Study of a Human Society

Honestly, I never heard of the word “ethnography” before starting my Travel Writing Rhetoric class for my English Masters degree. I had to Google the meaning of the word, and according to dictionary.com it means, “The branch of anthropology that deals with the scientific description of individual human societies.” I would agree that SOME travel writing deals with ethnography. Yes, sometimes travel writing does deal with description of individual cultures; other times it is just a journal, for fun, or just because. We were assigned to read a section of Joan Pau Rubies’, “Travel Writing and Ethnography” for class. I found it difficult to understand. Essentially, the point of his work was to explain how much travel writing deals with ethnography, “European travelers, by recording their observations of other lands and peoples, became essential contributors to the growth of a new, empirically informed discourse about both man and nature.”  Here is another good quote from the section that explain ethnography and ethnology:

“Although the emergence of an academic discourse based on comparison, classification, and historical lineage called ethnology is a nineteenth-century phenomenon, in reality both ethnography and ethnology existed within the humanistic disciplines of early modern Europe in the primary forms of travel writing, cosmography, and history, which often informed specific debates about the capabilities and origins of the American Indians, the definition of ‘natural man,’ the influence of climate on national characteristics, or the existence of stages in the history of civilization. On the back of the growth of travel writing both ethnography and ethnology were, in fact, crucial to the Enlightenment Project of a world-historical science of mankind.”

I understand what Rubies is saying, but I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it completely. I think travel writing was inadvertently crucial to the Enlightenment Project, but that isn’t want it its initial purpose was. I think when historians reviewed history, travel writing became a form of ethnography, but its initial purposes were either for fun, journal, or for governmental purposes.