Europe′s Indians

Producing Racial Difference, 1500–1900

Europe′s Indians

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: Published: August 2010

Author: Vanita Seth

Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Postcolonial Theory, Race and Indigeneity

Europe’s Indians forces a rethinking of key assumptions regarding difference—particularly racial difference—and its centrality to contemporary social and political theory. Tracing shifts in European representations of two different colonial spaces, the New World and India, from the late fifteenth century through the late nineteenth, Vanita Seth demonstrates that the classification of humans into racial categories or binaries of self–other is a product of modernity. Part historical, part philosophical, and part a history of science, her account exposes the epistemic conditions that enabled the thinking of difference at distinct historical junctures. Seth’s examination of Renaissance, Classical Age, and nineteenth-century representations of difference reveals radically diverging forms of knowing, reasoning, organizing thought, and authorizing truth. It encompasses stories of monsters, new worlds, and ancient lands; the theories of individual agency expounded by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau; and the physiological sciences of the nineteenth century. European knowledge, Seth argues, does not reflect a singular history of Reason, but rather multiple traditions of reasoning, of historically bounded and contingent forms of knowledge. Europe’s Indians shows that a history of colonialism and racism must also be an investigation into the historical production of subjectivity, agency, epistemology, and the body.


“[A] learned and thoughtful work. . . .” — Benjamin Isaac, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“This is a remarkable book. It deals with a relatively belaboured topic – the production of racial difference in the colonial encounter – uses primary and
secondary sources that are not altogether new to the discussion of the topic, and yet produces an absolutely refreshing new perspective and very original result.” — Alexander Henn, Asian Studies Review

“’To suggest that history can be unmade’ might be a light undertaking were it really just a suggestion. In Vanita Seth’s exciting work of comparative political theory, the suggestion is not merely made but shown to be a real possibility given her meticulous, complex, and perceptive reading of the production of racial difference over roughly four hundred years of European thought.” — Mindy Peden, Theory & Event

“Seth has synthesized an impressive range of materials to generate a wide-ranging, compelling, and important analysis.” — Kevin Bruyneel, Perspectives on Politics

“Seth provides intriguing material for scholars studying European ways of thinking about difference. She puts her finger on a fundamental conundrum within the historiography of European race: how can all within a nation,
a continent, or any other group whose members seem to share a physical quality be alike despite myriad ostensible differences, while other peoples with an equal share of myriad differences are perceived as so fundamentally different?” — Joshua Goode, American Historical Review

“Seth’s knowledge of the literatures of postmodernism and postcolonialism is comprehensive and illuminating, and her diverse readings of historical texts, myths, legends and systems of thought and reasoning provides innumerable insights into the shifts in European bodies of knowledge.” — Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World

“Vanita Seth’s Europe’s Indians is an intellectual history of the highest order. . . . Europe’s Indians is a sophisticated and intellectually courageous work that significantly contributes to the intellectual history of Europe’s encounter with the rest of the world. . . . [S]cholars of European thought and colonial encounters must give this work serious consideration for its sophisticated and original analysis.” — Charles V. Reed, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

“In this original and exciting work, Vanita Seth shows how European ways of knowing changed and how as they changed, certain ‘truths’ were established, verified, habituated, and naturalized, so that the previous way of knowing was occluded and rendered unthinkable. Moving from a history of science into political theory, shifting from a European philosophical tradition into questions of postcolonialism, and historically specifying in new ways the question of race as a very modern invention, Seth makes an enormous contribution.” — Pal Ahluwalia, author of Out of Africa: Post-structuralism’s Colonial Roots

“Vanita Seth offers both a novel understanding of how difference is represented in early and high modern European political thought and a compelling new way to theorize difference. This is politically motivated scholarship at its finest—probing, learned, meticulous, interdisciplinary, imaginative and fearlessly critical.” — Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Vanita Seth is Associate Professor of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an editor of the journal Postcolonial Studies.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Self and Similitude: Renaissance Representations of the New World 19

2. "Constructing" Individuals and "Creating" History: Subjectivity in Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau 61

3. Traditions of History: Mapping India's Past 119

4. Of Monsters and Man: The Peculiar History of Race 173

Epilogue 227

Notes 233

Bibliography 259

Index 279
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4764-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4745-3
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