Thursday, October 25, 2007

Of Cannibals and The Jesuit Relations

Recently in class we have begun discussing Of Cannibals and we will soon discuss The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents. Both of these sources deal with "barbarians" or "savages" from the New world, as viewed by European contemporaries. In both texts the authors have had their own eyewitness accounts or have heard eyewitness accounts of the culture and lifestyles of the aboriginal societies within the New World. Such accounts appear to have made the men question the culture of Europe. I noticed that both documents encourage their European readers to look inside themselves and consider how their actions may be more barbarous than those whom they refer to as barbarians.

Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, when these pieces were written, was going through large social and intellectual revolutions. There was a large outpouring of political and social theories, criticizing the medieval mindset that had its grips on Europe for so long. These documents appear to be part of this proliferation of writing.

Based on that conclusion, I wish to hypothesize, as we attempted to do in class, that these papers were written to initiate change within Europe. While the writers may have cared about the "savages" in the New World, the view Europeans had of them was not their main concern. This was simply a tool employed by these men to bring to head a larger social issue in a time period when they could not directly state such grievances.

This conclusion made me wonder what effect photographs of the same cultures described in these two essays would have on the people of Europe. I don't believe they would cause the introspection these essays can cause. Rather, it seems that such photographs could support the Euro-centric beliefs held by the majority of people. We often talked about the differences between texts and photographs. In this instance I believe that the photographs have many more limitations than the texts would. The emotive value of such photographs may impact Europeans. However, the background necessary to explain their cultural practices (cannibalism in particular) that came with the texts and pointed on the hypocrisies of European society, would not come with the photographs. Thus, this would negate any emotional impacts they possess.

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