«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.

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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.

Continue reading “Vocabularies, Accounts, (Hi)Stories”

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]

Continue reading “Lewis and Clark’s Lost Vocabularies”

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. Continue reading “Futuristic fictions and power relations through the globe”

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.


Notes

[1] Dictionary of Canadian Biography, IV, 1771-1800 (Toronto, 1979) and 1801-1820 (Toronto, 1983), electronic ed. 2003, <http://www.biographi.ca/>, 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.

Credits

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). https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.13138.

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.

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”.

Notes

[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.

Credits

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: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

See here all posts in the future-wars series

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]


Notes

[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, <http://www.biographi.ca/>, 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). https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.13138.

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