Inventing Humanity. History, Anthropology, Politics, Representation (16th-19th centuries)

Course Description: 

“Humanity” or “mankind,” including the differentiae specificae of the human kind as well as its unity and diversity, is not an intrinsic idea, but a cultural product shaped by processes of historical, social-anthropological and political self-reflection, and of encounter with “others” in modern Europe. This course in intellectual and cultural history intends to survey and problematize the major landmarks of this development through a study of primary texts and relevant secondary literature. It looks at historical, ethnographic and political discussions of the subject as well as visual representations, and at topics ranging from sixteenth-century confrontations with (and possessions of) the “exotic” in Las Casas and Acosta, through the reflections of seventeenth and eighteenth century natural law, to evolutionist anthropology and the famous “human displays” or “ethnic shows” attached to nineteenth-century world or national exhibitions. The course also intends to look at those negotiations that shaped knowledge and advanced a more precise definition about “the human” within contexts such as civilization (vs. "rudeness" or "savagery"), the human body (and human species vs. animals), the history of emotions (from courtly love to the expression of emotions in man and animal by Darwin). (The list is non-exhaustive.)

The syllabus has been composed in a way that the course is appropriate for accommodation within both the Specialization in Political Thought and the Specialization in Science Studies, and will be hopefully attractive also for students interested in the activities of the CEU Visual Studies Platform.


A position paper ("setting the agenda" for the discussion of weekly readings on the basis of the texts at least on one occasion - 10%), class participation (regular and pertinent contributions to discussion based on the readings - 40%), term paper (c. 3,000 word academic essay on a topic identified in consultation with the course instructors by week 7; first draft presented and discussed in class during week 12; final draft submitted two weeks after end of the term - 50%)