Ethnology in the metropole: Robert Knox, Robert Gordon Latham and local sites of observational training

Efram Sera-Shriar

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Anthropologists have traditionally separated the history of their discipline into two main diverging methodological paradigms: nineteenth-century armchair theorizing, and twentieth-century field-based research. But this tradition obscures both the complexity of the observational practices of early nineteenth-century researchers and the high degree of continuity between these practices and the techniques that came later. While historians have long since abandoned the notion that nineteenth-century ethnologists and anthropologists were merely 'armchair' theorists, this paper shows that there is still much to learn once one asks more insistently what the observational practices of early researchers were actually like. By way of bringing out this complexity and continuity, this essay re-examines the work of two well-known British ethnologists, Robert Knox, and Robert Gordon Latham; looking in particular at their methods of observing, analysing and representing different racial groups. In the work of each figure, early training in natural history, anatomy and physiology can be seen to have influenced their observational practices when it came to identifying and classifying human varieties. Moreover, in both cases, Knox and Latham developed locally-based observational training sites.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)486-496
    Number of pages11
    JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


    • Crystal Palace
    • Ethnology
    • Observational practices
    • Robert Gordon Latham
    • Robert Knox


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