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Topic: Controlling people
Controlling people
For scientists and explorers alike, the classifying and understanding of the world around them made it imperative that ‘samples’ were collected. In an age before the camera, samples, whether as living people or in the form of human remains, provided proof that the explorer had actually visited distant shores.
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Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1886.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library


From the sixteenth century onwards Native Americans were kidnapped and hauled across the Atlantic – normally to be displayed to the general wonder of the European royal courts and fairs. Columbus, for example, returned with several Guan

‘Non-Western’ people have been treated as specimens

hani natives from his first foray to America in 1492. Even those European explorers claiming to be against slavery were clearly not averse to kidnapping native peoples. The better known include four Fuegians, shipped to England by Captain Fitzroy and returned home to the South Atlantic on Darwin’s Beagle voyage. Many natives appear in travel narratives, including tattooed ‘Prince Jeoly’ – who was ‘acquired’, brought to Europe and displayed by William Dampier – and ‘Omai’, from Tahiti, who travelled with Captain Cook.

The stories of these people – whether they travelled abroad willingly or under duress – are largely hidden from us. But in essence these abductions reflect a long line of thought in which ‘non-We
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Omai, from Tahiti, travelled to England with Captain Cook.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
stern’ people have been treated as specimens – to be observed and studied – by European societies. The most telling sign of this is that we usually know of them by their given ‘pet’ names. They have been classified in the true spirit of Enlightenment science but little else remains to tell us what they thought about their fate.

Some of those who found themselves on European land during the nineteenth century were displayed to the public in the freak shows and fairs of the times. Visitors to the more ‘highbrow’ western museums and exhibitions throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries routinely came across foreign pe
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Columbus travelled on the 'Santa Maria' on his first trip to America in 1492.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
ople, normally dressed in ‘native’ costume and surrounded by a mock-up of their home environment. The 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris included tableaux vivants of native Africans, while the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London included nearly 100 people from other parts of the world.

Even today, stereotypical images of people in ‘native’ costume can be found in museums the world over. The display of people in this way is, however, not relegated to the past, or indeed to European explorers. Today native peoples such as members of Burma’s Padaung tribe are still being ‘displayed’ to paying tourists.

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Topic: Controlling space
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Maps are powerful political tools, revealing what is known and what remains unknown. Filling in and naming the ‘blanks’ on the map becomes an invitation to explore, influence and ultimately control, turning space into territory and legitimising a conqueror’s rights to it.  > more

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Topic: Controlling resources
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Exploration is not just a matter of finding new lands or encountering unknown ethnic groups. Many prospectors are looking for mineral riches such as gold, diamonds or oil. Other explorers follow, and these groups have an enormous impact on the environment and indigenous people.  > more
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