not appear, these vocabularies represent the linguistic companion piece to the conceptualisation of the indigenous Americans as ‘primitives’. As Lahontan and Lawson made quite clear with their remarks, the language of these ‘savages’, still to be civilised, was interpreted as a reflection of their extraneousness to the arts and sciences, of their inability to think in abstract terms, and of an ability to reason as yet uncultivated. From this perspective, during the eighteenth century, the vocabularies are simply the continuation of long-lasting, pre-existing stereotypes which led to the temporal collocation of the first peoples of America in a stage of development located in the past with respect to the European one. Of course, linguistic compilations are also the result of increasing curiosity about human diversity around the world and of fresh attempts to study and classify this diversity.

Whether these efforts to take a systematic approach resulted in a destabilisation of the ethnocentric point of view of the Old World, or in a hierarchy that reinforced European primacy are not mutually exclusive options: nor are they always clearly distinct – as Lahontan’s ‘good savage’ and his Romanticised descendants make clear.[1] In conclusion, while a close reading of the primary sources makes clear the importance of avoiding any over-simplified reading of these processes, it also makes it possible to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of the Native American within the wider process of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.


[1] Tim Fulford, Romantic Indians: Native Americans, British Literature, and Transatlantic Culture 1756-1830 (Oxford, 2006).


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Vocabularies, Accounts, (Hi)Stories," in Geographies of Time, 01/02/2022,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies

The temporal hierarchisation of the indigenous American other and the Lewis and Clark expedition: a new post in the Languages and/in time series

The endpoint of this survey is one of the most significant collections of indigenous American languages made at the end of the long eighteenth century: it was also the prelude to a whole series of systematic studies, grammars, and dictionaries that would go hand in hand with the establishment of linguistics and lexicography as autonomous academic-scientific disciplines in the nineteenth century. This endpoint was the collection of vocabularies prepared as part of the expedition west of the Mississippi led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark between 1804 and 1806. Promoted by Thomas Jefferson immediately after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the symbolic significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition in North American history can hardly be overestimated.[1]

Paradoxically, the historical noteworthiness of Lewis and Clark’s vocabularies is undiminished by the fact that they were lost before being published with the account. However, what can be gleaned from related sources place these vocabularies at the very crossroads of ethnographic curiosity, geographical and scientific exploration, colonial and commercial projects, and the temporal hierarchisation of the indigenous American other. Lewis and Clark’s journals and the rich array of other texts and maps amassed in the course of the expedition went through a particularly tormented publishing process, complicated by the death of Lewis in 1809.[2] The vocabularies were not included in the first edition (which drew on the journals and other sources, prepared by Nicholas Biddle and edited by Paul Allen).[3] An edition of the material pertaining to scientific observations as a supplement to the journals was planned under the supervision of Benjamin Smith Barton, naturalist and vice-president of the American Philosophical Society. After Barton’s premature death, Jefferson tried to gather together all the manuscript materials but, by then, the vocabularies (which according to Biddle were in Barton’s possession) had been lost. ‘They formed, I think,  a bundle of loose sheets each sheet containing a printed vocabulary in English with the corresponding Indian name in manuscript – recalled Biddle –. There was also another collection of Indian vocabularies, which, if I am not mistaken, was in the handwriting of Mr Jefferson’.[4]

Having passed through Biddle’s and/or Barton’s hands, then, or perhaps having remained in Clark’s possession, the twenty-three vocabularies collected during the expedition were never to arrive to the archives of the American Philosophical Society.[5]

What has survived is the empty form with lists of words in English which Jefferson designed to be filled in with the various native languages, the tantalising ghost of those ‘blank vocabularies’ mentioned in the ‘Documents relating to the equipment of the expedition’.[6] The journals, correspondence and prospectus for the edition prepared by Lewis all mention their being compiled in various locations during the journey.[7] Jefferson had planned to publish the Lewis and Clark vocabularies along with others he had compiled.[8] Sadly, his collection too was lost in 1809, on his trip back to Monticello after the end of his presidency:

I had thro’ the course of my life availed myself of every opportunity of procuring vocabularies of the languages of every tribe which either myself or my friends could have access to. They amounted to about 40 more or less perfect. But in their passage from Washington to this place, the trunk in which they were was stolen and plundered, and some fragments only of the vocabularies were recovered.[9]

The Lewis and Clark vocabularies were part of a broader project of systematic documentation which Jefferson had been promoting since the 1780s.[10] Within this framework, he also gradually perfected the above-mentioned blank form comprising around 280 commonly used English words, with empty spaces alongside for their translation, which was used by numerous collaborators of the American Philosophical Society.[11] On the one hand, linguistic knowledge was essential for the republican government penetration into those territories, which had seemingly become ripe for colonisation in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase. But this extensive knowledge was also meant to facilitate studies of the indigenous American historical past and of the genealogical relationships between languages (and nations) to ‘search for affinities between these and the languages of Europe and Asia’.[12]

I have long believed we can never get any information of the ancient history of the Indians, of their descent and filiation, but from a knowledge and comparative view of their languages.[13]

At the same time, the urgency of documenting these languages comes from the realisation of their speakers’ possible – indeed probable – extinction, given the processes set in motion by European expansion:

It is to be lamented then, very much to be lamented, that we have suffered so many of the Indian tribes already to extinguish […], it would furnish opportunities to those skilled in the languages of the old world to compare them with these, now, or at a future time, and hence to construct the best evidence of the derivation of this part of the human race.[14]

In point of fact, concludes Jefferson, an archive of indigenous American languages will make further research possible in the future.[15] What emerges from Jefferson’s project is thus a dual historical location of Native American languages: glotto-genealogical – designed to trace the origin of the first American societies through their languages – and programmatical – to be used at some point in the future for documentation and research. The role of linguistic compilers assigned to Lewis and Clark is the embodiment of that close connection between linguistics as natural history and new ideas of imperial expansion. The relatively independent status as texts of the expedition vocabularies, and the plan to publish them separately are indicative of a trend towards lexicographical collections being increasingly detached from the immediate context in which they were drawn up – the journey and its account – at the same time they are also, incidentally, the cause of the vocabularies loss.


[1] Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1904), 7 vols. In this edition see Reuben Gold Thwaites, ‘Introduction’, I, pp. xvii–lviii, and Victor Hugo Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, I, pp. lxi–lxxxiv. On Jefferson’s role: ‘Appendix’ in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 193–287, especially ‘Jefferson’s instructions to Lewis’, June 20, 1803, pp. 347–352; and ‘Ethnological information desired’, n.p., n.d., pp. 283–287; see also Thwaites, ‘Introduction’, pp. xxxiii–xxxiv.

[2] Paul Russell Cutright, A History of the Lewis and Clark Journals (Norman, 1976); Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, pp. lxvi–xciii; Gary E. Moulton, ‘Provenance and description of the journals’, in The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, ed. Moulton (Lincoln, 1983-2001), 13 vols, II, Appendix B, digital ed.: Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition,, section Journals; a partial publication is Message from the President of the United States (City of Washington, 1806); on which see also Paltsits, ‘Bibliographical Data’, pp. lxiii–lxv; the journal of sergeant Patrick Gass was published in Philadelphia in 1807.

[3] History of the Exploration under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, to the Sources of the Missouri (Philadelphia, 1814). Biddle’s version went through twenty editions in English by 1904.

[4] Letter from Nicholas Biddle to William Tilghman, April 6, 1818, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 408–410, quote on page 409; see also Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, pp. 394–396, see 395; Jefferson to John Vaughan, June 28, 1817, pp. 400–401; Jefferson to Peter S. Duponceau, November 7, 1817, pp. 402–404, see p. 402.

[5] Cutright, A History, p. 88 note 33; Megan Snyder-Camp, ‘“No general use can ever be made of the wrecks of my loss”: A reconsidered history of the Indian vocabularies collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition’, Wicazo Sa Review, 30/2 (2015), pp. 129–139.

[6] Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, p. 232.

[7] Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, I, pp. 132, 277; IV, pp. 12, 273, 275, 363; VII, pp. 212, 337, 365 (here for the prospectus), 394–395, 397 (here Clark to Jefferson).

[8] Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 394–396, quote on pages 394–395.

[9] Jefferson to Peter S. Duponceau, November 7, 1817, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 402–404, quote on page 403; see also Rivett, Unscripted America, p. 209.

[10] Rivett, Unscripted America, pp. 209–237.

[11] American Philosophical Society Historical and Literary Committee, American Indian Vocabulary Collection, a description can be found on the Society’s website: <>.

[12] Jefferson to Abbé Correa da Serra, April 26, 1816, in Lewis and Clark, Original Journals, VII, pp. 394–396, quote on pages 394–395.

[13] Jefferson to Colonel Hawkins, March 14, 1800, in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, ed. H. A. Washington (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 325–327, quote on page 326.

[14] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the state of Virginia (1783) (Chapel Hill and London, 1982), p. 101, emphasis added.

[15] Gordon M. Sayre, ‘Jefferson and Native Americans: Policy and archive’, in Frank Shuffelton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Jefferson (Cambridge, 2009), pp. 61–72.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies," in Geographies of Time, 01/12/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Futuristic fictions and power relations through the globe

Some remarks on the long history of imagined conflicts to come, against the backdrop of the emergence of a world technology-mediated interconnectedness – closing the future wars series

La guerre infernale’s case study, explored in this series on future wars which comes to an end with this post, can today foster a better understanding of how the representation of the future begun to work as a pliable setting for speculative narratives, and how related genres emerged and found success in early-contemporary European cultural consumption.

This 1908 feuilleton invites today’s reader to mind a plurality of levels, exploiting critical tools at the intersection of different scholarly traditions, so that it might in turn be used to provide concrete evidence of phenomena involving complex historical traditions and communicative circuits. In other words, what one might call a global microhistory of Giffard and Robida’s fiction locates its object against the backdrop of a long history of ideas, as an apt expression of the emergence of a world technology-mediated interconnectedness in its specific early-contemporary European historical and cultural context, and as a unique embodiment of its author(s) ideas.

Speculations about the future between the late-modern and the-early contemporary periods – from Guttin’s Epigone to Macaria, from Madden to Mercier and Condorcet – represent through fiction the deep changes that affected ideas of time in the European mind in the age of colonial expansion. Knowledge from remote parts of the globe and close encounters with other societies generated an information flow towards the centres of imperial powers, which fed new attempts at comprehend and systematise the varieties of the human life. Literature and illustration exploited – and some time, in the hands of authors such as H. G. Wells, called into question – the consolidation of history as progress. A consequent hierarchisation of human experiences, from the mid-nineteenth century on, informed the juxtaposition of spatially and temporally distant civilisations in complex cultural artefacts such as international exhibitions and fairs.

Futuristic fictions interpreted the increasingly central role that science and technology had in shaping everyday life, and, on a different scale, power relations through the globe. Literary and visual cultural products to be found in popular magazines and illustrated book collections, such as Robida’s works, shared the thematization of the future and the imaginative use of techno-science as wonder to be found in international expos especially from the 1880s on.

Satirizing the present, extrapolating possible consequences from coeval inventions and trends, offering a device to produce awe – or horror – in its readers, and putting techno-science at center stage in its narrative invention, Robida’s tomorrow is today all the more fascinating as it epitomizes a phase in the cultural history of the future in which the deep structures that informed the conceptualisation of historical time underpinned new forms of mass cultural consumption. In so doing, Robida’s imagination shows at work the genre’s distinct treatment of causal mechanisms in time: “These projections … playfully represent the colonisation of the future by the present, through the forceful extension of contemporary trends, and, at the same time, the returning feedback – colonisation of the present by the future, the reified anticipations, anxieties, and projects of our technoscientific problem-solving.”[1]

Between the seventeenth and the early nineteenth century, a long history of future-conflicts scenarios used to argue political options and to reflect on a secularised history, in which society might be shaped by human action. These works are precedent to the codification of future wars as a speculative fiction sub-genre with a recognisable set of conventions, appealing to a specific horizon of expectations. Technology as means of world interconnectedness as well as spectacle and source of wonder, anxieties fuelled by tensions between European powers and by the emergence of non-Western actors provided fertile ground to the fortunes of future-war narratives during the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Imagined conflicts to come put into focus the critical relations between technology and globalisation and between technology and power relations that characterised a mature phase of European imperialistic expansion.

