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Orienting America: Sanskrit and Modern Scholarship in the United States, 1836–94

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Abstract

This work explores the history of American Orientalism,1 in the form of the academic study of Sanskrit in America, in the context of its earliest foundations and its development in the nineteenth century into a discipline of exceptional importance and a field of intense contemporary interest. Although it has received little attention from scholars, Orientalism in America existed as a scholarly subject and a rudimentary disciplinary formation, as well as a means of organizing ideas, from as early as the 1830s. In Orientalism, Said acknowledged the founding of the American Oriental Society (AOS) in 1842, but barely alluded to the long history of the scholarly study of the East and the institutionalization of Oriental studies in America from the 1840s until the second half of the twentieth century.2 The history of Oriental studies in America for Said began with post-war American academic research and contributions to Middle East policy, such as that illustrated by the career of H. A. R. Gibb, a Scottish Orientalist, and Laudian Professor of Arabic at Oxford, who became Richard Jewett Professor of Arabic at Harvard in 1955. This is unsurprising, since Said was concerned with launching a moral critique of an Orientalism whose telos lay in postwar and contemporary American politics, which he saw as directly inheriting the British and French Orientalist traditions rooted in their colonial relationships with Islam and the Middle East.

Keywords

  • Intellectual History
  • American Scholarship
  • East India Company
  • Oriental Study
  • Oriental Language

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9781137341112_5
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Notes

  1. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 294–5.

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  2. See, for example, Douglas Little’s, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

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  3. Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–1880, trans. Gene Patterson-Black and Victor Reinking (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

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  4. Said, ‘Raymond Schwab and the Romance of Ideas,’in The World, the Text and the Critic, 246–67. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 250.

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  5. Said, ‘Travelling Theory,’ in The World, the Text and the Critic (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983), 226–7.

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  6. Dale Riepe’s largely descriptive The Philosophy of India and Its Impact on American Thought (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1970) still represents the most extensive study of the history of Sanskrit in America, but Sanskrit is not the work’s central concern. Critically engaged writing on American interactions with Indian ideas may be found in Partha Mitter’s work on American Orientalism, and Susan Bean, Yankee India: American Commercial and Cultural Encounters with India in the Age of Sail, 1784–1860 (Salem: Peabody Essex Museum, 2001). I am grateful to Professor Mitter for sharing his unpublished work with me.

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  7. C. D. Buck, ‘Comparative Philology and the Classics,’ Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 47 (1916), 65–83.

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  8. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: Archaeology of the Human Sciences (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 206.

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  9. Friedrich von Schlegel, On the Language and Philosophy of the Indians (1808), republished in Aesthetic and Miscellaneous Works, trans. E. J. Millington (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1849), 439, quoted ibid.

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  10. Maurice Bloomfield, ‘Fifty Years of Comparative Philology in America,’ Proceedings of the American Philological Association 50 (1919), 62.

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  11. Maurice Bloomfield, ‘Notes of Recent Publications, Investigations and Studies,’ JHU Circular 11, no. 99 (June 1892), JHU Archives.

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  12. C. W. Eliot, ‘The New Education,’ Part II of II, in American Higher Education: A Documentary History, eds. Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith, 632–47. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 637.

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  13. C. W. Eliot, ‘The Aims of Higher Education,’ in Educational Reform: Essays and Addresses, ed. Charles W. Eliot, 223–52 (New York: The Century Company, 1898), 225, [my emphases].

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  14. Ralph R. Rosenberg, ‘The First American Doctor of Philosophy Degree: A Centennial Salute to Yale, 1861–1961,’ The Journal of Higher Education 32, no. 7 (October 1961), 393.

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  15. William Dwight Whitney, Sanskrit Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1879) and Charles Lanman, A Sanskrit Reader: Text, Vocabulary and Notes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1884).

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  16. Stephen G. Alter, William Dwight Whitney and the Science of Language (Baltimore, MD and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 1.

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  17. Adam Nelson, ‘Nationalism, Transnationalism, and the American Scholar in the Nineteenth-Century: Thoughts on the Career of William Dwight Whitney,’ The New England Quarterly 78, no. 3, (September 2005), 374.

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© 2013 Mishka Sinha

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Sinha, M. (2013). Orienting America: Sanskrit and Modern Scholarship in the United States, 1836–94. In: Elmarsafy, Z., Bernard, A., Attwell, D. (eds) Debating Orientalism. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137341112_5

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