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Salvage ethnography is the recording of the practices and folklore of cultures threatened with extinction, including as a result of modernization. It is generally associated with the American anthropologist Franz Boaz; he and his students aimed to record vanishing Native American cultures. Since the 1960s, anthropologists have used the term as part of a critique of 19th-century ethnography and early modern anthropology. It was coined by Jacob W. Gruber, who identified its emergence with 19th-century ethnographers documenting the languages of peoples being conquered and colonized by European countries or the United States. According to Gruber, one of the first official statements acknowledging that a major effect of colonialism was the destruction of existing languages and ways of life was The report of the British Select Committee of Aborigines (1837). As a scholarly response, Gruber quotes James Cowles Prichard's address before the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1839:
- Wherever Europeans have settled, their arrival has been the harbinger of extermination to the native tribes. Whenever the simple pastoral tribes come into relations with the more civilised agricultural nations, the allotted time of their destruction is at hand; and this seems to have been the case from the time when the first shepherd fell by the hand of the first tiller of soil. Now, as the progress of colonization is so much extended of late years, and the obstacle of distance and physical difficulties are so much overcome, it may be calculated that these calamities, impending over the greater part of mankind, if we reckon by families and races, are to be accelerated in their progress; and it may happen that, in the course of another century, the aboriginal nations of most parts of the world will have ceased entirely to exist. In the meantime, if Christian nations think it not their duty to interpose and save the numerous tribes of their own species from utter extermination, it is of the greatest importance, in a philosophical point of view, to obtain much more extensive information than we now possess of their physical and moral characters. A great number of curious problems in physiology, illustrative of the history of the species, and the laws of their propagation, remain as yet imperfectly solved. The psychology of these races has been but little studied in an enlightened manner; and yet this is wanting in order to complete the history of human nature, and the philosophy of the human mind. How can this be obtained when so many tribes shall have become extinct, and their thoughts shall have perished with them?
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