September 21, 2017
11:30 – 13:00
Room D0.03, main campus Bolzano-Bozen


In Malinowski's time, it was vital for establishing anthropology as a distinct academic discipline in its own right to fairly rigidly observe a healthy methodological and conceptual distance vis a vis the historical fields. This is why until late in the 20th century, the methodological benefits of ethnographic fieldwork for any kind of historical anthropology were never fully discussed and examined in practice. The situation has changed in this regard, ever since works by Eric Wolf, Jack Goody, or the Comaroffs have promoted the re-emergence of historical anthropology as a legitimate methodological endeavor inside the field. After outlining these changing academic and epistemological premises, the present paper continues by discussing how fieldwork among maritime pilots in today's South Asian contexts may indeed yield results that are crucial for scrutinizing and interpreting pre-colonial sources in Arabic from the 14th century. The example not only demonstrates how ethnographic fieldwork may deliver insights that are inaccessible to historiography and philology. In addition, it will become apparent that a new period of cooperation between ethnographers, historians and archaeologists may be in the making. To that end, anthropologists are well advised to continue insisting on some of the merits of Malinowskian-style participant observation while further elaborating it toward present day standards.