To the cleric Edward Terry who travelled in India between 1617 and 1619 the epistemological status of empirical data was acute. Of course, by 1655 when his Voyage to East-India was printed, he was well aware that much of what he had described no longer had any utility: Jahangir and his court were temporally contingent details. But for Terry there were other problems associated with the testimony of the fleshly eye, not the least of which was the fact that, following Corinthians, everything he thought he saw could be a demonic illusion.
Yet Terry did not discard empiricism. Instead, in his 1655 work he ordered his particular experiences into two overlapping ethnographies—ethnographies that were premised upon different assumptions and written towards markedly different final causes. As this paper will argue, for Terry empiricism does not begin with the suspension of belief. Rather, it provides particular data to be subsumed into a received and venerable imaginative geography that accounts for the nature and operation of things as they are distributed heterogeneously through space. Although the result is two different ethnographies of India in the same text, in seventeenth-century terms Terry’s Voyage is epistemologically more secure.
See more of: Ethnography, Ethnology, and Science, 1500-1800
See more of: AHA Sessions