In La guerre infernale’s representation of future warfare and its effect on society, an imagination that extrapolates from the compression of a global space-time through technology is at work, drawing on exhibitionary mechanisms made popular by those international expos with which Albert Robida was familiar, such as Paris 1981, 1989, and 1900. Robida’s case illustrates how shared mechanism between fiction and expos might be interpreted in light of an isomorphism derived from the existence of a common matrix – a shared set of roots in the same cultural-historical context – as well as of a complex set of mutual influences, including the adoption of the same science-fictional mechanisms by the creative agencies involved.

Like other future-war narratives, La guerre projected fears of a techno-scientific driven modernity applied to armed conflicts. After 1918, war experienced in the heart of Europe will favour the pessimistic shift represented by L’Ingénieur Von Satanas. Yet, already before 1915, many recent experiences outside the European space (from Southern Africa with the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars, to Manchuria with the Russo-Japanese War, from French Indochina with the Franco-Siamese War to China with the Boxer rebellion) gave an immediate evidence to fears that took centre stage in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century European mass media. Giffard and Robida’s feuilleton, with its serialised formula, exploitation of sensational plot elements, and ability to tap into widespread anxieties, was again an excellent example of that in many ways.


[1]   Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 91.


This post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22 (2019): 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 124-126. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706.

Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Futuristic fictions and power relations through the globe," in Geographies of Time, 01/11/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Translation and Appropriation in the (Indigenous) Eighteenth Century

Canadian Society for the 18th Century Study (CSECS) & Midwestern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (MWASECS) Annual conference: 13–16 October 2021 @ University of Winnipeg. Translation and Appropriation in the Long Eighteenth Century

I am thrilled to be part of an incredibly stimulating and diverse programme. I look forward to share research experiences, questions, and perspectives at the Roundtable Researching in the Indigenous Eighteenth Century:

Thursday, 14 October 2021, 2:45-4:00 pm / jeudi, 14h45-16h (ET time = 7:45pm London time)
3F. Roundtable / Table ronde: Researching in the Indigenous Eighteenth Century
Moderator / Modérateur, modératrice : June Scudeler (Métis, Simon Fraser University)

Roland Bohr (University of Winnipeg)
Mary Baine Campbell (Brandeis University)
Dr. Peter I-min Huang (Tamkang University, Taiwan)
Giulia Iannuzzi (Birkbeck, University of London – Universities of Florence and Trieste)
Livia Jacob (Rio de Janeiro State University)
Fred Leonard (Haudenosaunee Historian and Author)
Peter Cooper Mancall (University of Southern California)

I will be presenting my lates research on indigenous languages in eighteenth-century European travel accounts on Friday, contributing to a stimulating panel on Places and peoples, part of the Indigenous Eighteenth century programme:

9:00-10:15 am / vendredi, 9h-10h15 (ET time = 2pm London time)
Session 5 / Séance 5
5E. Panel : Places and People
Moderator / Modérateur, modératrice : Mark Meuwese (University of Winnipeg)
Lauren Beck (Mount Allison University), Eighteenth-Century Indigenous Influences on Canada’s Place Names
Giulia Iannuzzi (Birkbeck, University of London – Universities of Florence and Trieste), ‘The language of Uncultivated Man, in Remote and Fresh Discovered Quarters of the Globe’: Nuu-chah-nulth People and the Conceptualization of Linguistic Otherness in the Account of Cook’s Third Voyage
Andreas Motsch (University of Toronto), Native American Belief Systems between Nature and Culture, Religion and Idolatry: Picard and Bernard’s Cérémonies et coutumes de tous les peuples idolâtres

Conference website at this external link

Full conference programme at this external link

James Cook and James King (ed. John Douglas), A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean … (London: 1784), appendix VI, “Vocabulary of the Language of Nootka and King George’s Sound, April 1778”. Copy at Biodiversity Heritage Library under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license.

Comparative Ambitions and Merchandise in Late Eighteenth-Century North America

Vocabularies between scientific enquiry and colonial interests: a new post in the Languages and/in time series

The end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century saw a phase of increasing activity in the systematic compilation of vocabularies appended to travel accounts. The aims of scientific enquiry and commercial and colonial interests remained closely intertwined. This is the case, for example, of the James Cook’s third voyage, and of the expedition led by George Dixon and Nathaniel Portlock who followed the route opened by Cook’s third voyage. Leaving England in 1785, Dixon and Portlock aimed to explore the region of the Great Lakes, Quebec and the Pacific coast, to then continue on to China to sell American furs and buy tea in Macau. Dixon, who had been on board the Discovery with Cook, looked for support for the new expedition from the Royal Society by seeking the endorsement of Joseph Banks. The voyage was organised by Richard Cadman Etches and Company (also known as King George’s Sound Company), and before leaving, a licence was purchased from the South Sea Company. Exploiting the recently established North-Pacific routes to China for the fur trade was combined with objectives in exploration and scientific research.[1] In Cook’s journal, prepared for the press by John Douglas and published in 1784, the comparative tables of languages, part of the appendixes, reveal the composite and complex nature of the official account as a collective artifact. Composed by Douglas, they merge information recorded on the field by Cook and by the Resolution’s surgeon William Anderson with knowledge from other sources, and are explicitly offered as linguistic proof of the relationships connecting the history of different populations, such as the common origins of Esquimaux (Eskimos) and Greenlanders.[2]

A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound
“A View of the Habitations in Nootka Sound,” engraving after Webber, in Cook, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, 8vo edition printed for John Stockdale, Scatcherd and Whitaker, John Fielding, and John Hardy (London, 1784), plate after page 252. The houses and canoes of the natives are seen from the sea. There is one group communicating with sailors on the shore, and a second group near other sailors arriving in a small rowboat. Conifers and hills in the background. Copy at Wellcome Library.

Both Dixon and Portlock published accounts as soon as they returned.[3] Dixon himself wrote the introduction and appendix of his text, while the main body – in epistolary form – is attributed to the trader William Beresford.[4] The mission resulted in a number of areas being mapped for the first time (including Port Mulgrave, Port Banks, and Norfolk Sound – present-day Sitka Sound), and in materials documenting location, languages, manners and customs of the local populations. Dixon (or, in fact, Beresford) described the difficulty he met with while acquiring samples of the languages, both because of trouble finding common ground in the course of initial contacts, and because of other commitments interfering in the schedule, leaving too little a time for study and research.

I often endeavoured to gain some knowledge of their language, but I never could so much as learn the numerals: every attempt I made of the kind either caused a sarcastic laugh amongst the Indians or was treated by them with silent contempt; indeed many of the tribes who visited us, were busied in trading the moment they came along side, and hurried away as soon as their traffic was over; others, again, who staid with us for any length of time, were never of a communicative disposition.[5]

Words to indicate numbers offered the ideal raw material with which to write a short comparative summary of the languages spoken in ‘Prince William’s Sound and Cook’s River’, ‘Norfolk Sound’, and ‘King George’s Sound’. Methodological issues raised by the transcription encouraged a reflection on the absence of objective criteria and on the writer’s own linguistic notions and skills.[6] As for pronunciation – remarked Dixon – indigenous Americans had more success with English than do many speakers from other European countries. This comparison actually led to the category of ‘European’ being used, a category which appears very rarely in other parts of the account, such as in reference to the indigenous Americans’ skin colour being slightly darker than the Europeans’, and in relating the havoc wreaked by the Europeans in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) by bringing new diseases with them.[7] In the essential vocabulary of the language spoken on the Sandwich Islands’ that Beresford managed to write down in September 1787, despite the almost total absence of abstract concepts, the word taboo stands out. It was a term of Polynesian origin (e.g. Tonga, Fiji) already noted by Cook and here translated with the English interdiction, since it had yet to become the loanword universally known in European languages today.[8] In August 1787, Portlock (whose account shows comparatively less interest in the language of the populations he encountered) wrote down a list of words from the language spoken by the inhabitants of Montague Island (Alaska).[9] He prefaced it by remarking that ‘[t]heir language is harsh and unpleasant to hear’, and that he was transcribing it ‘spelled as near the manner of their pronunciation as I could give’. Of the fourteen entries what stands out is the peremptory nature of the opening sequence: ‘Give or hand me / sea-otter / bring’, and the central position occupied by the objects and goods important for trading – ‘sea otter’, ‘beads’, ‘iron’, ‘blanket’, ‘young sea-otter’, ‘a box’, ‘marmot or ermine skin’. What emerges frequently in these accounts by Cook’s followers, are the problems posed by a flow of oral production which proves difficult to document in writing. In this respect, illuminating comparisons can be made with how these travellers described music. Often used to mark key moments in the political and social life of the populations encountered, singing and musical performances heightened the impression that the aural dimension may be only partially and imperfectly conveyed by written registrations, and it often bring to light particularly interesting examples of cultural ethnocentrism on the part of the Europeans.[10] While it was unclear whether the ‘Indians’ ‘make use of any hieroglyphics to perpetuate the memory of events’, a primacy was implicitly granted to writing in documenting the past, giving support to a hierarchisation that relegated indigenous American forms of communication to the realm of ‘uncultivated barbarism’.[11]

Near the end of the century, another very interesting example of vocabulary relatively neglected by scholars is the one compiled by John Long in his Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader. Relating the author’s adventures between the 1770s and the 1780s, the Voyages were published in London in 1791, possibly in the wake of the success of Carver’s account.[12] Notwithstanding translations appearing in French and German the very same year of the English first edition, and two twentieth-century editions in English, the limited attention paid to Long’s Voyages by scholars is perhaps due to it being the only known work by the author, whose life remains obscure in many respects.[13] The title, together with the vocabularies in the appendix and the dedication to Joseph Banks (who is also listed among the subscribers of the first edition), makes it clear that Long hoped to offer a systematic contribution to current knowledge of the indigenous American languages. Cognisance and proficiency in Native American matters went hand in hand with the advocacy in favour political alliances with the First Nations in order to strengthen British interests north of the Great Lakes after the American War of Independence.[14] Long’s role in the Independence War, leading an irregular British-Indian troop, will scandalise the author of the preface to the Chicago 1922 edition.[15] Whether Long had a formal education in England is unknown, but the impression gained from his account is that the most important part of his education (and certainly his language learning) took place in Canada, in the field, and was shaped by mercantile interests:

On my arrival at Montreal, I was placed under the care of a very respectable merchant to learn the Indian trade, which is the chief support of the town. I soon acquired the names of every article of commerce in the Iroquois and French languages, and being at once prepossessed in favour of the savages, improved daily in their tongue, to the satisfaction of my employer, who approving my assiduity, and wishing me to be completely qualified in the Mohawk language to enable me to traffic with the Indians in his absence, sent me to a village called Cahnuaga, or Cocknawaga, situated about nine miles from Montreal […] where I lived with a chief whose name was Assenegetbter, until I was sufficiently instructed in the language, and then returned to my master’s store, to improve myself in French, which is not only universally spoken in Canada, but is absolutely necessary in the commercial intercourse with the natives, and without which it would be impossible to enjoy the society of the most respectable families, who are in general ignorant of the English language.[16]

This passage reveals quite clearly not only the author’s favourable attitude towards the Native Americans, as the vocabularies further attests, but also the presence of an intriguing plurilingualism in the eighteenth-century Montreal, where a command of French was essential, both to do any trade at all and to be a part of polite society. While the vocabularies in Long’s Voyages are still appendixes tacked on to the narrative, there is a noticeable shift in emphasis in comparison to the vocabularies described thus far. The presence of the vocabularies takes centre stage in the title page, as well as in how the book is organised: they occupy around a third of the total pages and have a complex inner organisation of their own. They are meant not only to translate English terms into Esquimeaux (Eskimo), for example, or into Iroquois (Mohawk), but also to enable the reader to make comparisons between different native languages. They include synoptic tables placing side by side English, Iroquois, Algonquin, and Chippeway; English, Mohegan, and Shawanee; English, Mohegan, Algonquin, and Chippeway. Long’s linguistic evidence integrates credited secondary sources (Lahontan, Carver, Jonathan Edwards), uncredited ones (Pehr Kalm), and original materials.[17] Kalm’s Travels into North America are referenced as source of an anecdote proving ‘that the Indians possess strong natural abilities, and are even capable of receiving improvement from the pursuits of learning’.[18] Other authors known and discussed by Long include at various points in the narrative are James Adair and Robert Rogers.[19]

John Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (1791), p. 196. Copy at John Carter Library.

