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Authors: Jrgen Osterhammel Patrick Camiller

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Unlike the early modern period, the nineteenth century witnessed a growing number of visitors to Europe from overseas who wrote back home about what they saw: Chinese emissaries, Japanese ministers, Indian and North African scholars, a king from what is today Botswana, even Oriental monarchs such as the sultan of the Ottoman Empire (Abdülaziz was the first Turkish head of state to visit Christian Europe, on the occasion of the Paris World Exhibition in 1867); Shah Nasir al-Din of Iran, who traveled three times to Europe (in 1872, 1878 and 1889) and kept a journal or had one kept; and the Siamese king Chulalongkorn, an unusually keen observer, who first visited Europe in 1897. Asian scholars such as Ram Mohan Roy from Bengal, who went to England in 1831 and died in Bristol in 1833, or the low-ranking official Li Gui, the first Chinese ever to make a trip around the world (in 1876–77), influenced how the West was perceived in their homeland.
A sizable literature of travel and observation also began to appear within East Asia itself. Fu Yunlong, who was sent by the Chinese government to Japan and America in 1887–89 and later headed a department at the war ministry, composed a country report on Japan in thirty volumes. Japanese reports from the East Asian mainland were no less thorough.

The largest group of travelers to Europe were, of course, Americans: some, from both North and South America, were searching for the roots of their own culture; others, most prominently Mark Twain, went in the assurance of belonging to a younger and better world. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it was no longer necessary for Europeans to fabricate “foreign mirrors,” in the manner of Montesquieu's
Lettres persanes
(1721), if they wanted to see themselves distorted beyond recognition or for the purpose of self-satire. The rest of the world began to articulate what it was absorbing from Europe. This was also true in the colonies—and earliest of all in British India, whose educated classes were the most influenced by Europe, and which had the most dynamic political and literary life.
In the nineteenth century, Asian reactions to Europe did not yet add up to a systematic “Occidentalism” that could be compared with Europe's budding “Orientalism.” Only Japan had a basis for this in its “Dutch studies” (
which since the eighteenth century had involved observation of Dutch traders in Nagasaki and scrutiny of the literature they brought along with them.
When North American geographers began to concern themselves with Europe, they did so with the instruments of

Measuring and Mapping

In the nineteenth century, research travelers, academic geographers, and other such writers still formed the largest group of European collectors of information about the wider world. Not surprisingly, their activity was ever more tightly linked to the imperial and colonial projects of the Great Powers.
One side of geography involved a global discourse that was increasingly imperial—although admittedly it could also be directed against European conquest, as in the writings of Carl Ritter and Alexander von Humboldt in the first half of the century. Its other side was a great success story of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, since the exact description of natural and social reality gave Europe one of its decisive advantages over other civilizations. However irrational or demented the ideas might have been that sometimes drove researchers in “the field,” the sum of their activity brought a colossal gain in exact knowledge about the world.
Nowhere was this plainer than in cartography.
The measuring and mapping of vast areas of land and water was one of the great collective projects of modern science, closely bound up with European conquest of the oceans of the world. It began with the Spanish and Portuguese, continued after 1700 with the Dutch plan to map the whole earth, and profited later in the eighteenth century from the growing sophistication of measurement techniques and the global expansion of European sea travel. By the 1880s even “darkest Africa,” south of the Sahara, could be represented in broad outline.

If the eighteenth century was a time of revolution in measurement and mapping techniques, the nineteenth was the age of their global application. As a result of these persistent efforts, it became possible to grasp the world in its entirety. The maps produced around the end of the century were scarcely surpassed until the advent of satellite cartography and computerized mapping. Non-Westerners were also involved in many European cartographic operations, as informants, helpers, advisers, and scientific partners. Most of them occupied a formally subordinate position, but without their local knowledge it would have been impossible to fill in all the gaps.

Outside the West, the Japanese were the first (and, for a long time, the only) nation to undertake measurement and mapping at European levels of precision. This was initially a private initiative, spurred by the alarming appearance of Russian ships off the coast in the 1790s. Only in the Meiji period after 1868 did cartography become a state-sponsored project on a grand scale.
Of all the non-European traditions, the Chinese might have seemed the likeliest to produce a “modern” geography. All district officials were required to give empirically detailed reports on the makeup of their area. In the same way that philologists developed a new precision in the verification of traditional texts, geographers fell
in with the empirically oriented
scholarship that became dominant in the late seventeenth century.
However, nineteenth-century Chinese geography did not benefit from the large government commissions so characteristic of Europe;
it could not free itself from the narrowly practical goals of administration or from its subordination to the more prestigious discipline of historiography. Indeed, it forgot the innovations in measurement and mapping that had reached China with the Jesuits in the seventeenth century. More recently, from the 1920s on, Chinese geography was alive to older indigenous traditions, but at the same time it took in key elements from the scientific geography developed in the West. It was therefore from the beginning a hybrid discourse.


Geography was a globally sighted but locally rooted science. As economic geography it accompanied the industrialization process in America and North America; as colonial geography it consorted with the West's land-grabbing expansion. An even more important organ of self-observation was the newly emerging social sciences. Their theoretically grounded questioning took them beyond social reportage, but they never lost touch with the empirical description of reality—a reference that was already apparent in economics
Adam Smith's epoch-making work on the wealth of nations (1776). Tendencies toward abstract model building began to appear in 1817 with David Ricardo, but their influence became dominant only after 1870, as mathematical theories of subjective utility and market equilibrium developed more or less simultaneously in Austria, Switzerland, and Great Britain. At the same time, especially in Germany,
continued to flourish as a largely descriptive study of economic patterns and changes past and present. This trend took organizational shape in 1872 with the foundation of the Verein für Socialpolitik (Social Policy Association); over the years it would make an enormous contribution to the knowledge of society.

