On ‘femininity’ as interface in the Forsters’ travelogues on the Pacific (2)

    Research output: Working paperAcademic


    This paper offers a follow-up on the paper presented at the meeting in Groningen which discussed the Forsters’ interpretations of Tahiti and respective use of gender as a category of analysis.
    As well-known Father and son Forster published extensive reports of Captain Cook’s second expedition to the Pacific (1772-1775). These writings have been influential into the nineteenth century, in particular in the burgeoning science of anthropology. Both texts has been instrumental in the creating of the constructs of ‘Polynesia’ and ‘Melanesia’.
    The Groningen paper discussed father and son Forster having different concepts of ‘woman’ on their minds: the former adhered to a relatively emancipatory view which had stimulated women to study and to participate in Enlightenment debates. The latter preferred a recently developed naturalist view that women’s place in society should be in accordance with her reproductive function.
    In this paper I like to explore the Forsters’ respective views of women’s agency in order to establish if the Forsters’ interpretations are indeed indicative of the slow but steady marginalization of women in the interpretation of society and culture as comes to the fore in the emerging (social) sciences of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
    This paper will demonstrate the father focusing on women’s contributions to society as wife and mother and as participating in society at large. The son focuses much more on women’s identities – representing women either as good mothers or as bad prostitutes.
    In order to further develop the above argument the corpus of the analysed material will be extended: the Forsters’ descriptions of positively savage Tanna are added to the chapters on relatively civilised Tahiti.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 3-Dec-2015


    • Gender
    • Enlightenment
    • Cultural Transfer

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