Only for the Chippeway (an Algonquin language also known as Ojibwa and used as a vehicular trade language in the area north of the Great Lakes) is the list translating from the English accompanied by a list translating into English.[20] Most of the space is devoted to vocabularies meant to be used by European speakers, while the compilation’s fundamental connection to trade activities is made clear by the number of words related to the typical merchandise, and by a vocabulary particularly devoted to the names of furs and skins in English and French. Some entries inadvertently document pidgins and borrowings, such as tomahawk, clearly a borrowing from an Algonquin language, which is given as the English translation for the Algonquin Agackwetons and the Chippeway Warcockquoite.[21] Long’s interest is almost exclusively directed at words in common use, and abstract notions are excluded. The time expressions pertain to the ordinary, everyday dimension (such as ‘again, or yet’, ‘always, wherever’, ‘day, or days’, etc.), while the presence of a word such as ‘késhpin’, ‘if’, does not necessarily imply the hypothetical construction of probable or unreal scenarios.[22] Its use might well be limited to expressions of uncertainty or wish, as is the only occurrence reported by Long in a speech.[23]

The contexts, aims, scope, and manners of communication are perfectly exemplified by the ‘Familiar phrases in the English and Chippeway languages’ which illustrate what ethnolinguists today would call ‘speech acts’.[24] These phrases read in many instances like the simulation of a typical communicative exchange, with an opening exchange marked by a tone of friendly familiarity:

How do you do, friend?

In good health, I thank you.

What news?

I have none.

The two anonymous speakers exchange news and insights regarding the territory, the hunting and fishing seasons, and their respective families and personal experiences, before going on to discuss business. They call each other ‘friend’. The end of the phrasebook contains a series of expressions for paying personal respects. The content and general tone of the exchange suggest that perhaps Long’s adoption by the Ojibwa chief Madjeckewiss around the end of the 1790s was more than just a ruse to gain confidence and favourable trading conditions – as the practice was often exploited by European traders eager to become part of indigenous American kinship systems.[25] For Long, it might have marked a significant stage in a process regarding how the trader perceived and represented himself.[26]

I love you.

Your health, friend.

I do not understand you.[27]

Revealingly, the final expression on this list is a statement of incomprehension, an idea missing from Long’s previous lists, perhaps indicating an awareness of the length still to be travelled along the path of intercultural comprehension.


[1] Dictionary of Canadian Biography, IV, 1771-1800 (Toronto, 1979) and 1801-1820 (Toronto, 1983), electronic ed. 2003, <>, s.v. respectively ‘Dixon, George’ and ‘Portlock, Nathaniel’, by Barry M. Gough. On the expedition: Stephen Haycox, James K. Barnett, and Caedmon A. Liburd, Enlightenment and Exploration in the North Pacific, 1741-1805 (Seattle and London, 1997), pp. 13, 41–42, 122–123; Barry M. Gough, The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade, and Discoveries to 1812 (Vancouver, 1992), pp. 75–77.

[2] James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 1784), 3 vols, see III, pp. 531–555 for the comparative tables; [John Douglas], ‘Introduction’, in Cook and King, A voyage, I, pp. i–lxxxvi, see pp. lxxiii–lxxiv, lxxxv. On Douglas’ role: J. C. Beaglehole, ‘Textual Introduction’, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery, ed. Beaglehole, 4 vols (Cambridge, 1955-67; electronic reprint, 2017), III – The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780,tome I, pp. cxcviii–ccx; on Anderson: Glyn Williams, Naturalists at Sea: Scientific Travellers from Dampier to Darwin (New Haven and London, 2013), pp. 124–125.

[3] George Dixon [and William Beresford], A Voyage round the World, but More Particularly to the North-West Coast of America (London, 1789). Dixon’s account was translated into French the following year.

[4] For this attribution: Philip Edwards, The Story of the Voyage: Sea-Narratives in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1994), p. 127; Dictionary of Canadian Biography, s.v. ‘Dixon’; Albert J. Schütz, The Voices of Eden: A History of Hawaiian Language Studies (Honolulu, 1994), p. 36; Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, I, A–F (Lincoln and London, 1991), p. 406.

[5] Dixon, A voyage, pp. 227–228.

[6] Dixon, A voyage, p. 241; similar remarks accompany the vocabulary of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), p. 270.

[7] Dixon, A voyage, pp. 241, 238, 276–277.

[8] Cook and King, A Voyage, III, pp. 10, 537, 553; Dixon, A Voyage, pp. 269–270.

[9] Portlock, A voyage, p. 293 also for subsequent quotes in the text. This list possibly documents a language belonging to the ample stock of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tingit, to which some forty varieties belong today, between Alaska and Hudson Bay, and along the Pacific coast, from British Columbia to the South-West; Mithun, The Languages, pp. 1, 26, 307, 346.

[10] Dixon, A Voyage, pp. 160, 189, 190, 228, 242–243 and subsequent table, 259, 269, 277, 313 (here on China).

[11] Dixon, A Voyage, p. 243 on ‘hieroglyphics’, p. 245 on the ‘uncultivated barbarism’; on coeval claims that there could be no history without writing see Ann Thomson, ‘Thinking about the history of Africa in the eighteenth Century’, in Abbattista (ed.), Encountering Otherness, pp. 253–266.

[12] J[ohn] Long, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader (London, 1791). On Carver’s fortune possibly favouring the publication: John Long’s Voyages and Travels in the Years 1768-1788, ed. Milo Milton Quaife (Chicago, 1922), pp. xviii–xix.

[13] Subsequent editions are: Early Western Travels, 1748-1846,II: John Long’s Journal, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland, OH, 1904); John Long’s Voyages,ed.Quaife; German and French translations are published in 1791 and 1792 respectively; on Long’s biography: Michael Blanar, ‘Long’s Voyages and Travels: Fact and fiction’, in Jennifer S. H. Brown, W. J. Eccles, Donald P. Heldman (eds), The Fur Trade Revisited: Selected Papers of the Sixth North American Fur Trade Conference (Mackinac Island, 1994), pp. 447–463.

[14] Long, Voyages, pp. 9–10.

[15] John Long’s Voyages, pp. xii–xiii.

[16] Long, Voyages, p. 4.

[17] Long, Voyages, pp. viii, ix, 4, 10, 62, 83, 84, 130, 131. For a detailed listing of Long’s linguistic materials and their sources: Peter Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, in William Cowan (ed.), Actes du vingt-cinquième congrès del Algonquinistes (Ottawa, 1995), pp. 13–31, esp. pp. 14–16; at p. 14 note 2 Bakker differs from Gille, who defines Long ‘the most cunning plagiarist of the Petit Dictionaire’, Johannes Gille, ‘Zur Lexikologie des Alt-Algonkin’, Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, 71 (1940), pp. 71–86, see p. 75. Jonathan Edwards, Observations on the Language of the Muhhekaneew Indians (New Haven, 1788).

[18] Pehr Kalm, Travels into North America (Warrington and London, 1770-71), 3 vols; Long, Voyages, pp. 28–29.

[19] Long, Voyages, pp. 29, 31, 71–72, 149, 155 for references to James Adair, and p. 155 for a mention of Robert Rogers.

[20] Campbell, American Indian Languages, pp. 29, 401 note 135, 153. On Chippeway as a vehicular and inter-tribal language during the nineteenth century: Richard A. Rhodes, ‘Algonquian trade languages revisited’, in Karl S. Hele and J. Randolph Valentine (eds), Papers of the 40th Algonquian Conference (Albany, 2010), pp. 358–369. Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, p. 30.

[21] Campbell, American Indian Languages, p. 11.

[22] Long, Voyages, pp. 196–208: ‘A table of words shewing, in a variety of instances, the difference as well as analogy between the Algonkin and Chippeway languages, with the English explanation’; pp. 227–252: ‘Table of words: English: Chippeway’; pp. 253–282: ‘Table of words: Chippeway: English’.

[23] Long, Voyages, pp. 134, 234. For usage in hypothetical scenarios: John Horden, A Grammar of the Cree language (London, 1913), p. 33; John Summerfield, alias Sahgahjewagahbahweh, Sketch of Grammar of the Chippeway Languages (Cazenovia, 1834), pp. 11–13, 16–17.

[24] Long, Voyages, pp. 283–295, also quoted below in the text.

[25] Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, North American Indians: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010), electronic ed., pp. 99–109, 162.

[26] The linguistic analysis of the vocabularies and of the Chippeway texts scattered through the narrative leads Bakker to believe that ‘it is likely that the vocabularies, the dialogues and the speeches were all put together independently by the same person, most probably Long […] not the publisher or an editor’, Bakker, ‘Is John Long’s Chippeway (1791) an Ojibwe pidgin?’, p. 30.

[27] Long, Voyages, p. 294.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Comparative Ambitions and Merchandise in Late Eighteenth-Century North America," in Geographies of Time, 01/10/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Racial Fears and Techno-Apocalypses

A new post in the future wars series: yellow perils, bacteriological weapons, and futuristic inventions, before and after WWI

By 1908, the stereotypes and racialised representation of Asian populations used in Albert Robida’s feuilleton La guerre infernale – such as the demographic pressure and willingness to sacrifice millions of individuals (instalments 16, 24), the comparisons with insects such as ants (instalment 23, Les fourmis jaunes), the topoi of Oriental cruelty – were well established in popular Western yellow peril narratives and propaganda.[1]

In La guerre, bacteriological weapons are used to reduce their numbers (instalment 25, A nous le choléra!) but soon these weapons pollute the waters and affect the “whites” as well. Among yellow-perils coeval narratives, Jack London’s “The Unparalleled Invasion” ought to be mentioned for a similar idea of an annihilation of Chinese people operated – successfully in London’s case – by Western powers with bacteriological weaponry, after the realisation of China’s potential for world domination thanks to its demographic strength. Written around 1907 and first published in 1910, London’s short story is mainly set in 1976, and it is framed as written retrospectively from a yet even more distant future. According to John Swift “The Unparalleled Invasion” “clearly gives expression to an uneasy premonition, in London, in his culture, or in both, of the precariousness of white racial supremacy; but, more interestingly, it pays homage in language and plot to an emergent science and scientism that made racial anxieties simultaneously more frightening and more manageable.”[2] The parallel might help today’s reader to better grasp the significance of the yellow peril theme at the time, and to see how a grotesque exaggeration and satirical elements are exploited by Giffard and Robida’s in expressing in words and images racial fears.

The fear of an overwhelming wave is aptly represented by the image of an artificial hill made by soldier with their bodies, which the Chinese army erects on its march towards Moscow so that the officers can get a better view of their surroundings (instalment 28, Les Chinois à Moscou). The scene is described with horror by the narrator, who is following the Chinese army as a prisoner with other Westerners. In Moscow, horrible tortures and painful deaths await them, drawing on the topos of Oriental cruelty, not unprecedented in Robida’s work, nor isolated in popular French and Western publications, where, by the end of the 1880s, Chinese torture had become a fairly common topic in  public discourse, thanks not only to the interest in Chinese society and culture created by developments in East-West political and cultural relations such as the opening of a Chinese embassy in London in 1877 and the Chinese section at the 1878 Paris International Exhibition, but also to the proliferation of specific tropes in popular literature[3] (instalments 28 and 29, Dans l’avenue des supplices).

Albert Robida, illustration for La Guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), published in issue 28, “Les Chinese à Moscou”, 895. A Chinese army with prisoners in cangues advances towards Moscow; text reference: “Ce fut dans cet équipage que nous entrâmes à Moscou”. On this image see also Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination: Oriental Tortures from a Future Past in Albert Robida’s Illustrations for La Guerre infernale (1908)”, 2017, external link to full open access version.

Throughout the novel, nature is bent and shaped by technology: tunnels of gigantic proportions are excavated both by the Germans when they attack France, and in England where the Tube is re-purposed as a bomb shelter, transferring the entire capital underground (instalments 8 and 9).[4] The famous London fog is cleared with specially developed acetylene guns (instalment 10). To ward off Japanese battleships, the Americans create a cage of fire on the water using a system of oil pipes off the coast of Florida. Thanks to the genius of an inventor by the name of Erikson, the US Department of Power and Electricity manages to jam the Japanese compasses, and to freeze the water by suddenly removing the oxygen from it. Thousands of Japanese corpses are burnt, poisoning the air with a terrible stench. Similarly, by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and by electrifying the soil, thousands of casualties are caused on land, in a terrible exercise of “scientific massacre” (La tuerie scientifique, instalment 17).

