Indography pp 133-147 | Cite as

Sick Ethnography

Recording the Indian and the Ill English Body
  • Jonathan Gil Harris
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


The essays in the first section of Indography have suggested how early modern discourses of the “Indian” are not simply forms of proto-Orientalism or techniques of European power. They are also products of mutually transformative contact zones that worked as much to unsettle as to insist on clear-cut distinctions between “European” and “Indian.” For every instance of early modern Indology that assumed Europe’s primacy and the peripherality of the Indian—such as the fantasies of empty landscapes in New England deftly exfoliated by Thomas Cartelli—we find others that suggest alternative, less rigid forms of relationality. Bindu Malieckal shows how the globally connected cultures of India’s Malabar coast offered the Portuguese an aspirational model of transoceanic resource-sharing; Gina Caison notes how, even as the figure of the absent or lost Indian was the hallmark of a colonial epistemology that justified invasion, it was equally the hallmark of those early English settlers in Roanoke who may have themselves become Indian; Kevin Boettcher considers Virginian commodities that embodied a “vanishing point” between Indian culture and English consumption; Melissa Walter and Karen Robertson variously demonstrate that the task of Indian language acquisition—whether Malayan or Algonquian—transformed Europeans by exposing them to new ways of thinking; and Craig Rustici, drawing on geohumoral theory, shows how tobacco was thought to Indianize the bodies of its English smokers.


Racial Identity Foreign Matter East India Company Foreign Element English Colony 
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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • Jonathan Gil Harris

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