Ethics, Settler Colonialism, and Indigeneity in the History of the Human Sciences

Year of Funding: 
2018/2019
Photos of travelers with indigenous inhabitants from the records of the Yale Peruvian Expedition's visits to the Andes between 1911 and 1915.

Workshop: November 4, 2018, 9:30 am-4:30 pm
Communications Building 202

A question that has long troubled historians is whether, and in what way, they should judge the historical actors they study, whose behaviors often fell short of what is considered ethical by today's standards. Drawing on the recent work of historian Jan Goldstein, who has called for an "empirical history of moral thinking," this workshop engages this question by asking how historians of science and others might assess the ethical breaches and conundrums that took place in the past as researchers in the human sciences carried out investigations of and on "the other."

We explore this question by bringing historians of science into conversation with scholars of Indigenous studies, settler colonial theory, and theories of race and empire. In doing so, the workshop foregrounds the Global South and decenters the presumed centrality of North Atlantic histories of science while debating Goldstein's proposal and addressing two sets of broader questions. First, what role has the construction of ethical and moral norms played in scientific inquiries of human diversity? How has the construction and transgression of ethical frameworks aided or interrupted settler colonial projects of dispossession? And second, what is the afterlife of ethical relations and their transgressions? In other words, do ethical relations persist through data sets, material objects, bones, and bodies? How do they continue to shape knowledge?

Primary Contact

Adam Warren (History)

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