La guerre infernale, as the precedent La guerre au vingtième siècle, with its rutilant imagination, and its narrative frame ultimately neutralising tragedy and destruction as part of a dream from which the protagonists wakes in the last pages, testifies Robida as – in I. F. Clarke’s words –

one of the very few … who found it possible to be funny about ‘the next great war.’ [5]

It is worth noting that the experience of the First World War will radically change his approach. Immediately after the conflict, Robida published a short illustrated in-folio album – Le Vautour de Prusse – and a 302-pages novel – L’Ingénieur Von Satanas – developing the same anti-Prussian reflections, and revisiting the war theme with a more pronounced anti-militarist spirit.[6] L’Ingénieur’s second prologue, taking place in the fictional “Peace Palace” in La Hague where a pacifist international conference is inaugurating the palace, in 1909, seems to suggest a direct reprise of La guerre, followed by its pessimistic fulfilment. Scientists, politicians, philosophers, and millionaires from all around the world are championing a pacific progress and greeting the beginning of a new global golden age, brought about by techno-scientific progress. But scientific marvels become means of mass destruction in the hand of the greedy Prussians, corrupted by the evil engineer Von Satanas, a diabolical figure recurring through the ages, that might as well be seen as the embodiment of human nature’s dark side and inclination towards violence and conflict. In 1929, Europe and the whole world have become home to a new prehistoric and barbaric civilisation, a post-apocalyptic land, with survivors living underground. Endless irregular lines of trenches, bomb craters, burrows and tunnels disfigure the Earth surface and render the similar to the Moon’s.

Without losing the adventurous edge that characterised La guerre as well as other Robida’s earlier works, L’Ingénieur offers a rather more pessimistic and sinister take not so much on science per se – which is presented as the key to a possible future of harmony and prosperity – but on the human ability to put differences aside and resist belligerent instincts.

The next post in the future wars series will summarise some conclusions about Robida’s work and war imagery as a laboratory for a global and futuristic mind set.

Albert Robida, L’ingénieur von Satanas: roman (Paris: 1919). Copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica. “Le gas! le gas! – crient-ils”.


[1]  Thoralf Klein, “The ‘Yellow Peril’,” EGO – European History Online, external link; John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats, eds., Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (London: Verso, 2014); John W. Dower, “Yellow Promise / Yellow Peril: Foreign Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05),” MIT Visualizing Cultures, 2008, see especially section ‘Yellow Peril’, external link. See also Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[2]  John N. Swift, “Jack London’s ‘The Unparalleled Invasion:’ Germ Warfare, Eugenics, and Cultural Hygiene,” American Literary Realism 35, no. 1 (2002): 59-71, qt. 60; see here 67 for remarks on the narration’s grotesque detachment, elements of a dark Swiftean approach, and an ironic distance between London and his narrator. On London, the Russo-Japanese war, and yellow peril fears see also Daniel A. Métraux, “Jack London: The Adventurer-Writer who Chronicled Asian Wars, Confronted Racism-and Saw the Future,” The Asia-Pacific Journal  8, no. 4.3 (2010): 1-10.

[3]  André Lange, “Le rire et l’effroi. Supplices et massacres orientaux dans l’oeuvre d’Albert Robida”, in Le Supplice Oriental dans la littérature et les arts, ed. Antonio Dominguez Leiva and Muriel Detrie (Neuilly-lès-Dijon: Editions du Murmure, 2005), 135-169 ; Jérôme Bourgon, “Les scènes de supplices dans les aquarelles chinoises d’exportation”, 2005, Chinese Torture / Supplices Chinois, accessed January 21, 2020, external link.

[4]  On the precedent of the tube in La vie electrique see also Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76, see I, 65.

[5]  I. F. Clarke, “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” Science Fiction Studies, 24, no. 3 (November, 1997): 387-412, see 398.

[6]  Albert Robida, Le Vautour de Prusse (Paris: Georges Bertrand, 1918); Robida, L’Ingénieur Von Satanas (Paris: La Renaissance du Livre, 1919), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, identifier: ark:/12148/bpt6k14217576. A brief mention is in Philippe Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1999): 354-378, see 376-377, note 18.


This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 122-124. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Racial Fears and Techno-Apocalypses," in Geographies of Time, 01/09/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe

Early-modern luxury timekeeping

An ivory diptych dial made soli deo gloria by Paulus Reinman (active 1575-1609), in Nuremberg around 1602, at the time an important centre of manufacturing specialised in scientific instruments, including sundials such as this one.

This sundial is part of a remarkable Italian collection of objects for measuring and representing time, at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

Pocket dials, formed by two leaves that fold flat when not in use with a string between the inner surfaces casting a shadow, were used to tell the time and, among other things, to regulate mechanical clocks, whose rapid technical development had by no means caused the abandonment of gnomon-based methods.

This dial worked at a multitude of latitudes, between Danzig and Sicily, listed on the vertical leaf. The finely decorated details and the very use of ivory for a secular luxury object indicate how it was intended for a wealthy clientele. The possibility of using it in a number of different places points to a potential user who was cosmopolitan in his or her interests, perhaps a noble with a refined aesthetic palate and friendships in various courts and cities of Europe, or perhaps a wealthy merchant with trades and interests around the Mediterranean, eager to show off his economic possibilities by surrounding himself with expensive objects.

The dial, around 11.5 x 9 cm, was to be oriented to the north by means of the compass encapsulated into the base. The string that served as gnomon had one end fixed immediately above the compass, while the other was inserted in one of six numbered holes on the vertical leaf to obtain different angles that made it usable at six different latitudes: the time was read by the shadow projected on one of the six rings on the horizontal surface. The list of cities on the vertical face indicates, for each place, the number corresponding to the hole to be used (54, 51, 48, 45, 42 and 39˚ N).

Ivory diptych dial by Paulus Reinman, detail. Photo by Geographies of Time, all rights reserved.

But this small object incorporated a remarkable plurality of functions. On the horizontal leaf the concave area with a fixed vertical pin is another sundial indicating the hour in two different systems which divided the day in 24 units: the Babylonian, beginning at sunrise, and the Italian, beginning at sunset.

On the vertical leaf two smaller sundials also constructed with fixed vertical brass pins indicated the number of hours of day-light in a given day of the year, between 8 and 16 depending by the position of the sun in the ecliptic (the one on the left, also with the signs of the zodiac represented around the edge) and the so-called “temporary” or “Jewish” hours – the division of the day in 12 parts, varying in length according to the time of the year (on the right).

On the top of the vertical surface there may be a windrose to identify the prevailing winds, and on the bottom an epact to calculate the date of Easter, such as in a very similar piece today at MAT – The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (accession number: 03.21.24), or perhaps a lunar volvelle with gilt-brass disc, such as in the specimen at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge (Holden-White collection no. 1935-42, accession no. 1688).

The two sundials on the vertical face are decorated with scenes of gallant life: a musician playing a string instrument with buildings in the background on the left and two lovers sitting on the right. The plants in both scenes perhaps intend to evoke the passage of time, recalling ideas of seasonality and cycles of life.

Thus, a multitude of technical and cultural trends converge in a minute object: the circulation of materials and luxury goods in Europe; the need for a standardized computation of time across geographical and political borders; the coexistence of mechanical and gnomonic systems of time calculation in the 1600s, and of different units of measurement of the year and day.

Further readings

Bruce Chandler and Clare Vincent, “A Sure Reckoning”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26, no. 4 (1967), 154-169.

Epact: Scientific Instruments of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, at Oxford, dir. Jim Bennett, 1998, current version 2006,, see “Paulus Reinman”, ad vocem.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Dialing in Early Seventeenth-Century Europe," in Geographies of Time, 23/08/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Trade, Curiosity and Colonial Exploitation in Eighteenth-Century Vocabularies

Geographical and/as chronological distance: a new post in the languages and/in time series

In 1703, the second volume of Lahontan’s Nouveaux voyages dans l’Amerique Septentrionale – a work destined to immediate wide circulation – featured a ‘Petit Dictionaire de la Langue des Sauvages’ based on the Algonquin language which, thanks to references made to it and numerous cases of plagiarism, enjoyed some success in its own right.[1] According to Lahontan, all the other Canadian languages resemble the Algonquin just as Italian resembles Spanish. The title page of the first English edition (printed in London in 1703), emphasises the idea of Algonquin being a vehicular language, describing the vocabulary as ‘a dictionary of the Algonkine language, which is generally spoken in North-America’ (title page of the first volume) and ‘A short dictionary of the most universal language of the savages’ (second volume). The idea is further reinforced by passages comparing the role of the Algonquin language in North America to that of Latin and Greek in Europe.[2] Current scholarship have read this hierarchisation both as the result of applying European classification criteria to the American context – thereby serving the purpose of cultural domination – as well as the Baron’s attempt to show off his knowledge of linguistic derivation theories.[3] As for its content, Lahontan’s ‘Petit Dictionaire’ includes words of frequent usage, with particular attention devoted to the fields of commerce and trade, military life, and the exploration and surveying of lands.[4] Elsewhere, in his Mémoires de l’Amérique septentrionale, Lahontan foregrounds the simplicity of the language, claiming it has no stress or accents, and that the limited vocabulary  regarding the arts and sciences reflects the speakers’ ignorance of such subjects – an assumption already made by earlier commentators, including the authors of the Jesuit relations.[5] The absence of any of the rhetorical ceremonial speech and flowery compliments, so common in European languages, also points to the speakers’ simplicity of customs and manners.

A similar approach was adopted a few years later by John Lawson, explorer and founder of two of the oldest European settlements in North Carolina, with interests in medicine, botany and natural history.[6] In his Voyage to North Carolina, Lawson inserted a brief vocabulary giving the English translation of words in Tuskeruro (Tuscarora), Pampticough (Pamlico), and Woccon.[7] The first of these, belonging to the Iroquois family, is a widespread trade language, while the second, part of the Algonquin family, is now extinct, meaning that Lawson’s testimony is one of the very few ever transcribed before the speakers’ community was decimated by smallpox and wars against the British and ended up being absorbed by the Tuscarora. As for Woccon, which belongs to the Siouan-Catawban family of languages, Lawson’s is still today the only surviving testimony.[8] Along with numerals, and goods and objects in everyday use, Lawson’s vocabulary includes expressions such as ‘I will sell you goods very cheap’, or ‘All the Indians are drunk’, which gives a more vivid idea of the context of his contacts with them. Of course, as current scholarship has pointed out, it also gives us a sense of the writer’s mixture of appreciation and contempt for his interlocutors.[9] While Lawson pays no systematic attention to linguistic genealogies and/or translation problems, his comments on indigenous American language skills are dismissive in the extreme. ‘Indians’ express themselves in a very rude manner.[10] Travel accounts reporting of eloquence and elegant style are not trustworthy:

To repeat more of this Indian Jargon, would be to trouble the Reader; and as an Account how imperfect they are in their Moods and Tenses, has been given by several already, I shall only add, that their Languages or Tongues are so deficient, that you cannot suppose the Indians ever could express themselves in such a Flight of Stile, as Authors would have you believe. They are so far from it, that they are but just able to make one another understand readily what they talk about.[11]

According to Lawson, the notable difference in the languages used by neighbours ‘causes Jealousies and Fears amongst them, which bring wars, wherein they destroy one another’, ultimately favouring the Europeans.[12] The language also bears witness to the influence that the European presence had already had: swearing is the first thing that natives pick up from the English, and they had no term for sodomy, before Europeans introduced the practice along with the word. The observation of language adds to the idea of the indigenous American as a good savage. Indeed, on the one hand he is to be pitied for being unpolished, uncivilised, and incapable of abstraction; on the other, he should be held up as an example of a man less corrupt than the European, possessing a pristine innocence. Lawson also makes the connection between knowledge of the American languages and plans to peacefully assimilate indigenous American cultures. A more enlightened colonial government would seek alliances with the native peoples by presenting the European – or, rather, the English – as a positive model:

[W]e should be let into a better Understanding of the Indian Tongue, by our new Converts; and the whole Body of these People would arrive to the Knowledge of our Religion and Customs, and become as one People with us […] we might civilize a great many other Nations of the Savages, and daily add to our Strength in Trade, and Interest; so that we might be sufficiently enabled to conquer, or maintain our Ground, against all the Enemies to the Crown of England in America, both Christian and Savage.[13]

Lawson, A New Voyage (1709), page225
Lawson, A New Voyage (1709), 225, ‘… here I shall insert a small dictionary of every Tongue, though not Alphabetically digested’. Copy at John Carter Brown Library.

