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From History in Three Keys (Paul Cohen):

As we live our lives, we instinctively place them in a narrative framework. We "tell stories" to ourselves that make sense of our experiences: biographical, not historical, sense. So it isn't entirely correct to say that books explain while in life things simply happen. In life, also, there is a powerful need for understanding and explanation, which all of us experience, subjectively, every moment of every day.


And how we explain things to ourselves causes us to do things. Which is why the humanities matter; they are all about the stories we tell ourselves.
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[This photograph] represented a boy from ‘the upper or most highly educated class, the son of a distinguished civil officer of Canton.' Although 'a fine, attractive-looking little fellow, his full hazel eyes beaming with kindliness and intelligence,' the boy’s face would, Thomson argued, gradually lose its attractions as it grows to maturity. "The softness of the eye is then frequently replaced by a cold, calculating expression, the result of their peculiar training, and the countenance assumes an air of apathetic indifference which is so necessary to veil the inner feelings of a polished Chinese gentleman." Thomson classified people visually, constructing knowledge of their physical and moral character. The latter was often evaluated in terms of usefulness for British commerce and the Western traveller.


more from the same. formatting wonky because it's copy and pasted from something with wonky format. )
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Petrus Camper's "facial angle" was superseded by the "cephalic index" (the proportion of the length to breadth of the head) devised by Aretzius in 1840. More importantly, the increasing demands for a regularized methodology were paralleled by moves towards the notion of inherent racial characteristics. The rise of the sciences of anthropology and ethnology further fixed the idea of ‘race’ as a natural category by which to differentiate and rank ‘types’ of humans, invariably placing the white, Anglo-Saxon male at the pinnacle of intellectual, moral and physical development.

...The increasing prominence of discussions on ‘race’ from the late 1850s was also strongly influenced by two major colonial rebellions, in India (in 1857) and in Jamaica( in 1865), which aroused deeply antagonistic feelings in Britain over issues of race, slavery and colonial control.
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In his account of his expedition, Galton referred to a Nama woman, the wife of one of his host’s servants, as a ‘Venus among Hottentots’. Being ‘perfectly aghast at her development’ and being a ‘scientific man’, Galton was ‘exceedingly anxious to obtain accurate measurements of her shape’. However, the circumstances were difficult and Galton reported that he ‘felt in a dilemma as I gazed at her form’. The solution, of which Galton was particularly proud, involved his taking a series of observations "upon her figure" with his sextant, making an outline drawing while she stood at a distance under a tree. Then he ‘boldly pulled out’ his measuring tape to calculate the distance and worked out the results using trigonometry and logarithms.


Noooo comment.

ETA: Although I guess this finally clarifies the meaning of "Hottentot" for me?

ETA 2: It occurs to me that the federal government pays me to read descriptions of (basically) 19th century porn. o.O
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The transformation of something fundamentally tenuous and insecure into something aggressively self-evident became the mark of success of nationalist ideology. And it was in this creative period of formation and self-formulation, that the fiction of an "Indian" history most effectively naturalized is presence.
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Betty was an admirable mother; but it did not take her long to find out that motherhood, as that function is understood by the mother of the upper middle classes, did not absorb the whole of her energies. She was young and strong, with healthy limbs and a body and brain that called urgently for exercise. . . .' (In short she began to give tea-parties.)
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The psalms, the prayers, the Litany, and the sermon were all reduced to one chanting sound which paused, and then renewed itself, a little higher or a little lower. He stared alternately at Rachel and at the ceiling, but his expression was now produced not by what he saw but by something in his mind. He was almost as painfully disturbed by his thoughts as she was by hers.

Early in the service Mrs. Flushing had discovered that she had taken up a Bible instead of a prayer-book, and, as she was sitting next to Hirst, she stole a glance over his shoulder. He was reading steadily in the thin pale-blue volume. Unable to understand, she peered closer, upon which Hirst politely laid the book before her, pointing to the first line of a Greek poem and then to the translation opposite.

"What's that?" she whispered inquisitively.

"Sappho," he replied. "The one Swinburne did--the best thing that's ever been written."

Mrs. Flushing could not resist such an opportunity. She gulped down the Ode to Aphrodite during the Litany, keeping herself with difficulty from asking when Sappho lived, and what else she wrote worth reading, and contriving to come in punctually at the end with "the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body, and the life everlastin'. Amen."


Heh.
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"I have had servants," said Mrs. Ambrose, concentrating her gaze. "At this moment I have a nurse. She's a good woman as they go, but she's determined to make my children pray. So far, owing to great care on my part, they think of God as a kind of walrus; but now that my back's turned--Ridley," she demanded, swinging round upon her husband, "what shall we do if we find them saying the Lord's Prayer when we get home again?"


I get the vague feeling that GK Chesterton cited this once.

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Kate

September 2013

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