This paper explores the vocabularies of Native American languages published as part of the travel accounts written by explorers, traders, and colonial policy-makers in North America, in the course of the eighteenth century.
Starting with the renowned Voyages by the Baron de Lahontan, the aim of this paper is to foreground what these lexicographic compilations reveal about European encounters with societies categorised as radically different from – and less civilised than – the traveller’s own: an ‘otherness’ sometimes exploited as a mirror and term of comparison that challenges the observer’s ethnocentrism.
Drawing on existing scholarship about the cultural history of Euro-American encounters in the modern age, this study puts forward an original analysis of the temporal conceptualisations underpinning vocabularies of ‘savage languages’, both in terms of historical diachronicity and of time as a culturally constructed frame of human experience.
The focus on the lists of words and phrases included in travel accounts, journals and relations makes it possible to question the relationship between the recording of linguistic evidence and travel narratives, and explore the complex negotiations between empirical observation and pre-existing cultural categories and stereotypes.
A close reading of these often understudied primary sources contributes to identify recurrent conceptual tropes and assign a central role to the historicisation of Native Americans within wider processes of cultural construction of a global Europeanness.
This presentation is part of
Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars
The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars take place throughout semester 2 and are open to all.
All meetings will be held online, using Collaborate, from 4:30–5:30pm UK time. (Follow the link to the programme above to sign up via Eventbrite)
Regis Coursin (Montreal) ‘Against Despotism: Approaching the Republican Atlantic, c.1769–1791’
Giulia Iannuzzi (Trieste) ‘Phrasebooks for European Travellers in Eighteenth-Century North America’