Sociology, whose founding fathers were Auguste Comte in France and Herbert Spencer in Britain, thought of itself mainly as a theoretical discipline. In Germany, the bastion of historicism and source criticism, it had a less speculative and all-embracing cast than in France or Britain, with a particularly close relationship to history since the days of Lorenz von Stein, the author of a vast history of social and political movements in France (1842) and the first social scientist in the German-speaking world. Toward the end of the century, sociology everywhere, including in the United States, annexed the field of empirical social studies that had previously belonged to state-sponsored surveys and private reformers such as Charles Booth. In Britain the reform-oriented London School of Economics, founded in 1895, marked the breakthrough to a fusion of theory with factual research, even if “sociology” only acquired its separate professors in 1907, and the professionalization of the subject proceeded more slowly than on the Continent. In the United States, the creation of the first sociology department, at the University of Chicago in 1892, was a similar turning point.

Only in the 1890s did academic sociology begin to contribute on a large scale to the empirical study of contemporary societies. Only then did the methodical self-observation of advanced societies enter a process of institutionalization that has continued to this day. Sociology spread rapidly, at least in East Asia, where influences converged from Europe and America. A chair in sociology was already created in 1893 at the Imperial University in Tokyo, just a few years after a Japanese equivalent had been found for the European term “society.”
In China, sociology was at first taught by foreigners, who contemplated such topics as municipal guilds, relations within the ruling Manchu clan, and the structure of northern Chinese agrarian society. In 1915, when Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel were still flourishing, the first sociological account of Chinese society by Chinese authors appeared in print; and in the same year, the subject started to be taught by Chinese lecturers at a few universities. Chinese sociologists subsequently developed numerous analyses of contemporary society, with an increasingly Marxist orientation.

Never before the nineteenth century had societies created such space for ongoing institutional self-observation. Many earlier civilizations might be said to have produced descriptions of their respective societies that were at the same time interpretations of them. Important insights into what would later be known as “sociological” contexts were already achieved in the eighteenth century—for example, the model of society as a process of circulation, developed by the French doctor François Quesnay, or the multifarious “science of man” in the Scottish, English, and French Enlightenment. Yet it was not until after 1830, in the context of accelerated social change in Europe, that a permanent social-scientific discourse developed among intellectuals and philanthropic reformers, and only in the closing years of the century that it took root in the universities. This was peculiar to Europe. The social sciences, however, soon proved to be a successful export. Political economy found much interest in Japan and India, and its pioneers—especially Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill—were among the European authors most widely translated in other parts of the world.
In its more radical variants, political economy could appear as a critique of colonialism: not just Indians opposed the forcible “drain of wealth” from the Subcontinent, as the civil servant and economic historian Romesh Chunder Dutt termed it, but European or Japanese analysts of imperialism were also drawing this conclusion around the turn of the century.

4 Numbers


The nineteenth century was the founding age of
statistics: no longer just the more or less haphazard compilation of data but their rigorously methodical collection and mathematical processing. The state increasingly took over
these tasks, which were becoming so complex that only the state had the organizational capacity to handle them. In the second half of the nineteenth century, statistics became what it is today: the most important tool for the constant self-monitoring of society.

Its prototype was the census. Authorities began to count their subjects long ago. For military and fiscal reasons, the numbers of households, individuals, and livestock were recorded. Countries with a large area rarely accomplished this in full; the figures often have gaps, or have simply not survived the passage of time. Historical geographers, who rely on such sources, have a hard time of it, but they must decide in each case whether the data resulting from a census are usable. Europe or “the West” cannot simply claim to have been the first in this respect. The earliest data from China that are today considered usable come from the years 1368 to 1398, when the first emperor of the Ming dynasty ordered a census following the restoration of a central government.
In Japan, from 1671 all lords were obliged to compile annual population registers for their territory; the first countrywide census useful for demographic research dates from 1721, but the abundance of
data that have survived to this day tell us even more about premodern Japan.
The Ottoman authorities usually conducted a population survey of newly conquered territories: it was important to have an accurate picture, if only for fiscal and military reasons. Ethnicity was not recorded, but everyone did have to declare their religious affiliation, since non-Muslim inhabitants were subjected to a head tax until 1855. The first general census of the male population in the European and Anatolian provinces of the empire, which took place between 1828 and 1831, marked the beginning of the history of Ottoman-Turkish demography.
In the case of Egypt, then nominally a province of the Empire, the census of 1848 is considered reasonably reliable.

The pioneer in Europe was Sweden, where the first national census dates from 1755. In 1787 the great Enlightenment monarch Carlos III ordered one to be held in Spain, and its methods were so advanced that it has sometimes been described as Europe's first “modern” census.
Then, around the turn of the century, modernity came to population statistics in all the major countries of the continent.
This presupposed regularity, institutionalization, and verifiable procedures. Institutionally, four elements were involved: (1) a statistical office, usually under the interior ministry, which collected, evaluated, and published data; (2) a permanent statistical commission of senior civil servants, with the task of ensuring central coordination; (3) private associations of doctors, professors, engineers, and office-holders, operating as lobbies for improvements in statistics; and (4) municipal statistics offices (which became a normal feature only in the second half of the century).

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