Article ID: CBB001420013

Hermannsburg, 1929: Turning Aboriginal “Primitives” into Modern Psychological Subjects (2014)


In 1929, the Lutheran mission at Hermannsburg (Ntaria), central Australia, became an extraordinary investigatory site, attracting an array of leading psychologists wishing to define the primitive mentality of the Arrernte, who became perhaps the most studied people in the British Empire and dominions. This is a story of how scientific knowledge derived from close encounters and fraught entanglements on the borderlands of the settler state. The investigators---Stanley D. Porteus, H. K. Fry, and Géza Róheim---represent the major styles of psychological inquiry in the early-twentieth century, and count among the vanguard of those dismantling rigid racial typologies and fixed hierarchies of human mentality. They wanted to evaluate how natives think, yet inescapably they found themselves reflecting on white mentality too. They came to recognise the primitive as an influential and disturbing motif within the civilised mind---their own minds. These intense interactions in the central deserts show us how Aboriginal thinking could make whites think again about themselves---and forget, for a moment, that many of their research subjects were starving.

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Authors & Contributors
Blackbourn, David
Manela, Erez
Bala, Poonam
Macmillan, Malcolm
Schaffer, Simon
Blanchard, Pascal
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Health and History
History of Science
Journal for Maritime Research: Britian, the Sea and Global History
Environment and History
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Lexington Books
Liverpool University Press
University of Chicago Press
Harvard University
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Great Britain, colonies
Science and race
Porteus, Stanley David
Rutherford, William
Smith, Grafton Elliot
Berry, Richard James Arthur
Wilson, James Thomas
Campbell, Alfred Walter
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
18th century
Early modern
17th century
Great Britain
South Africa
University of Edinburgh
Great Britain. Royal Navy
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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