Geographical and anthropological knowledge of both Europe and the non-European world was of particular importance in the long 18th century. Beyond the Enlightenment’s general interest in knowledge, this has to be viewed against the background of political, colonial and trade interests on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with regard to the importance that non-European cultures had for philosophical reflection on the world’s order and on one’s own, European societies.
Encyclopedic works such as travel compendia, colonial histories, universal and specialized dictionaries compiled and organized bodies of knowledge and made them available to a wider audience. Often, these works became widely received bestsellers that were translated into various European languages. Thus, geographic and anthropological knowledge circulated in a transnational and transcultural space that extended across the entire European continent and overseas. However, in the course of their translation, the bodies of knowledge underwent a correction and expansion that particularly affected the geography of the target culture into which or for which the respective work was translated.
Beyond the aspects of aemulatio of the source text or self-fashioning of the translator, the updating and revision of bodies of knowledge point to a changing epistemological understanding. Eyewitness and empiricism were given increasing importance, especially for geographical and anthropological knowledge. This led to shifts in terms of knowledge producers. Empirical knowledge competed with the compilatory and philological methods of armchair geographers and armchair philosophers. In the context of geography and anthropology of countries of the non-European world, the perspective of the non-European ‘Other’ was increasingly taken into account. New editions of writings of the Conquista literature can be seen in this context as well as the ‘Berlin Debate’ on the New World or the adaptations of European genres such as so-called ‘gazetteers’ (geographical dictionaries) or bibliographies in the American region.
For the young nations of North America or the regions of Central and South America on the threshold of independence, the publication of geographical compendia was ultimately associated with processes of autonomization from the (former) colonial metropolis, with speaking up, and with the development of an independent, national knowledge space.
The conference aims to shed light on the aforementioned aspects based on case studies. Encyclopedic works of various types and from different cultural areas will be examined.