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John Lewis Burckhardt (1784 – 1817) – Exploration, Archaeology, and Orientalism between Enlightenment and Empire

October 19, 2017 - October 20, 2017
Universität Basel


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On 15 October 1817, the Anglo-Swiss explorer, collector, and scholar John Lewis (Johann Ludwig) Burckhardt died in Cairo, just days before he was due to set out on an expedition to the interior parts of Africa. The expedition, commissioned by the African Association in London, had been many years in planning—first in London, Cambridge, and later in the Near East and North Africa. Between 1809 and 1817 Burckhardt had explored Syria, the Hijaz, the Levant, and Egypt. As a 'participating observer' and scholarly traveller he studied Arabic, collected manuscripts, discovered and documented antiquities and ancient sites, and kept travel diaries with detailed ethnographic, cultural, geographical, economic, political and natural-historical observations. The fruits of his work survive in his published travel accounts and in his extant correspondence, but also in many as yet unpublished archival sources.

On the occasion of the second centenary of his death, we intend to celebrate and re-assess Burckhardt's life, his work, and his discoveries. We are planning an international workshop in Basel on 19 - 20 October 2017 for which we are seeking contributions from scholars whose research will enrich our understanding of Burckhardt's life and work  and its historical, political, and cultural contexts. Following Burckhardt from the Helvetic Republic to the classrooms of Friedrich Blumenbach in Göttingen, to late Georgian England, and to Aleppo, Damascus, and Cairo, we aim to reassess Burckhardt’s extraordinary career in relation to current debates on the history of oriental scholarship in the West, the institutional contexts of science and discovery, and the links between ‘Enlightened’ thought and the emergence of European colonialism.   

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