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Burton believed that homosexuality was "geographical and climatic, not racial." By blaming homosexuality on the weather, Burton removed it in part from the moral, racial, and biological arguments of the day.

More romantic versions of ethnography appeared. Herman Melville's novels Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847), were considered ethnography in their day. Charles Warren Stoddard wrote highly romantic accounts of the Pacific Islanders, including South-Sea Idyls (1873) and The Island of Tranquil Delights (1904).

J. R. Ackerley's Hindoo Holiday (1932) borrows from that tradition. Today, the American artist and anthropologist Tobias Schneebaum continues that tradition in such books as Keep the River to Your Right (1969) and Where the Spirits Dwell (1988).

It is important to distinguish between scholarly anthropology, early ethnography, and imaginative literature. Making such distinctions is most necessary in discussions of Native Americans.

Spanish missionaries like Cieza de Leon gave lurid reports of and cannibalism among the natives. De Pauw, a French explorer in his Recherches Philosophiques sur les Américains (1771) discusses transvestism in Mexico. These early accounts must be regarded with enormous skepticism.

More reliable are recent anthropological studies such as Walter Williams's The Spirit and the Flesh (1986) and Will Roscoe's The Zuni Man-Woman (1991).

But during the 1960s, Richard Amory wrote a series of soft pornographic books--beginning with Song of the Loon (1966)--that trades on the myth of the American West and the ethnographic studies of homosexuality among Native Americans. In such ways, ethnography surfaces into the popular imagination and popular literature.

One of the most positive and influential essays on homosexuality in the early twentieth century is Edward Westermarck's "Homosexual Love" in his The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas (1906). Westermarck's work is important among earlier work because it assumes that , rather than homosexuality, is what needs explanation. He asks how did the prohibitions against "sodomy" arise?

His answer, after a look at ethnography, is that homophobia arose from the disgust many humans feel toward sexuality in general and from the need to control "unbelief, idolatry or heresy." He contends that as "people emancipated themselves from theological doctrines," they regard homosexuality with "somewhat greater leniency." Such tolerance is the proper response to "a powerful nonvolitional desire exercise[d] upon an agent's will."

David Bergman

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social sciences >> Overview:  Anthropology

Anthropology, the first of the social science disciplines to take sexuality--and particularly homosexuality--seriously as a field of intellectual inquiry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has achieved a new impetus in the post-Stonewall era.

social sciences >> Overview:  Ethnography

Beginning in the 1960s increasing numbers of ethnographers have conducted research on glbtq issues, spurred by the premise that studies of diverse sexualities are crucial to understanding human behavior and culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Indigenous Cultures

"Indigenous" is a concept important in the history of anthropology, particularly as it regards anthropology's treatment of same-sex sexual relations.

literature >> Ackerley, J. R.

A twentieth-century British editor who fostered the careers of a number of important gay writers, J. R. Ackerley also wrote a small but significant body of gay literature that includes memoirs and drama.

social sciences >> Berdache

Both male and female berdaches (or two-spirit persons), common among Native American tribal cultures, were characterized by gender variation sanctioned by supernatural dreams and visions.

social sciences >> Burton, Sir Richard F.

Although evidence of his own homosexual leanings is inconclusive, in his lifetime Sir Richard Burton was regarded with suspicion because of his knowledge and understanding of same-sex sexual activity.

literature >> Carpenter, Edward

Edward Carpenter, a champion of both women's and homosexuals' liberation, was one of the great socialist visionaries of England at the turn of the twentieth century.

literature >> Chatwin, Bruce

The acclaimed prose style of travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin, a secretive bisexual, may have been developed as a means of hiding the truth of his sexuality.

literature >> Foucault, Michel

One of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, Foucault has had an enormous influence on our understanding of the lesbian and gay literary heritage and the cultural forces surrounding it.

literature >> Melville, Herman

The most important American novelist of the nineteenth century, Herman Melville reflects his homosexuality throughout his texts.

literature >> Stoddard, Charles Warren

A pioneering California writer, Charles Warren Stoddard is best known for his homoerotic tales collected as South-Sea Idyls and The Island of Tranquil Delights.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.

literature >> Thesiger, Sir Wilfred

Although there is some question as to whether travel writer, explorer, photographer, and cult figure Sir Wilfred Thesiger can be labeled as homosexual, his most powerful emotional ties were with the young male companions of his famous journeys.


Burton. Sir Richard. "Terminal Essay." The Arabian Nights. London: Privately printed, 1885.

Carpenter, Edward. The Intermediate Sex. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1908.

_____. Intermediate Types Among Primitive Folk. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1914.

Westermarck, Edward. "Homosexual Love." The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas. London: Macmillan, 1906.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bergman, David  
    Entry Title: Ethnography  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 29, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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