Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa

by Johannes Fabian

University of California Press | June 13, 2000 | Trade Paperback

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Explorers and ethnographers in Africa during the period of colonial expansion are usually assumed to have been guided by rational aims such as the desire for scientific knowledge, fame, or financial gain. This book, the culmination of many years of research on nineteenth-century exploration in Central Africa, provides a new view of those early European explorers and their encounters with Africans. Out of Our Minds shows explorers were far from rational--often meeting their hosts in extraordinary states influenced by opiates, alcohol, sex, fever, fatigue, and violence. Johannes Fabian presents fascinating and little-known source material, and points to its implications for our understanding of the beginnings of modern colonization. At the same time, he makes an important contribution to current debates about the intellectual origins and nature of anthropological inquiry.


Drawing on travel accounts--most of them Belgian and German--published between 1878 and the start of World War I, Fabian describes encounters between European travelers and the Africans they met. He argues that the loss of control experienced by these early travelers actually served to enhance cross-cultural understanding, allowing the foreigners to make sense of strange facts and customs. Fabian''s provocative findings contribute to a critique of narrowly scientific or rationalistic visions of ethnography, illuminating the relationship between travel and intercultural understanding, as well as between imperialism and ethnographic knowledge.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 335 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.88 in

Published: June 13, 2000

Publisher: University of California Press

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0520221230

ISBN - 13: 9780520221239

Found in: Africa

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– More About This Product –

Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa

by Johannes Fabian

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 335 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.88 in

Published: June 13, 2000

Publisher: University of California Press

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0520221230

ISBN - 13: 9780520221239

About the Book

A study of the "ecstatic" nature of the early encounters between Africans and European explorers and missionaries in Central Africa. Fabian shows how the claims to rationality of the explorers fall apart under scrutiny--how they were often "out of their minds," in extraordinary states influenced by opiates, alcohol, sex, fever, fatigue, and violence.

From the Publisher

Explorers and ethnographers in Africa during the period of colonial expansion are usually assumed to have been guided by rational aims such as the desire for scientific knowledge, fame, or financial gain. This book, the culmination of many years of research on nineteenth-century exploration in Central Africa, provides a new view of those early European explorers and their encounters with Africans. Out of Our Minds shows explorers were far from rational--often meeting their hosts in extraordinary states influenced by opiates, alcohol, sex, fever, fatigue, and violence. Johannes Fabian presents fascinating and little-known source material, and points to its implications for our understanding of the beginnings of modern colonization. At the same time, he makes an important contribution to current debates about the intellectual origins and nature of anthropological inquiry.


Drawing on travel accounts--most of them Belgian and German--published between 1878 and the start of World War I, Fabian describes encounters between European travelers and the Africans they met. He argues that the loss of control experienced by these early travelers actually served to enhance cross-cultural understanding, allowing the foreigners to make sense of strange facts and customs. Fabian''s provocative findings contribute to a critique of narrowly scientific or rationalistic visions of ethnography, illuminating the relationship between travel and intercultural understanding, as well as between imperialism and ethnographic knowledge.

From the Jacket

"This subtle and original book is an anthropology of anthropologists, an exploration of explorers. We have for much too long looked at the records of the late 19th-century European travelers to Central Africa mainly as source material--sometimes reliable, sometimes not--about Africa. Fabian holds these visitors'' accounts up to a mirror and looks at what they show about Europe''s own assumptions, prejudices, and dreams."--Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold''s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

"This remarkable book explodes all the old myths about European explorers in Africa while at the same time advancing a subtle and far-reaching critique of conventional ideas of scientific rationality. Fabian''s insightful analysis of the literature of exploration provides the grounds for a provocative and very contemporary argument about colonial reason and the conditions of ethnographic understanding."--James Ferguson, author of Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt

About the Author

Johannes Fabian is Professor and Chair of Cultural Anthropology and Non-Western Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. He is the author of Remembering the Present: Painting and Popular History in Zaire (California, 1996) and Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (1983), among other works.

From Our Editors

People believed that explorers and ethnographers in Africa during the colonial expansion period pursued rational objectives like scientific knowledge, fame and fortune. Based on thorough research on 19th century Central African exploration, Out of Our Minds: Reason and Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa provides a startling new perspective on those early European explorers and their encounters with Africans. Explorers often met their hosts in bizarre states induced by opiates, alcohol, sex, fever, fatigue and violence. Johannes Fabian describes European-African encounters based on travel accounts from between 1878 and the First World War.

Editorial Reviews

"[A] fact and theory-rich book that rolls in a very leisurely fashion through a selection of early expeditions to central Africa."--"Times Higher Education Supplement
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