Overlooking Whiteness? Discourses of Race and Primitiveness in Accounts of the Ainu by Benjamin Douglas Howard and Henry Savage Landor (1893)

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Abstract

Nineteenth-century Victorian travellers in Northeast Asia were consistently captivated by the Ainu people indigenous to the Okhotsk region. In an age characterized by popular adventure fiction in which the trope of discovering a ‘lost white tribe’ figured prominently, it was perhaps not surprising that the Ainu, who were ethnically distinct from the neighbouring Japanese, would be described as ‘white,’ ‘Caucasian’ or ‘Aryan’ in a large body of travel writing and scientific texts. Why, then, did two of the longest English-language accounts of the Ainu published during this period show no interest in Ainu ‘whiteness’ and virtually none in questions of racial classification? Published the same year (1893) by two very different men, humanitarian doctor Benjamin Douglas Howard and Italian-British provocateur and artist Henry Savage Landor, these books repeat hackneyed tropes of primitiveness, but remain surprisingly uninterested in explicit questions of race. This is particularly striking in that Landor later included a ‘lost white tribe’ episode in an account of his travels in the Philippines (1904). This article uses these works to reflect on the social constructedness of racial categorizations even in contexts far removed from their authors’ home society.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalHistory and Anthropology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2023 Jan 9

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History

Free keywords

  • whiteness
  • social construction of race
  • Ainu
  • Henry Savage Landor
  • Benjamin Douglas Howard
  • Hokkaido
  • scientific racism

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