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The Race Question in Oceania

A. B. Meyer and Otto Finsch between metropolitan theory and field experience, 1865–1914


Hilary Howes

In 1873 the German naturalist A.B. Meyer spent five months in New Guinea. He had expected «bloodthirsty and untamed savages» and was amazed to find «men of milder customs». His compatriot Otto Finsch returned from a voyage through Hawaii, Micronesia, New Zealand and Torres Strait declaring Germany’s most respected anthropologists wrong. Human races could not be neatly distinguished: they «merge into one another to such an extent that the difference between Europeans and Papuans becomes completely unimportant». This richly interdisciplinary book explores the transformative impacts of personal encounters in Oceania on understandings of human difference, and illuminates the difficult relationship between field experience and metropolitan science in late nineteenth-century Europe.


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Introduction 1. Bruno Geisler (c. 1898-1904) ‘Adolf Bernhard Meyer – Gründer und Di- rektor des Museums von 1875 bis 1905’. Reproduction courtesy Archiv des Museums für Völkerkunde Dresden. 2. Anon. (c. 1870) ‘Mr Otto Finsch, Bremen’, part of G. M. Mathews collec- tion of portraits of ornithologists, vn3798240. Reproduction courtesy Na- tional Library of Australia. 3. Cornelis de Jode (1593) ‘Novae Guineae forma, & situs’, in: Gerard de Jode, Speculum orbis terrae, 2nd edn (Antwerp, Cornelis de Jode, 1593), MAP RM 389. Reproduction courtesy National Library of Australia. 4. J. Kollmann, J. Ranke and R. Virchow (1884) ‘Untitled’ [cranial mea- sures recommended by the Frankfurt Agreement], in: ‘Verständigung über ein gemeinsames craniometrisches Verfahren’, Archiv für Anthropologie, 15, p. 7. Reproduction courtesy Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Chapter One: ‘This new and interesting world’ 5. Map of maritime Southeast Asia and New Guinea. Courtesy Karina Pelling, CartoGIS, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian Na- tional University. 6. Map of north-west New Guinea, showing locations visited by A. B. Mey- er. Courtesy Karina Pelling, CartoGIS, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University. 7. Adolf Bernhard Meyer (1875) ‘Untitled’ [korwar], in: ‘Notizen über Glauben und Sitten der Papúas des Mafoor’schen Stammes auf Neu- Guinea’, Mittheilungen des Vereins für Erdkunde zu Dresden, XII, Taf. I. Reproduction courtesy Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. 8. Thomas Baines (1869) ‘Papuan, New Guinea’, in: Alfred Russel Wallace, The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise … (2 vols,...

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