International Studies 498/Music 512 Winter 2004
Music Bldg Rm 212 1:30-3:50 Th
SLN 5929

Instructor: Ter Ellingson

Office: 50 Music
Office Hours: 9-10:30 TuW
Telephone: 206 543-7211

Course Description:

The myth of the Noble Savage is anthropology’s oldest and most successful hoax, still widely believed today, almost a century and a half since its creation. As it is commonly understood, the myth makes the false claim that savages are noble, a misrepresentation arising from Rousseau’s invention of the Noble Savage concept in the mid-18th century as a romantic glorification of savage life. But this common understanding of the myth is itself a myth, deliberately introduced into anthropological metadiscourse for political purposes. This seminar will examine the development of the anthropological discourse of the savage in order to learn how the Noble Savage myth played an important role in the history of anthropology and in the struggle between supporters and opponents of racial equality, and more generally to consider the ways in which anthropological discourse can be manipulated for specific political purposes.

There will be weekly reading assignments and class discussions. For the final part of the course, students will write a research paper and give an oral presentation on the historical development of a particular problem, issue or concept in ethnographic theory and practice during the period covered by the course. For the last sessions of the course, students will present an in-class overview of their research paper topics. Grading will be based on the research paper (75%) and on class participation, including discussions and the final paper presentation (25%).

Course Outline:

1. Introduction: The Noble Savage
2. Rousseau and the savage
3. The birth of the Noble Savage
4. Travelers: Philosophical, scientific, and otherwise
5. Race and crisis in ethnology
6. The rise of racist anthropology
7. The return of the Noble Savage
8. Noble Savages today
9. The politics of anthropological discourse
10. Student paper presentations


Montaigne's Essays

Barnum's Expose of the Miscegenation Hoax

Guidelines for Term Papers
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Last modified: 11/30/2004 8:55 PM