A similar connection between apprehension of the Indian nations’ customs and languages, and colonial administration and policies can be found in Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations, partly based on written sources, and partly on the author’s first-hand experience as surveyor general of the New York province.[14] Colden’s text is preceded by a short vocabulary of French names, with the English and/or Iroquois translation. His aim was to enable his readers ‘to read the French Accounts or compare them with the Accounts now published’.[15] In Colden’s work the linguistic viewpoint is, in a sense, similar to the geographical one, and just as important in forming a knowledge of the territory and its history: they are both deemed essential to the success of the colonial project. The vocabulary includes names of nations, tribes, areas, villages and settlements, while footnotes are reserved for objects and activities pertaining to the everyday life, system of government and customs of the Five Nations. Subsequent reflections on Indian eloquence – from Cornelius de Pauw to Hugh Blair – did not usually devote much attention to Colden’s small vocabulary, borrowing rather from his transcriptions of speeches, being Indian eloquence the subject of much debate between fascination and scepticism.[16] In later years, Colden became familiar with Raynal’s Histoire deux Indes, a work rich in remarks on savage languages reflecting an infant mind and a vivid and profound imagination, consistent with Colden’s comparison of Native American powerful and sublime speeches to those of ancient Romans and Greeks, part of a broader employment of tropes intertwining geographical and chronological distance, i.e. drawing analogies between Native American costumes, manners, character, and virtues and those of the Europeans’ ancestors.[17]

After the Seven Year War, Jonathan Carver offered another example. A soldier and explorer born in Weymouth (today in Massachusetts), Carver published his Three years Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America in 1778. In just a few years, his account was translated into German, French and Dutch, and went through numerous editions on both sides of the Atlantic.[18] The appendixes to the travel book include ‘A short Vocabulary of the Chipeway Language’ and ‘A short Vocabulary of the Naudowessie Language’. As regards the former, it seems likely that Carver borrowed heavily from Lahontan, although a mere case of plagiarism would not explain the slight differences between the two compilations in a few instances, especially some regarding vowels, which might indicate the insertion of features from other sources and corrections based on first-hand knowledge.[19] In this respect, Carver’s Chippeway vocabulary is emblematic of his relationship with his Francophone sources: notwithstanding an open dislike for the French, he was familiar with their writings and drew upon them when needed.[20] His vocabulary of the Naudowessie, on the other hand, is the first – however short – vocabulary of the Dakota language ever to appear in print.[21] Carver documents a Dakota pidgin, learned according to an elementary process, as a set of ‘labels’ to be applied to ‘things’, without a grasp of grammar and rules. Entries include the common names of natural resources, terms to describe the environment, body parts, family names and social functions, and simple everyday activities. Sentences given as examples of how words are connected, are ‘correct in English, with the best possible substitutions of Dakota words as Carver knew them’.[22]

A man and woman of the Naudowessie; Carver, Travels through the interior parts of North America in the years 1766, 1767 and 1768 (1778), engraving, plate 3, following page 230. The Naudowessie would later be better known as Sioux or Dakota. The depiction includes various artefacts (bow and arrows, decorative bands and necklaces, a feather ornament for the head, a basket and teepees in the background. The illustration may be attributed to John Coakley Lettsom, who was involved in the editing of the 1778 London edition. Copy at Smithsonian Libraries.

In these eighteenth-century journals and travel accounts, the linguistic repertoires do not necessarily indicate an in-depth study of indigenous American cultures, but do reveal a growing interest in kinship systems, social organisation, and forms of government, which could all be useful to colonial policymakers for building alliances and gaining a foothold in a territory to make the European presence more secure. The compilation criteria adopted make it clear that the priority was to consolidate trade commerce and the exchange of goods, and extend the spaces of social interaction. There was an increasing awareness on the part of the British that good relations with indigenous American nations was a key factor in gaining the upper hand against competitors from different imperial structures.

The references to French texts in the writings of British or British-American authors show that there was a dual shift occurring as regards cultural identity: writers like Colden and Carver, despite their dislike and mistrust of French sources, and despite testifying to the open competition existing between imperial projects, still referred to their rivals to supplement their knowledge of American history and geography. The contact with American radical otherness, and the exclusion of indigenous American intelligence from the European system of knowledge gave impetus to the perception of a closeness between cultures of the Old World and ultimately to a sense of Europeanness.

Ideas of a European identity also underpin the practice of using the ‘good savage’ as a mirror in which the defects and shortcomings of the observer’s home society could be reflected. While the ‘Indian’ might be seen as trapped in an infant’s stage of development,[23] the abuses, vices, and wrongs perpetrated by colonisers, as described by Lawson for example, challenge the European example as desirable point of arrival in the process of civilisation.


[1] Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce, baron de Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages de Mr. Le Baron de Lahontan dans l’Amérique Septentrionale (A La Haye:, 1703), 2 vols. On Lahontan: Réal Ouellet (ed.), Sur Lahontan: comptes rendus et critiques (1702-1711) (Québec, 1983); on the Voyages circulation: Claudio De Boni, ‘Viaggio alla scoperta del buon selvaggio, ovvero l’immaginario utopico del barone di Lahontan’, Morus: Utopia e Renascimento, 7 (2010), pp. 145–156, see 148; on Lahontan’s vocabulary: Wolfart, ‘The beginnings of Algonquian lexicography’, esp. pp. 120–121.

[2] Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 198.

[3] Ursula Haskins Gonthier, ‘Une colonisation linguistique? Les Mémoires de l’Amérique septentrionale de Lahontan’, Études françaises, 45/2 (2009), pp. 115–129, see p. 119; H. Christoph Wolfart, ‘Lahontan’s Bestseller’, Historiographia Linguistica, 16/1-2 (1989), pp. 1–24, see pp. 4–5.

[4] Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 197; Gonthier, ‘Une colonisation linguistique?’; see the critical edition in Lahontan, OEuvres completes (Montréal, 1990), 2 vols, I, pp. 735–762 for a comparison with Jean-André Cuoq’s Etudes philologiques sur quelques langues sauvages de L’Amérique (1866) and Georges Lemoine’s Dictionnaire Français-Algonquin (1911).

[5] Lahontan, Nouveaux voyages, II, p. 199 ; Denise Cloutier, ‘Lahontan et les langues amérindiennes’, in Lahontan, OEuvres completes, II, pp. 1271–1277, see p. 1274, also for a comparison with Lejeune’s Relation (1634).

[6] Little is known of Lawson’s biography before 1700, see Hugh Talmage Lefler, ‘Introduction’, in Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1967), pp. xi–liv, esp. pp. xv–xxxix.

[7] John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History of That Country (London, 1709), see pp. 225–230.

[8] On Tuscarora: Lyle Campbell, American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (Oxford and New York, 2000), p. 24, see also p. 151; Marianne Mithun, A Grammar of Tuscarora (New York, 1976); Marianne Mithun, The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 16, 44–46, 100, 189, 199, 253, 388, 467, 532–34, 603, 605; on Pamlico and Woccon: Marianne Mithun, The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge, 1999),pp. 319, 327, 333, 501, 506. On Tuscarora and Woccon see also Harald Hammarström, Robert Forkel, Martin Haspelmath, Glottolog 3.3, <>.

[9] Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, 601.

[10] On ‘Indian’: Elizabeth Prine Pauls, ‘Tribal Nomenclature: American Indian, Native American, and First Nation’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 17 January 2008, <>; Michael Yellow Bird, ‘What We Want to Be Called: Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Identity Labels’, American Indian Quarterly, 23/2 (1999), pp. 1–21.

[11] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. 230.

[12] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. 230.

[13] Lawson, A New Voyage, p. 237.

[14] Cadwallader Colden, The History of the Five Indian Nations of Canada, which are dependent on the province of New-York in America (London, 1747), p. xi (first part autonomously published in New York in 1727). On Colden: John M. Dixon, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Ithaca and London, 2016); on the correspondence with Benjamin Franklin as regards American Indian nations in New York and Albany: Timothy J. Shannon, Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754 (Ithaca and London, 2002), pp. 110–111.

[15] Colden, The History, p. xv.

[16] Mr. de P*** [Cornelius de Pauw], Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains (Berlin, 1771), tome I, p. 121; Hugh Blair, Essays on Rhetoric (Dublin, 1784), pp. 49–50. As regards Iroquois polity, noteworthy is also Adam Ferguson’s use of Colden’s History in An Essay on the History of Civil Society (London, 1767), pp. 141–143.

[17] Helen Cowie and Kathryn Gray, ‘Nature, nation and nostalgia: Narratives of natural history in Spanish and British America (1750‐1800)’, Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 36 (2013), pp. 545–558, see p. 555; Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissemens et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (Geneva, 1780), 5 vols, see for example IV, chapter ‘VI. Gouvernement, habitudes, vertus, vices, guerres des sauvages, qui habitoient le Canada’. For general reference on conformité, resemblance between the ancients and distant people, between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century: Ginzburg, ‘Provincializing the world’.

[18] Jonathan Carver, Three Years Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America (Philadelphia, 1796); on the publication’s success see: Edward Gaylord Bourne, ‘The travels of Jonathan Carver’, The American Historical Review, 11/2 (1906), pp. 287–302.

[19] Percy G. Adams, Travelers & Travel Liars 1600-1800 (Berkley and Los Angeles, 1962), p. 84; Bourne, ‘The Travels of Jonathan Carver’; John Parker, ‘Introduction’, in Jonathan Carver, The Journals of Jonathan Carver and Related Documents, 1766-1770 (St. Paul, 1976), pp. 1–56.

[20] Carver, Three Years Travels, pp. i, ii.

[21] Raymond J. DeMallie, ‘Appendix II: Carver’s Dakota dictionary’, in Carver, The Journals, pp. 210–221, see p. 210. Naudowessies are also known as Sioux, shortened version of ‘Nadouessioux’, possibly a French variation from an Ojibwe term; Robert Sayre, Modernity and Its Other: The Encounter with North American Indians in the Eighteenth Century (Lincoln and London, 2017), p. 350 note 34; Campbell, American Indian Languages, pp. 88, 399 note 106.

[22]  DeMallie, ‘Appendix’, p. 212.

[23] Alexander Cook, Ned Curthoys, and Shino Konishi, ‘The science and politics of humanity in the eighteenth century: An introduction’, in Cook, Curthoys, and Konishi (eds), Representing Humanity in the Age of Enlightenment (2013; London, 2015), electronic ed.


