Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Empire & enlightenment

The Enlightenment is a search for an objective, universal understanding of the world, not driven by divinity. The systemic search for knowledge starts in the eighteenth century.

"Thinking like a global historian is considering connections", says Prof, who takes his time talking about tea in the mid 1700s. Why? Because tea houses became meeting places for gentlemen of leisure, who use the public sphere to think about politics and science and feed their radical thinking with caffeine and sugar. Just like we do today.

Here's a fact I should've known. Captain James Cook - Mr Science - died in Hawaii after locals thought  that actually they wouldn't like to be collected and shipped back to England. These specimens fought back.

Oo! OO!! Prof mentions women. Imagine that! He talks about the Wealth of Nations and says the relations between men and women "are going to be an important part of the story". Of course I acknowledge that for much of history and in much of the world 'people' were men and women weren't considered as a category. But hey, we're modern historians. We can analyse the past using categories - like gender - that maybe our ancestors didn't use. I am excited! Women are going to be part of the story! An important part! Let's find out more...

Mary Wollstonecraft - women are creatures of reason too. If the newly proclaimed laws of Enlightenment thinking don't apply to women then - d'oh! - they are not objective and universal. Atta girl.

Sadly, today that was all we had to learn about women. Prof moves onto the way the Enlightenment created categorisations of race, and shows us Casta Paintings: images of mixed race couples with their children. At least, that's what he sees. I see European men with native women (Indian, Mexican, Moorish, African) and their children. I don't see paintings of Native men with European women. I don't hear any discussion of power and priviledge. Prof, I know you're not a sociologist, but seriously mate this is beginners observation. You can do better than this.

Two important eighteenth century books I've never read and probably never will.

  • Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations 
  • Mary Wollstonecraft - A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 

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