Article ID: CBB518281777

Rethinking Savagery: Slavery Experiences and the Role of Emotions in Oldendorp’s Mission Ethnography (2019)


By the late 18th century, the Moravian mission project had grown into a global enterprise. Moravian missionaries’ personal and emotional engagements with the people they sought to convert impacted not only on their understanding of Christianity, but also caused them to rethink the nature of civilization and humanity in light of their frontier experiences. In this article I discuss the construction of ‘savagery’ in the mission ethnography of C. G. A. Oldendorp (1721–87). Oldendorp’s journey to slave-holding societies in the Danish West Indies, where Moravian missions had been established in the 1730s, and his own experiences of the violence of these societies had such an impact on him that his proto-ethnographic descriptions of all the inhabitants of the Danish West Indies – from slaves to slaveholders – broke with traditional representations of savagery. He suggested two different paths for emotional transformation: one for slaves, and another for slaveholders. His views aligned with those of the later abolitionists, yet he was writing sixty years before those movements first gained public momentum in Great Britain. In many ways, therefore, this early mission ethnography reshaped contemporary understandings of ‘savagery’. I consider how Oldendorp did this in relation to a Moravian theology of the heart and love of Christ, the emerging Scottish Enlightenment philosophy of ‘love of humanity’ and its use in colonial encounters between missionaries and local people, and especially the emotions that were provoked by the extreme violence of the slavery system in this colonial contact zone.

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Article Bruce Buchan; Linda Andersson Burnett (2019) Knowing Savagery: Humanity in the Circuits of Colonial Knowledge. History of the Human Sciences (pp. 3-7). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Schiebinger, Londa L.
Costa, Kelerson Semerene
Boomgaard, Peter
Luedecke, Cornelia
Storey, William Kelleher
Pyenson, Lewis R.
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
History and Technology
History of Meteorology
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Imago Mundi: A Review of Early Cartography
Eighteenth-Century Studies
Harvard University Press
Cambridge University Press
Pickering & Chatto
University of Georgia Press
University of California, Santa Barbara
Johns Hopkins University
Missionaries and missions
Slavery and slaves
Netherlands, colonies
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Science and religion
João Daniel
Cacho de Villegas, Alejandro
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
17th century
20th century
16th century
South America
South Africa
Atlantic world
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
Dutch East India Company

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