This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Trade, Curiosity and Colonial Exploitation in Eighteenth-Century Vocabularies," in Geographies of Time, 10/08/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Should the readers become traveller themselves

Unwittingly documenting the finding of some common linguistic ground: vocabularies of North American languages, and elements for a periodisation

Vocabularies of American languages and lists of words in translation are to be found in travel literature since Jacques Cartier’s sixteenth-century journey to Canada, or Jean de Lery’s to Brazil. The transcribed word gave a name to an object unknown in Europe, for which there was no word available in the writer’s mother tongue. In so doing, it attested to the truthfulness of the account, presenting a notion that the author would have been unable to learn about without actually visiting the places described. The exotic unfamiliarity of the transcribed sounds might also have appealed to the reader’s sense of wonder and fascination.[1]

Since they were discrete appendixes which supplemented the main text while also being relatively distinct in typographical terms, often coming at the end and marked by a stand-alone title page, vocabularies also indicate that different agencies were involved in the construction of the book. An apt example is the French-Indian lexicon included in Cartier’s first relation on Canada (1534), probably the first to be written in French in the age of explorations after the French translation of fifty Brazilian and Patagonian words in Pigafetta (1525). Cartier collects Onondaga, Mohawk and Huron words, while some terms not belonging to any of these groups seem to point to the existence of the variety of “iroquoien laurentien” mentioned by the author.[2] The list is not always included in coeval copies: it was first added in Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s Italian version.[3]

It will come as no surprise that a list such as Cartier’s shows a preponderant majority of words related to spheres of the physical world (i.e. body parts, objects tied to the physical surroundings, and food). The list is structured around semantic clusters, which seem almost to have been organised on the basis of free association. Of the two words in the list that refer to a temporal dimension – giorno (day) and notte (night) – only the second is translated into Huron (Aiagla).[4] Also, the word Iddio (God), despite being the first in the list, shows a blank in the Huron column. There are no words for abstract semantic fields, an omission which, while in all likelihood derived from the practical circumstances of elicitation and collection of linguistic evidence, also confirmed the long-term prejudice that Native Americans were incapable of abstract thought.[5]

A similar lacking is also in Gabriel Sagard’s Dictionaire de la langue huronne appended in 1632 to Le Grand voyage du pays des Hurons, a fine example of proto-ethnographic curiosity written after the author had been a Franciscan missionary in Canada between 1623 and 1624.[6] Containing around 2,500 words and expressions, with a separate title-page and preface, Sagard’s Dictionaire explicitly presents the Huron language not only as rich in local varieties, but also constantly fluid and changing, a feature typical of imperfect languages just beginning on their path towards refinement.[7]

Our Hurons, and generally all the other Nations, present the same instability of language, and change their words so much that, with the passing of time, the old Huron is almost entirely different from that of the present, and it is still changing, according to what I was able to conjecture and learn by talking to them: for the mind becomes more subtle, and growing older corrects things and brings them to their perfection.[8]

It is the very savage nature of the Huron language that prevented the author from compiling a definite set of grammar rules:

[I]t is an issue of savage language, almost without rules, and so imperfect that even someone more competent than me would have had a hard time […] doing any better.[9]

The confusion as regards tenses is seen as a sign of intellectual infancy, and while there are words and expressions which place events in a familiar temporal dimension, there is no sense of historical stratification.[10]

Similarly, no other abstract sphere is represented except for those connected to missionary work (i.e. teaching and learning and the Christian religion) and linguistic curiosity (i.e. expressions for asking the meaning of words, or the French and/or Huron equivalent of terms) which complete the portrayal of everyday Huron life. Sagard’s dictionary thus reinforces a conceptualisation of indigenous Americans as being at the beginning of a process of refinement. This is thematised in his narrative by parallels between the Hurons and the ancient Spartans, while the Hurons’ simple mode of dressing is reminiscent of that of Franciscan friars, so that a missionary might feel closer to them than to many of his fellow Frenchmen and women.[11] While the main narrative body of Sagard’s Voyage is highly indebted to previous written sources such as the works by Samuel de Champlain and Marc Lescarbot, the dictionary shows greater originality and reveals the author’s proto-ethnographic curiosity and his ability to observe his interlocutors with a fresh eye.[12]

Is it possible to individuate an eighteenth-century phase within the longer history of the textual genre linguistic collections annexed to travelogues? Between the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, vocabularies began to portray an expanding variety of contact situations, bearing witness to the increasing diversity of European actors and their objectives in North America.[13] While the wordlists still served to reinforce the credibility of the account and pique the reader’s interest, more practical aims started to become prominent. They gradually became stores of useful expressions, toolboxes for the readers should they become traveller themselves, and they often contained ready-to-use formulaic expressions recording typical conversational exchanges.

The increasing presence of a proto-ethnographical curiosity shaped the recording of the language as part of a broader cognitive project as regards the American otherness. Vocabularies embody the coming together of a whole range of different objectives, scientific and communicative, religious and commercial. They lay bare the ties that bind the systematisation of knowledge as regards the customs and manners of peoples across the globe and projects of colonial dominance and expansion. While the partitioning of disciplinary-academic knowledge – including linguistics and ethno-anthropological sciences – would come to full fruition in the nineteenth-century, the curiosity about North American languages of eighteenth-century explorers, traders, and administrators, needs to be seen against the backdrop of broader reflections on human diversity and attempts to systematise it. In Anthony Pagden’s words:

In the eighteenth century […] the discussion over the languages of the “primitive”, the “savage”, the “barbarian”, became a key register in which theories of evolution and development were established – as well as the relative worth and hence possible commensurability of American societies.[14]

In the North American context, hopes of tracing back the obscure origins of the American populations and identifying affinities between different nations often rested upon linguistic genealogies. Those who compiled vocabularies based on first-hand experiences of contact were often aware that their contribution might have an impact on ongoing debates on the origins and nature of the American societies by bringing new evidence to light. In a system of knowledge in which there was still no clear-cut distinction between scholars and amateurs, it was not uncommon for authors of travel accounts to put forward opinions regarding the possible history of languages, and, on the basis of linguistic similarities, argue for example that the origin of the indigenous American nations lay in China or Israel.

From the end of the eighteenth century onwards, several wide-ranging initiatives were set in motion, such as that of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, in particular during Catherine II’s reign (1762-1796), and with specific regard to the geographical area of interest here, the one by Thomas Jefferson, Stephen DuPonceau, and Albert Gallatin.[15]  The latter, with its recording of Native American languages using a uniform standard of written registration, called for a network of correspondents and administrators to cooperate in the initiative, fundamentally contributing to the rise of North American comparative linguistics.[16]

In making a point of separating the lexicographical aspects from the narration of personal experience, Jefferson’s project exemplifies the role of linguistics in the making of a Euro-American identity. In response to Buffon’s denigrations of the ‘New World’, an American culture was being forged which, while appropriating and transposing native cultures, at the same time exploited linguistic facts as a further basis for cultural hierarchisation.[17] Compared to previous examples such as Cartier’s vocabulary, later eighteenth-century compilations retain a conceptual and typographical structure which places two (or more) languages facing each other, divided by punctuation marks, or by the empty space in their respective columns. As Laura J. Murray has argued in what is still one of the most informative contribution on this topic, the visual appearance of the page suggests the existence of two different codes, between which semantic equivalence (or the lack of it) is recorded.[18] Of course, what might be more revealing is what lies in the blank spaces between the columns.

Along with the first-hand observations by writers lamenting the difficulties involved in collecting and transcribing samples of languages, historical linguistics has shown how vocabularies and lists of terms and expressions are produced through a cultural and linguistic contact, often unwittingly documenting the finding of some common linguistic ground, including the birth and development of trade jargons and pidgins.[19]


[1]  Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, pp. 593 and 617, note 4.

[2] Bruce G. Trigger (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, vol. XV, Northeast (Washington, DC, 1978), pp. 334–343. On Cartier: Fernand Braudel (ed.), Le monde de Jacques Cartier: L’aventure au XVIe siècle (Montréal et Paris, 1984); Bruce G. Trigger, Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660 (Kingston and Montreal, 1976), pp. 177–207; on linguistic issues and for a comparison with later sources: Marius Barbeau, The Language of Canada in the Voyages of Jacques Cartier (1534-1538) (part of National Museum of Canada, Bulletin 173, pp. 108–229, Ottawa, 1959).

[3] Jacques Cartier, Relations (Montréal, 1986), p. 224.

[4] Entries in Italian according to Ramusio’s version reproduced in Cartier, Relations, pp. 225–226.

[5] Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, p. 598. On translation and religion during the Seventeenth and the Eighteenth centuries: Kim, Strange Names of God; Martin Mulsow, ‘An “Our Father” for the Hottentots: Religion, Language, and the Consensus Gentium’, in Carlo Ginzburg, Lucio Biasiori (eds), A Historical Approach to Casuistry: Norms and Exceptions in a Comparative Perspective (London and New York, 2019), pp. 239–261, esp. pp. 246–247 on the question de la raison and the consensus gentium. On the connection between the ability to use language, the ability to reason, and civil society: Pagden, The Fall, 15–16; Pocock, Savages and Empires, pp. 2–3, 158–171; Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi, p. 4.

[6] Gabriel Sagard, Le Grand voyage du pays des Hurons suivi du Dictionaire de la langue huronne (Montréal, QC, 1998); Dictionary of Canadian Biography, I, 1000-1700 (Toronto, 1966), electronic ed. 2019, <>, s.v. ‘Sagard, Gabriel’, by Jean de la Croix Rioux. On proto-ethnography: Rolando Minuti, ‘L’anthropologie dans l’Encyclopédie méthodique: Les sauvages de Jean-Nicolas Démeunier’, in Martine Groult and Luigi Delia (eds), Panckoucke et l’Encyclopédie méthodique: Ordre de matières et transversalité (Paris, 2019), pp. 367–381, esp. pp. 367–369. See also Christopher Fox, Roy Porter, and Robert Wokler (eds), Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth-Century Domains (Berkley, Los Angeles, 1995).

[7] For a discussion of Sagard’s Dictionaire from a linguistic standpoint: John L. Steckley, ‘Trade goods and nations in Sagard’s Dictionary: A St. Lawrence Iroquoian perspective’, Ontario History, 104/2 (2012), pp. 139–154. It is probably the title-page that causes the Dictionaire to be sometimes listed as an autonomous work, but the reference to it in the Voyage’s main title leaves no doubt as to it being the author’s intention to include it in the account. See Thomas W. Field, An Essay towards an Indian Bibliography (New York, 1873), p. 342.

[8] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, p. 346, translations by the author.

[9] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, pp. 347, 148.

[10] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, p. 345.

[11] Sagard, Le Grand voyage, pp. 199–200 and 233–234. On the ‘well-established sixteenth-century literary genre, which traced the resemblances between a modern language and an ancient to prove the nobility of the former’, see Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Provincializing the world: Europeans, Indians, Jews (1704)’, Postcolonial Studies, 14/2 (2011), pp. 135–150; quote on page 136.

[12] Samuel de Champlain, Œuvres complètes de Champlain (Québec, 2019) 2 vols; Marc Lescarbot, Histoire de la Nouvelle France, édition augmentée (Paris, 1617). For a discussion of de Champlain and Lescarbot in Sagard see the notes by Jack Warwick in the above-mentioned editionSagard, Le Grand voyage, and the footnotes by Ugo Piscopo in Gabriel Sagard, Grande viaggio nel paese degli Uroni 1623-1624 (Milan, 1972). On Sagard’s Voyage as the attainment of a collective experience: Jack Warwick, ‘Introduction’, in Sagard, Le Grand voyage, pp. 7–72, see pp. 35–40. For the dictionary, the existence of unpublished sources cannot be ruled out, but as of today this remains a hypothesis, and possible sources have not yet been identified.

[13] See Mulsow, ‘An “Our Father” for the Hottentots’.

[14] Anthony Pagden, European Encounters in the New World (New Haven and London, 1993), p. 120.

[15] Peter Simon Pallas [Hartwig L. C. Bacmeister, and Christian G. Arndt], Linguarum totius orbis vocabularia comparativa (Petropoli, 1786); Harriet E. Manelis Klein and Herbert S. Klein, ‘The “Russian collection” of Amerindian languages in Spanish archives’, International Journal of American Linguistics, 44/2 (1978), pp. 137–144.

[16] Sarah Rivett, Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation (Oxford, 2017), esp. pp. 182, 223. Jefferson’s project is dealt with in the following pages in connection with the Lewis and Clark expedition.

[17] Antonello Gerbi, La disputa del nuovo mondo: Storia di una polemica: 1750-1900 (new ed., Milan, 2000); Regna Darnell, ‘Language typology and ethnology in nineteenth-century North America: Gallantin, Brinton, Powell’, in Sylvain Auroux, E. F. K. Koerner, Hans-Josef Niederehe, and Kees Versteegh (eds), History of the Language Sciences / Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaften (Berlin and New York, 2001), II, pp. 1443–1452; Regna Darnell, ‘Anthropological linguistics: Early history in North America’, in William Frawley (ed.), International Encyclopaedia of Linguistics (2nd ed., Oxford, 2003), I, AAVE-Esperanto, pp. 95–98. See also Sean P. Harvey, ‘“Must not their languages be savage and barbarous like them?” Philology, Indian removal, and race science’, Journal of the Early Republic, 30/4 (2010), pp. 505–532.

[18] Murray, ‘Vocabularies’, p. 600.

[19] Goddard, ‘The use of pidgin’, p. 62.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

Contact me if you wish to receive a pdf.

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Should the readers become traveller themselves," in Geographies of Time, 20/07/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Visualising a global war: La guerre infernale

A new post in the future-wars series: Robida and the world war of the future

La guerre infernale was written by Pierre Giffard and illustrated by Albert Robida.[1] Published in weekly instalments in 1908, La guerre infernale gives the future-war genre a satirical edge, offering a scenario in which a global conflict of massive proportions breaks out in consequence of an argument between the German and the English ambassadors over the serving order of the dessert at a dinner. To add to the irony, the dinner is taking place during the Conférence de la paix, the annual meeting of a philanthropic organisation founded by Nicholas II of Russia in 1895. In 1937, the protagonist and narrator is covering the conference periodical summit at the Hȏtel de l’Entente Universelle in La Hague, for the Paris newspaper L’an 2000, when the war breaks out. While the conflict is triggered by a disagreement between European powers, the role of Japan and China in its outcome is a clear reminder of the Russo-Japanese War of a few years before.

Novelist, reporter, illustrator, watercolourist and engraver, Albert Robida (1848-1926) is today regarded as one of the founding fathers of science fiction, and recognised as a key figure on the cultural scene of the French Third Republic. He extensively worked as editor and collaborator of Paris periodicals such as La Caricature, and imagined visionary portrayals of a future society shaped by the technological inventions exhibited at International World Fairs such as Paris 1881, 1889, and 1900.  During his life, he illustrated ninety-four books, of almost fifty of which he was sole author.[2]

 With Giffard – a fellow journalist specialised in sport, who covered the Russo-Japanese war in 1904[3] Robida collaborated in various editorial projects already during the 1880s-1890s. These included the pictures for the humorous La vie en chemin de fer and La vie au théâtre (1887-1888) and La fin du cheval (1899) on the means of transports that were soon to replace horse-drawn carriages and the socio-economic advancements that they would bring about.

Giffard himself (1853-1922), after taking part in the 1870 war as one of the youngest lieutenants in the French armée auxiliaire, had become a journalist. He collaborated with numerous newspapers and periodicals including Le Figaro, covering, among other things, the technological developments in transport and communications exhibited at Paris 1878, and travelling the world as a correspondent, from war zones such as Algeria and southern Tunisia amongst others. Creator of French cycle and car races, he became editor-in-chief of Le Petit Journal in 1887, until moving to Le Vélo in 1896 after a few years of collaboration under a pseudonym, and then to L’Auto in 1904.

One may assume thatone of the reasons Giffard mentions for choosing a humorous slant in his work on the railway in the “Préface” of La vie en chemin de fer also applies to La guerre infernale :

… avec la forme humoristique l’auteur a pu s’assurer le concours de l’un des crayons les plus spirituels de notre époque, et c’est là un gros atout dans son jeu, pour ne pas dire plus.[4]

He is referring to none other than Robida, of course, whose contribution is very likely to have been more than just illustrating: many themes and inventions are reprises of ideas and scenarios already imagined in the above-mentioned Le vingtième siècle, and its sequel La guerre au vingtième siècle, including means of instant communication, aerial means of transport, innovative weapons.[5] Furthermore, La guerre infernale shares with other works by Robida an interest in social aspects (such as the role of women),[6] and in the consequences of technology for everyday life and customs and habits. As Philippe Willems has summarised,

what really distinguishes Robida from other nineteenth-century writers of conjectural fiction is the depth of his portrayal of the future, the real-life dimension … halfway between Jules Verne’s detailed mechanical explanations and H. G. Wells’s psychological realism.[7]

The global backdrop against which the protagonists’ adventures take place, unlike the mainly French and Parisian setting of Le vingtième siècle and La vie electrique, is reminiscent of the Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul (1880).[8] Paris serves nonetheless as a barycentre for the adventures of La guerre infernale’s protagonist. It is to the French capital that he returns between his adventures in the Atlantic and in Russia, and it is to Paris that knowledge and news always flow and are collected and sorted, near the palaces where the crucial decisions are discussed by French authorities.[9]

In fact, La guerre infernale plays up a global dimension brought onto the stage of individual experience and perception by the use of new means of transport and communication that earlier works by both Giffard and Robida had represented in different contexts and/or with different strategies.[10] The first instalment, tellingly entitled La Planète en feu, presents the idea of a global dimension compressed by the instantaneous nature of the telephone: awoken in the middle of the night by a massive fire starting in La Hague, the protagonist discovers that a war has started, but is unable to track down the incident that originated it. He will receive news of what happened in the very same hotel he is staying at only via a colleague in Paris, who gets a phone call from La Hague at the Café Krasnapolski. Similarly, it is the telephone that makes it possible to deliver ultimatums and institutional communications in real time, activating the various alliances that cause the conflict to escalate first to a European and then to a global dimension.[11]

Means of transport are at the centre stage from the very first pages, allowing the protagonist and his companions to travel throughout Europe and across the globe. They use an aérocar to head back to Paris, since the editor-in-chief asks the protagonist to cover the conflict for the newspaper L’an 2000, only to be redirected to the French aerial arsenal at the base in Mont Blanc.

Albert Robida. “Nouvelles du Grand Lac Salé”, Le Journal Amusant, no. 759, July 16, 1870: 3, detail. Source: Gallica, On this image see also Daryl Lee, “Robida’s Mormons”, Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 13 mai 2019, DOI :

The massive Mont Blanc arsenal (to the description of which the second instalment, Les Armées de l’air, is almost entirely devoted) includes a Leviathan formation composed by 150 attacking aircrafts, supported by a regiment of bicycle-sized, extremely manoeuvrable flying machines operated by couples of pilots and gunners. Furthermore, aerial warfare brings about consequences in the life of civilians (e.g. the use of individual shields and the construction of subterranean cities), in terms of tactics and strategies, and in the existence of specific authorities (e.g. the ministère de l’Aérotactique, ministry of aerotactic, already imagined in La vie électrique).[12] A German bombing strikes the chemical section of the compound, where bacteriological weapons are being developed,[13] causing 150 deaths. But tragedy of even bigger proportion is reported from Belfort, blown up by a massive quantity of explosives that German soldiers placed under the city using a gigantic tunnel excavated from the Black Forest.

The first part of the novel is devoted to the conflict as it unfolds in Europe, with the German Reich attacking the French Mont Blanc base as well as bombing cities in France and bringing war to the other side of the English Channel. After an aerial battle in the skies above London, the protagonists and his friends end up stranded above the Sargasso Sea, where the only way to allow the others to regain altitude and leave the polar region is to drop the body of a dead companion. The passage to the Atlantic marks the passage of the narrative backdrop from a European to a global scale.

Along with submarines and hommes-crabes (6), the naval warfare is no less impressive: over the Atlantic the protagonist admires the American warship Minnesota on patrol: “Mille tonnes de deplacement, cinq turbines, trois arbres à helicer, un developpement al 15000 chevaux faisaient alors du Minnesota le Croiseur le plus rapide du monde” (instalment 12: 380). When cholera is used to wage bacteriological warfare in Russia against Chinese armies, a “train sanitaire” operates between Orenburg and Rostov, to help infected “whites” (instalments 25 and 26).

Economic interconnectedness is also put to use by battling countries. During the first days of the war, Britain floods Germany with false Deutschmarks in order to sink its economy (instalment 5), and when European powers coalesce against the threat of an invasion from China a “yellow tax” is approved within the alliance to fund the war against Asian powers (instalment 21).

In fact, while there is a treaty in place at the beginning of the war between Japan and France and Japanese aviators are perfecting their training with the French Voleurs corps (instalment 8). When he arrives in North America, the protagonist learns that Japanese immigrants in California had long been preparing for the invasion of America, and that now, supported by troops from Japan, are engaged in terrible battles which caused thousands of deaths, and left every American survivor deranged due to the trauma, hospitalised in a dedicated facility.

Japan and the US fight a naval battle of epic proportions between the Bahamas, Cuba and Florida (instalments 15, 16). From Canada to Africa, the Japanese multiply their invasion plans, acting as the leading force behind which the Chinese are also mobilised. It is against the backdrop of the Atlantic space and with the Asian arrival on the scene that the conflict starts to assume a fully global scale and at the same time a clear racial connotation: the “yellow” threat leads “white” nations to overcome their current disagreements and strike up new alliances. The American president arguing for an alliance with the British warns about the prolificacy of Asian populations, contrasting it with the demographic decline of the “whites” (instalment 16). Japanese and Chinese armies invade California and block the Panama Canal (instalments 18 and 20), while Europeans helps Russia to construct a “muraille blanche,” “white great wall,” against the Chinese plans to invade Europe (instalment 21). The assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and a riot or revolution demanding a new constitution leaves Russian open to Chinese occupation (instalments 21-23).

The next post in the future wars series will offer some reflections on the theme of the ‘yellow peril’ and the representation of a nature bent by technology, and then discuss the subsequent developments of the representation of the war of the future in Robida’s creative journey.


[1]   Pierre Giffard, La guerre infernale, illustrated by Albert Robida (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), 30 weekly instalments, in-4°, 952 pp.

[2]   For an overview on recent scholarship on Robida and indications for further reading: Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination,” 194-195; secondary sources of particular note are: Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926. Sa vie, son œuvre. Suivi d’une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris: Editions Promodis, 1984); Daniel Compère, ed., Albert Robida du passé au futur. Un auteur-illustrateur sous la IIIe République (Paris: Belles Lettres, 2006); Sandrine Doré, “Albert Robida (1848-1926), un dessinateur fin de siècle dans la société des images” (doctoral thesis, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, 2014).

[3]   Jacques Seray, Pierre Giffard, précurseur du journalisme moderne. Du Paris-Brest à l’affaire Dreyfus (Toulouse: Le Pas d’oiseau, 2008); C.G.P.C.S.M.-Fontaine d’histoire, La Famille Giffard (Fontaine le Dun: Fontaine d’histoire, 2007).

[4]   “… thanks to the humorous form, the author was able to secure the collaboration of one of the wittiest pencils of our time, who was a big asset to his work, to say the least.” Pierre Giffard, La vie en chemin de fer, illustrated by Albert Robida (Paris: A la Libraire illustrée, [1888]), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k1028744.

[5]   Marc Angenot, “Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 10, no. 2 (July 1983): 237-240; Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926. Sa vie, son œuvre. Suivi d’une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris: Editions Promodis, 1984), 33; Philippe Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1999): 354-378, esp. 358 and note 7.

[6]   On Robida’s representation(s) of women: Robida et l’émancipation de la Femme, thematic issue of Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 21 (2014); Doré, “Albert Robida,” vol. 1, 98, 150-152, 244 note 825, 296-299; Sandrine Doré, “Entre caricature et anticipation, la Parisienne définie par Albert Robida (1848-1926),” L’art de la caricature, sous la direction de Ségolène Le Men (Nanterre: Presses universitaires de Paris Nanterre, 2011), electronic edition, doi: 10.4000/books.pupo.2233; Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76, see II, 72-73. Depictions of women in the army by Robida are to be found in La Vie parisienne, as early as 1875, and in Le Vingtième Siècle (1883).

[7]   Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision,” 360.

[8]   Albert Robida, Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul dans les 5 ou 6 parties du monde et dans tous les pays connus et même inconnus de M. Jules Verne (Paris: Librairie illustrée- Librairie M. Dreyfous, 1880), Eng. trans. The Adventures of Saturnin Fanandoul, trans. Brian Stableford(Encino, CA: Black Coat Press, 2008).

[9]   On the representation of France at war and its ideological ambivalence in La guerre infernale: Paul Bleton, “La guerre telle qu’elle pourrait être,” Lublin Studies in Modern Languages and Literature 39, no. 1 (2015): 64-75, see 67, 70.

[10]   On the global conflict evoked in Le Vingtième siècle: Lacaze, “Albert Robida,” II, 74.

[11]  See also André Lange, “En attendant la guerre des ondes: les technologies de communication dans les anticipations militaires d’Albert Robida,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 11 (2004): 7-17.

[12]  On Robida and aerial warfare: Alain Bernard, “Robida et les dirigeables,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 10 (2003): 10-11; Marcellin Hodeir, “La guerre aérienne à travers la science-fiction: Albert Robida,” in Compère, Albert Robida, 117-126; here especially 120 for Robida’s inventions as extrapolations from technologies of his time.

[13]  On the possible influence of Robida on Well’s imagination on biological warfare: Helena Costa and Josep-E. Baños, “Bioterrorism in the Literature of the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Wells and ‘The Stolen Bacillus,’” Cogent Arts & Humanities 3, no. 1, doi: 10.1080/23311983.2016.1224538, see 6-7.

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 118-121. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Visualising a global war: La guerre infernale," in Geographies of Time, 01/07/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

‘to turn their own Cannon against them & ridicule them’

Samuel Madden, Robert Walpole and anti-Craftsman satire @ BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series

There is something mysterious in the history of the Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, an early speculative fiction novel published anonymously in London in 1733. Thanks to a testimony by the publisher William Bowyer, it is known that out of one thousand copies commissioned by the author, some nine hundred were eliminated fresh out of print.

Written by Samuel Madden, an Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies, the novel consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. A fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action, the novel’s logical extrapolation is informed by a variety of underlying rationales, ranging from utopian achievements to the satiric mocking of the writer’s present.

Madden had discussed with Robert Walpole the advisability of using satire against the government’s opposition, around about the same time as the idea for the Memoirs was presumably taking shape. In a letter to the de facto prime minister, he had proposed launching a satirical counterattack against the Tories united around The Craftsman.

Drawing on limited but eloquent documentary evidence available, and locating Madden’s political reflections in its original context – British political debate in the late 1720s – this paper will discuss the mystery surrounding the destruction of the Memoir’s print run.

Join the BSECS Postgraduate and Early-Career Scholar Seminar Series 2021, June 24th.

All sessions take place on the last Thursday of the month between 3-4pm GMT/BST.

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Satirical head of Sir Robert Walpole yawning, 1743. Engraving by George Bickham the Younger. Inscription content: With title in upper margin, and in the lower margin ‘Lo! What are all your schemes come to?’ followed by two stanzas of seven lines of verse from Pope’s ‘Dunciad’: ‘More he had said, but yan’d … And Navies yawn’d for Orders on the Main’. Signed in lower right below image ‘Publish’d by G.Bickham in May’s Buildings’ and on the left ‘1743 Dec 3’. The British Museum Collections Online, © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "‘to turn their own Cannon against them & ridicule them’," in Geographies of Time, 22/06/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Savage Languages

Introducing a series on eighteenth-century vocabularies of Native American languages, between proto-ethnographical curiosity, temporal conceptualisations, and colonial exploitation

This post inaugurates a series on vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders and colonial policymakers in North America over the eighteenth century.

Ever since their first contacts with the peoples of North America, the accounts of European travellers included vocabularies, dictionaries, and lists of words and/or phrases of common use as sections within the text, or as appendixes.[1] Whether they were explorers, missionaries, traders, colonial administrators, surveyors or policymakers, from Jacques Cartier’s Relations (published from 1545) and Gabriel Sagard’s Grand Voyage (1632), the habit of including in travelogues a vocabulary of ‘savage languages’ was continued in following centuries.[2]

Eighteenth-century examples include Lahontan’s Nouveau Voyages (1703), John Lawson’s New Voyage (1709), Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations (1727), Jonathan Carver’s Three Years Travels (1778), to the account of James Cook’s third voyage (1784), George Dixon’s A voyage round the world (1789) and John Long’s Voyages and Travels (1791). These lists of French or English words, with their respective translations in languages such as Huron, Iroquois, Tuscarora or Woccon, under a typographic presentation designed to project an idea of objective registration, eloquently reveal the cultural attitudes with which European observers perceived and portrayed their Native American interlocutors.

The primary aim of this series is to consider what these compilations tell us about the nature of European encounters with individuals and societies seen as less civilised than the writers’, presenting a fascinating Other that could encourage the observer to problematise his own culture. The choices that our writers made to include or exclude specific terms and semantic spheres, work as epiphenomena of a conception of historical time in which societies were hierarchised.

New ideas of time emerging in the eighteenth-century European mind led to the ‘savage’ being considered as an example of a universal humanity, though distinct from the more refined, ‘civilised’ European. This series will analyse the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, looking at time both in terms of a frame in which historical and diachronic gaps and differences were located, and as a cultural construct framing human experience.

Especially when phrases and expressions accompany the list of words, these vocabularies offer insights into communicative exchanges which are less mediated than the ones presented by narrative accounts, where a more conscious thematisation of the writer’s subjectivity and a more controlled self-representation are usually to be found. Furthermore, they throw light on translation practices and cultural mediation processes, whereas in accounts and letters the good interpreter is usually invisible.[3]

The focus will be on a selection of texts written in English by colonial administrators and policy makers, explorers and traders in eighteenth-century North America, against a cultural backdrop in which secondary sources written in other languages, such as Lahontan’s Nouveau Voyages, were widely known to (and sometimes borrowed by) British and American-British writers, in the original versions or through English translations. The source base is shaped by a primary interest towards a secularised culture, considered as a vantage point from which to observe the functioning of ideas of historical time increasingly far from Biblical eschatological and parousistic perspectives.[4]

By placing at centre stage the relationships between travel relations and linguistic compilations, and devoting specific attention to intertextual genealogies and connections, eighteenth-century testimonies will offer a rich case study to foreground the interaction between pre-existent cultural notions and first-hand observations, allowing for a better understanding of how ideas about history and time work in cultural practices different from antiquarian-historical and philosophical-historical writing.

Linguistic and traductological aspects lie at the intersection of a multitude of issues characterising European contact with North America since its early stages. Scholars have called attention to the role of interpreters as cultural brokers, have traced the debates regarding the problematic translation of Christian faith and doctrine in cultural-linguistic contexts far from the European one, and have highlighted the gradual exclusion of Central and Meso-American languages by the Castilian and Portuguese monarchic authorities.[5] Along with studies interested in language and rhetoric in relation to the construction and projection of imperial power, the linguistic aspects of the European encounter with the New World have been subject of inquiry especially as regards the historical debates surrounding the admissibility of native languages and systems for tracing and registering the past – e.g. Inca quipus, and logogrammatic-syllabic writing systems or systems based on glyphs – as legitimate tools for transmitting knowledge of the past and of the ‘new’ continent’s inhabitants, and for evangelising.[6]

The relationship between language and civilisation processes, as well as conjectural histories of languages, and the role played by languages in disputes over the origins of humanity in America have also received much scholarly attention in recent years.[7] Existing studies have investigated how travel accounts were used in treatises about the origins of language by Rousseau and Lord Monboddo, or in John Locke’s natural history of man. The vocabularies, however, have received far less consideration.[8] Historical linguistics has produced some useful analysis of these lists of words and expressions, regarded not so much as trustworthy samples of the languages they were supposed to be recording, but as testimonies of contacts, often documenting borrowings, trade jargons, pidgins, and short-term accommodations.[9]

Complex negotiations often took place in journals and travel accounts between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes, between experience and written sources of knowledge, and between scientific ambitions, and colonial and imperial cultural agencies interacting in a specific political-geographical context. The close reading of a number of ‘savage vocabularies’ scarcely considered by existing scholarship will take place against this backdrop.[10]

The next post in this series will offer some elements for a periodisation of vocabularies compiled between the seventeenth and the eighteenth century.


[1] For general background on European cultural encounters with the ‘new world’: Guido Abbattista, ‘European Encounters in the Age of Expansion’, in EGO – European History Online, <>; Guido Abbattista (ed.), Encountering Otherness: Diversities and Transcultural Experiences in Early Modern European Culture (Trieste, 2011); John Elliott, The Old World and the New: 1491-1650 (1970; Cambridge, 1992); Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology, second ed. (London and New York, 1986); Joan-Pau Rubiés, ‘Texts, images, and the perception of “savages” in Early Modern Europe: what we can learn from White and Harriot’, in Kim Sloan (ed.), European Visions: American Voices (London, 2009), pp. 120–130; Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other, foreword by Anthony Pagden (Norman, OK, 2005).

[2] Terms such as ‘savage’, as well as exonyms used later in this essay and characteristic of colonial practices are used to conform to primary sources. In so doing, I will retain a historical perspective and challenge the cultural agencies and categories they imply. On the linguistic and conceptual history of the ‘savage’: Sergio Landucci, I filosofi e i selvaggi (Turin, 2014); J.G.A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion (Cambridge, 1999–2015, 6 vols.), vol. 4: Barbarians, Savages and Empires (2005), pp. 2–3, 157–228; Pagden, The Fall; Silvia Sebastiani, The Scottish Enlightenment: Race, Gender, and the Limits of Progress (New York, 2013). On the linguistic confusion in Anglophone and Francophone sources as regards Canadian nations see: Michèle Duchet, Anthropologie et histoire au siècle des Lumières (Paris, 1995), pp. 26–29.

[3] James Merrell, Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier (New York, 2000), especially pp. 27–32; Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (London and New York, 1995); William F. Hanks and Carlo Severi, ‘Translating worlds: The epistemological space of translation’, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4/2 (2014), pp. 1–16.

[4] Anthony Grafton, ‘Joseph Scaliger and historical chronology: The rise and fall of a discipline’, History and Theory, 14/2 (1975), pp.  156–185; Paolo Rossi, I segni del tempo: Storia della terra e storia delle nazioni da Hooke a Vico (Milano, 1979); Edoardo Tortarolo, ‘L’eutanasia della cronologia biblica’, in Camilla Hermanin and Luisa Simonutti(eds), La centralità del dubbio: Un progetto di Antonio Rotondò, tome I.III, Scritture, ragione e storia (Florence, 2010), pp. 339–359.

[5] Nancy L. Hagedorn, ‘“A friend to go between them”: The interpreter as cultural broker during Anglo-Iroquois councils, 1740-70’, Ethnohistory, 35/1, (1988), pp. 60–80; Milton W. Hamilton, ‘Sir William Johnson: Interpreter of the Iroquois’, Ethnohistory, 10/3, (1963), pp. 270–286; Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan (New York, 1991); Pagden, The Fall, pp. 127–128, 183–192, 202–209; Todorov, The Conquest; on translation and/of the Christian doctrine, see Sangkeun Kim, Strange Names of God: The Missionary Translation of the Divine Name and the Chinese Responses to Matteo Ricci’s Shangti in Late Ming China, 1583-1644 (New York, 2004); Victor Egon Hanzeli, Missionary Linguistics in New France: A Study of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century Descriptions of American Indian Languages (The Hague and Paris, 1969).

[6] Peter Burke, ‘America and the rewriting of world history’, in Karen Ordahl Kupperman (ed.), America in European Consciousness (Chapel Hill and London, 1995), pp. 33–51; Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, 2001), pp. 60–129; Peter Mason, The Lives of Images (London, 2001) on Mexican codices in Europe p. 101, and in general chapters 4 and 5; Giuseppe Marcocci, Indios, cinesi, falsari: Le storie del mondo nel Rinascimento (Rome-Bari, 2016), pp. 38–46.

[7] Saul Jarcho, ‘Origin of the American Indian as suggested by fray Joseph De Acosta (1589)’, Isis, 50/4, (1959), pp. 430–438; Rüdiger Schreyer, ‘“Savage” languages in the eighteenth-century theoretical history of language’, in Edward G. Gray and Norman Fiering (eds), The Language Encounter in the Americas, 1492-1800: A Collection of Essays (New York and Oxford, 2000), pp. 310–326.

[8] On Gabriel Sagard’s account in Monboddo: Rüdiger Schreyer, ‘Gabriel Sagard’s ‘Dictionary of the Huron tongue’ (1632)’, inElke Nowak (ed.), Languages Different in All Their Sounds… Descriptive Approaches to Indigenous Languages of America 1500 to 1800 (Münster, 1999), pp. 101–115; on Locke: Daniel Carey, Locke, Shaftesbury, and Hutcheson: Contesting Diversity in the Enlightenment and Beyond (Cambridge, 2006), especially 17, 88.

[9] Gray and Fiering (eds), The Language Encounter, here especially Ives Goddard, ‘The use of pidgins and jargons on the East Coast of North America’, pp. 61–80; Michael Silverstein, ‘Dynamics of linguistic contact’, in Ives Goddard (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 17, Languages (Washington, DC, 1996), pp. 117–136; Agnete Nesse, ‘Trade and language: How did traders communicate across language borders?’, in Wim Blockmans, Mikhail Krom, Justyna (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Maritime Trade around Europe 1300-1600 (London and New York, 2017), pp. 86–100, see pp. 92–93.

[10] Some noteworthy exceptions are: Laura J. Murray, ‘Vocabularies of native American languages: A literary and historical approach to an elusive genre’, American Quarterly, 53/4 (2001), pp. 590–623. H. Christoph Wolfart, ‘The beginnings of Algonquian lexicography’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 132/1 (1988), pp. 119–127; Schreyer, ‘Gabriel Sagard’s “Dictionary”’.

This post is adapted from: Giulia Iannuzzi, “‘Qu’il est question d’une langue sauvage’: Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America”, History (2021).

Access the full text in open access on the publisher’s website at this EXTERNAL LINK.

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Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Savage Languages," in Geographies of Time, 15/06/2021,

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license